Elephant’s Leg


SIX OF THE BEST: DESTINATIONS OUTSIDE BANGKOK

Continuing my “Six of the best” series, I present the nicest or most interesting places I have travelled to outside of my home city of Bangkok.

Khao Sok sunset

Khao Sok sunset

1. KHAO SOK

Shortly after my move to Thailand, and with the good fortune to have a few weeks’ grace period between arriving in the country and starting work, I headed south for a combination beach and jungle trip. The beach leg was Phuket, which was exactly as I expected (beautiful but over-touristy), but before then I spent a couple of nights in Khao Sok in Surat Thani province. Unfortunately, a planned-for excursion into the jungle was called off, as heavy rainfall in preceding days had caused a landslide risk, and all organised tours had been cancelled. Even so, a brief stay in Amphoe Phanom, the hub village from which the national park is accessed, was delightful. The clean air and utterly laid back ambience is addictive, and the lush scenery some of the most dramatic in Thailand, from sweeping vistas of dark green to towering limestone cliffs. Even with tours cancelled, I could still go on more casual walks in the national park and had fun tubing down the Sok River. I’ve been promising myself a return ever since so that I can delve into the full Khao Sok experience of hiking, kayaking and more.

2. KO KOOD

Koh Kood beach

Koh Kood beach

In a country famed for its pristine beaches, it’s hard to pick out the best seaside destination. For coastal tourism with First World infrastructure, there are many options – Pattaya, Phuket, Ko Samui, Krabi and, increasingly, Ko Chang, among others – so what makes Ko Kood stand out is its relative lack of development. It’s not especially easy to get to, with infrequent boat services misaligned with flight timetables from Trat, and there’s little to do on the island outside of the few resorts there. There’s no nightlife of any significance, no ATMs, no shopping district, and the hilly roads – not always paved – with no public transport make navigation difficult. Development is minimal, and with all the resorts set back from the beachfronts and no buildings more than one or two storeys high, nothing but nature can be seen from the sea. Some of the beaches are so beautiful, they look like more like South Pacific idylls than Southeast Asian (and Southeast Asian beaches are nothing to be sniffed at). The tranquility might not be what everyone is looking for, but if you want a truly enchanting,¬†pristine beach destination with no noise and no hassle -and you’re in no hurry – Ko Kood is well recommended.

3. KRABI

Hollywood movie 'The Beach' was filmed in krabi

Hollywood movie ‘The Beach’ was filmed in krabi

They say you never forget your first, and with Krabi being my first ever Thai beach destination, it left an indelible impression on me. Ten and a half long years ago I made my first trip to the kingdom, and did what millions of others do – a two-week holiday comprising a week in the city and a week at the beach. My friend Liam and I plumped for Krabi over the more established likes of Phuket and Ko Samui, as we wanted to go somewhere a bit more untouched. I’ve been back three times, and while Krabi is certainly a lot more developed now than in 2004, it retains a charm long lost on Thailand’s tourism juggernaut destinations. The geography, characterised by world class beaches, lush greenery and limestone karsts offering unlimited postcard opportunities, is incredible, and the atmosphere is laid-back but with an infrastructure geared up enough to ensure there are no visitor inconveniences. Ao Nang is a fun and affordable little beach town which can serve as an excellent hub for exploring the islands.

4. KO SICHANG

Ko Sichang offers Thai countryside atmosphere and attitudes by the sea

Ko Sichang offers countryside atmosphere by the sea

How far do you think you have to go from Bangkok to find the “real” Thailand? You may well be thinking a trip to Isan, the nearest point of which would be about a four-hour drive at best. But actually, a mere hour out of the capital – and, even more surprisingly, just 30 minutes away from the cultural atrocity that is Pattaya – will bring you to a land of farmers, fishing villages, creaking shophouses, wandering livestock, dusty neighbourhood temples and locals who’ll be charmed by the rare presence of a foreign visitor. And this is on an island well within reach of the tourist hordes too. It is perhaps obvious why the average tourist bypasses Ko Sichang, but if you’re not the average tourist, this should appeal.

See a previous piece on Ko Sichang here.

5. KO KRET

A real jungle so close to the urban one

A real jungle so close to the urban one

Moving away from the seaside but sticking with islands, we come to Ko Kret, a river island in Nonthaburi. Again, this is just a short hop from Bangkok but a true leap back in development. About an hour’s drive from central Bangkok will bring you to Pak Kret district, where you can take a ferry across the Chao Phraya for the princely sum of 5 baht and enter a land that the capital city forgot. Ko Kret is largely populated by the Mon people of Burma, who live a largely subsistence lifestyle supplemented by selling pottery. A ring road circles the island, with the southern portion cutting through inland. You can walk it in 3-4 hours, or rent a bicycle if you prefer, stopping for lunch along the way and perhaps at the excellent Chit Beer microbrewery too. There are no cars on the island and there are umpteen photo-stop opportunities as you snap away at jungle scenes, dilapidated houses and rural folk, each time having to remind yourself how close you are the megalopolis of Bangkok. If you do the circuit, I recommend going in an anti-clockwise direction to avoid the sole touristy part of the island – the market – until the end.

6. AMPHAWA

Ampawa Floating Market (pic: TourismThailand.org)

Ampawa Floating Market (pic: TourismThailand.org)

The final pick is another riverine destination, this time about an hour’s drive south of Bangkok. Amphawa boasts two visitor features in particular, and a delightfully lazy ambience in general. The tourist attractions are a floating market quite unlike the one (Damnoen Saduak) that the vast majority of tourists visit, and the spectacle of abundant fireflies lighting up the riverside trees at night. The market, which only operates at weekends, offers goods more typical of a Thai shopping destination, and at more reasonable prices, than Damnoen Saduak. It also opens in the evening, which might be preferable for many to the cripplingly early start required to make it to Damnoen Saduak. It also times nicely so that after perusing the market, you can hop aboard a tour boat to witness the magical firefly show. Accommodation is typically riverside homestays, which adds to the authenticity and tranquility.

Disclaimer: I don’t even begin to claim this is an exhaustive list. I have barely been to half of the country’s provinces. This is merely a list of my own experiences, so no need to ask me why I didn’t put such-and-such in. Feel free to add your own favourites in the comments, though.

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See also: SIX OF THE BEST: BOXING EVENTS IN THAILAND

SIX OF THE BEST: THAI MOVIES

SIX OF THE BEST: BANGKOK RESTAURANTS


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