Thailand is more than Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai. In fact, there are a great many fascinating out-of-the-way places that regular visitors know and love, which you might like to consider adding to your itinerary when you’re planning your next trip to Thailand.
About 260 km outside Bangkok, the ancient city of Nakhon Ratchasima, also known by its historical name of Khorat, is famous for its several heritage sites that reveal the roots of traditional Thai culture. Once the gateway to the country’s northeast, the city was a major centre of the vast and influential Khmer kingdom, which stretched across much of Southeast Asia, between the 9th and 15th centuries. Life moves at a relaxed pace here, compared to the main tourist centres. Just south of Nakhon Ratchasima, in a lush river valley, is the delightful market village of Dan Kwain, well known for the fine quality of its ceramics and distinguished by the individuality of its products.
Near Nakhon Ratchasima, there are dense forests, mountains, and rivers with spectacular waterfalls. Khao Yai National Park, listed as a World Heritage site in 2005, undulates over magnificent mountain ranges blanketed by thick forests, and plunges down deep valleys with wild river courses. Wildlife is abundant and accessible and you can see elephants, tigers, monkeys, black bears, deer, butterflies, insects, and birds. This is an ideal place to spot a Hornbill, which is common in the park from August to September. You can even join tiger-spotting trips accompanied by park rangers.
The quiet riverside town of Kanchanaburi, about 130 km west of Bangkok, is another place where you can explore more of Thailand’s natural and historic treasures. Kanchanaburi lies next to the Kwai River, where the famous World War II bridge still stands (the subject of an Oscar-winning movie, The Bridge Over the River Kwai). It’s a poignant reminder of the hardship endured by those who were forced to work on the infamous Thai-Burma Railway. Natural attractions here include numerous lovely waterfalls and caves. The trek through the steamy undergrowth, to the stunning seven-tiered Erewan Waterfalls, is well worth the effort. Your reward is a plunge into the cool, clear water beneath the falls, where curious fish nibble at your toes.
North of Chiang Mai, in the jungle wilderness, is Thailand’s highest mountain, Doi Inthanon. The national park, also of that name, presents some of the regions most exciting trekking opportunities. Best accessed by motorbike, due to the rough and narrow roads, Doi Inthanon is a mountainous expanse with deep valleys that contain a rich diversity of distinctive flora and fauna. Be warned that temperatures on the mountain top can drop to –8 C and the peak is often swathed in mist. Here you’ll find the prized red and white varieties of rhododendron, as well as more than 350 bird species, more than in any other location in Thailand.
Sukhothai, Thailand’s first administrative and cultural capital, established in 1257, is today a group of well-preserved ruins. During its 120-year golden period, the old city was known for its stunning temples, statues and gardens, and is now a significant historical focal point. The site is well worth the short drive out of the current city of Sukhothai, about 400 km north of Bangkok.