We’re going to show you a different side to Asia’s happiest nation. Because despite what you’ve seen, heard, or maybe even experienced before, there’s so more to this country than buzzing cities, crazy-beautiful beaches and even crazier parties. Like sunrise Shavasanas with fellow yogis, broadening your mind whilst learning all about Buddhism, and finding your own slice of pristine sand with nobody else for miles.
So, are you wanting to emerge on the other side of your Thailand escape feeling healed, not hungover?
Here are six places in Thailand that lie beyond the well-trodden tourist and backpacker path, each offering unique experiences for those who want something more mindful, than mental…
The vibe: Railay is a jaw-dropping peninsula stretching out past the popular city of Krabi, but it feels more like a remote island due to the fact it’s cut off by huge limestone cliffs, and therefore only accessible via a 20-minute boat ride.
It’s a tangle of four epic beaches: Railay East, Railay West, the competitor for Best Beach in the World, Pra Nang (studded with dramatic cliffs and beautiful caves), and the chilled out climbing mecca, Tonsai. They’re each split up by jungle trails, cute tropical pathways and karst formations. Allow more than a few days here; there’s so much to discover in a deceivingly small space.
Our favourite? Hippy hangout, Tonsai. This is where bouldering buffs scale the cliffs and kick back on the white sand below. Only accessible by a rocky jungle trail off of the side of Railay West, it’s seriously chilled, with barely any bars, and heaps of budget bungalows.
Best for: Climbers, boulderers and explorers who want to find their chill.
How to get there: Easy. Just hop on one of the many boats departing daily from Krabi. Krabi has a major airport, so it’s easily reachable on a flight from Bangkok.
Koh Lanta Yai
The vibe: Another cluster of paradisaical gems on the Andaman side of Thailand, Koh Lanta is large and relatively developed with hotels and restaurants, but still heaps more laid-back than it’s cousins, Phi Phi and Phuket.
The main island, Koh Lanta Yai is large enough to be explored by bike or scooter, with heaps of activities. As well as the usual (canoeing, jungle hikes to beaches, snorkelling) there are some unique opportunities for the more socially and environmentally conscious – think voluntary beach clean-ups and dog walking with Lanta Animal Welfare.
Best for: Yoga lovers and do-gooders. There are a handful of yogi hangouts offering daily sessions and healthy smoothies in all-round zen surroundings. And whereas there are plenty of sustainably-built hippie bars and cute beach hangouts, you can rest assured you’ll never miss a class due to a hangover from the rager you had the night before.
How to get there: Hop on one of the many daily departure boats from Krabi, Trang, Phuket or Phi Phi.
Koh Kradan, Trang Islands
The vibe: A tiny slip of sand in the Adriatic, dotted with hammocks and makeshift swings, Kradan is empty apart from a few tiny resorts, bars and beach bungalows. The coral a few feet off-shore is some of the best you’ll see in Thailand – think rainbow colours, hundreds of Nemo’s and if you’re lucky, even rays.
A few days here will be enough to reset you entirely… and if you tire of doing a whole load of nothing in paradise, Kradan’s slightly larger neighbours Koh Ngai and Koh Muk might offer a change of scenery and some fancier eating options.
Best for: Snorkelling and snoozing. And nothing else. Kradan is silent, sleepy, and entirely unspoiled.
How to get there: Koh Kradan is well off the backpacking trail, but it’s still easy to get to in high season, which stretches from November to April. During this period, ferries run from Phuket (3 hours), Phi Phi (2 hours), Trang on the mainland (under an hour) and Koh Lanta (also around an hour).
During the low season, you can still catch a short boat ride from the mainland port town of Trang.
The vibe: Over on the other side of Thailand, Koh Phangan’s slightly more chilled out big brother is full of top restaurants, spas, Buddhist temples, and tropical yoga gardens.
The most popular resort, Chaweng Beach offers everything your standard holidaymaker or backpacker could need: a great (read: busy) beach, nightlife, ample shopping and heaps of activities. But if you’re still reading this, we’re guessing you’re not looking for that. Don’t fear – Samui is a big island, so there are enough beaches to go around.
Our tips? Maenam beach is a little high-end, with boutique shops and lashings of empty sand for you to meditate the day away on, but it’s Bophut that holds onto its chill the hardest. You’ll be able to meet fellow yogis here, wander through the quaint colonial village, and pack in as much yin yoga as you like, all before your healthy Thai curry lunch.
Best for: Holiday-seekers who want a balance of wellness and relaxation, and fun excursions. With so many waterfalls to chase and the idyllic Ang Thong Marine Park just offshore, Samui can easily eat up a week of your itinerary.
Getting there: The best way to experience Koh Samui’s blissed out beaches is with a flight via Singapore or Bangkok. If you’re heading there by land, you can catch a boat from Surat Thani on the mainland, or from Koh Phangan or Koh Tao.
The furthest south you can get before hitting the shores of Malaysia, Koh Lipe is the quintessential Andaman jewel, and a smaller, more chilled version of Koh Lanta. Asides from the token 7-Eleven, and the quaint Buddhist temple in the small central village, there’s next to no development here, asides from a good mix of resorts and budget beach bungalows.
Small enough to walk around, it’ll start to feel like home quickly here, which is why we love it. There’s Sunrise Beach for watching the sunrise, Sunset Beach for – yep, you guessed it – and a heap of fresh seafood to tuck into lining the lanes and beaches everywhere. A bunch of resorts offer yoga, and you’ll be able to rent a snorkel seemingly every few metres. Come nightfall, you can head to Pattaya Beach for low-key parties that last until the early hours. Oh… and blue, bio-luminescent plankton along the entire shore.
Best for: Wannabe mermaids and animal whisperers. There’s some seriously amazing snorkelling and diving, and for those with the time, a trip to wildlife-filled Tarutao National Park, less than two hours away, is not to be missed.
How to get there: Koh Lipe is two hours from the mainland by ferry, which you can catch from the mainland port of Hat Yai. Already island hopping? Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi, Phuket and Krabi also have ferries departing daily to this little gem – they take around four hours but the journey is so worth it.
So Pai, nestled up in the northern Thailand province of Mae Hong Son, isn’t an island like the rest, but it might as well be, for all the tranquillity it offers. Just ask one of our Digital wizards pictured above, Rachael. She’s one serious party animal and even she got some shut eye up here.
At first, Pai may look like your standard backpacker mecca, filled with leafy hostels and hammock-filled hangouts. But there are also wellness centres, the Chedi Phra That Mae Yen temple, plenty of places to practice meditation and learn about Buddhism, Thai cooking and massage. Plus, there are even some natural hot springs to soak in.
Best for: Hippy types, alternative travellers and anyone tired of the noise of nearby Chiang Mai.
How to get there: Hop on a bus or moped to take in the twisting, turning roads all the way from Chaing Mai, which is around 80 miles south.