Its no secret that I am more than a little obsessed with Thailand. I first visited in 2013, returned for two months in 2015 and spent another 6 months there in 2016.
And whilst I do keep returning to the same places again and again (Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Kanchanaburi), I try to discover at least a few new places each time I go. As a result, I’ve ended up visiting some of the more lesser-known regions of Thailand, including Isaan and the very far North, and it is quite often these places that have captivated me more than any other.
So without going on further, here are my 5 favourite, less well-known places to visit in Thailand.
Great for tea, noodles and getting away from it all
Mae Salong is a small Chinese village approximately 70km North of Chiang Rai.
I first visited Mae Salong in March 2015, whilst on a road trip around Northern Thailand with Dom, and it has held a special place in my heart ever since.
Many people visit the town as a day trip from Chiang Rai but I recommend staying at least one night to give yourself time to soak up the peaceful atmosphere and sample some of the food – think steaming bowls of noodles and freshly baked bread.
The roads leading into the town are lined with tea plantations where you can taste traditional tea and watch the intricate ceremonies that accompany the tea making.
But my favourite part? The accommodation. We stayed in Mae Salong Mountain Home, a small resort on the edge of the village with individual bungalows perched on the side of a mountain looking out onto a lovely little green valley.
In the mornings we would turn around and open the wooden window above our bed and lie there watching the mist roll down from the mountains and in the evenings we would relax with a cool beer on our own terrace. I could easily spend a few nights there, doing not much of anything and enjoying the peace and those views.
MAE HONG SON
Great for sampling Burmese cuisine
If you’ve spent any time in Northern Thailand, then you have more than likely heard about Mae Hong Son, the capital of the Mae Hong Son Province and one of the main stops along the Mae Hong Son Loop.
Upon arriving in Mae Hong Son, I felt very much the same as I do when arriving into any Thai city for the first time. A little lacklustre. The buildings were grey and the city was not particularly pretty. I imagined we would stay for one night and then head on our way around the rest of the Loop.
But its a city that grows on you and, fast forward three days, Dom was having to begrudgingly drag me from the place.
The city is centred around a small lake (more a big pond really), which is lit up at night by a glittering temple at one end of the lake and a row of street food stalls at the opposite.
It doesn’t have quite as much to offer as some of the bigger cities in terms of attractions and food but what it lacks in those it makes up for in atmosphere.
It is relaxed and low key. The evenings are cooler than elsewhere in Northern Thailand and the culture a mix of Thai and Burmese (I highly recommend trying the Burmese cuisine at Salween River Restaurant).
Try to stay for at least two nights and spend some time exploring the out-of-town sights such as the Phu Klon Mud Spa and Ban Rak Thai (see below).
BAN RAK THAI
Great for a day trip from Mae Hong Son
We visited Ban Rak Thai, a tiny Chinese settlement close to the Burmese Border, on a day trip from Mae Hong Son during our road trip around the Loop.
The village itself is little more than a cluster of tiny clay buildings, built around the edge of a lake, most of which are built in a traditional Chinese style and adorned with Chinese writing and decoration. The main ‘centre’ (and by this I mean a very small strip of buildings) consists of a couple of cafes overlooking the lake and a few tea shops.
If you’re looking to get away from it all, even if just for a few hours, then this is the place to be. It is separated from Mae Hong Son by one of the steepest mountain roads I have ever encountered and, as a result, there are very few tourists who make it up there.
We spent a quiet afternoon wandering around the unusual houses before sitting in a little cafe, drinking lemon and honey tea and admiring the view over the lake.
Great for sunsets, spicy food and rum tasting
Nong Khai was the first stop on our very short whistle stop tour of Isaan and my first introduction to the region itself.
We arrived on an overnight train at dawn and as soon as I set foot in that dusty town I knew I was going to love it.
Nong Khai is located at the very top of the Isaan Province on the border with Vientiane in Laos. As a result of being on the border, it is one of the more touristy places in the whole of Isaan. But that’s a very relative term when compared to the rest of Thailand.
Most of the activity takes place along the edge of the river where there are restaurants, a very large day market and open air bars that flow onto the pavements and stay open late into the night. They are particularly good spots to watch the sunset when, most nights, the sky and river are lit up a brilliant orange.
This was also our first introduction to Isaan food which is delicious, but SPICY. One night we ate fish and Som Tam (Papaya Salad) in a floating seafood restaurant under the very amused stare of the waitress who was cracking up as I sat there with streaming eyes, guzzling gallons of water in an attempt to cool down my mouth.
But the real highlight for me was finding the Isaan Rum Distillery (even Google Maps can’t help you much with this one), a small independent distillery run by a French man and his Thai wife.
After a good hour spent driving in circles around dirt roads in the Isaan countryside we finally found our way to the little distillery.
We were met by the owner who very enthusiastically talked us through how the distillery was set up and spent the afternoon chatting with us and plying us with glasses of sweet rum.
Great for floating around on a bamboo raft
Now I have to clarify here that Loei City in itself wouldn’t make it onto a list of my favourite places in Thailand. Its a normal city like any other and wouldn’t really be worth a trip in and of itself.
However, the outskirts of Loei are home to one of my all time favourite places in Thailand; the Huai Krathing Reservoir.
The Huai Krathing Reservoir is about 15km outside of Loei and has four restaurants situated at different locations around its edge. Each restaurant rents out bamboo rafts (around 200 baht for the entire day) and, once you have ordered food and drinks from the restaurant, you are towed out into the middle of the lake where you can sit and eat, drink, swim and relax.
It may not sound like much, but its a lovely relaxing way to pass an afternoon and one of our all time favourite experiences in Thailand. I highly recommend a trip here if you find yourself passing through the area.
Note: Whilst the reservoir does pull in a lot of Thai tourists, you won’t find many Western tourists so it helps to know a little Thai before you get there. The owners of the restaurant that we visited spoke no English and only had Thai menus so had we not known any Thai we would have found it difficult to order anything except a couple of beers.
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