Bangkok. Few cities are as famous and beloved as the Thai capital. And with good reason. This ‘city of angels’, besides being the commercial capital, has a lot to offer all its visitors. But if this isn’t your first trip to Thailand, chances are you’ve been there, done that, and are looking for more! Even if this is your first trip to Thailand and you’re looking for ‘off-beat’ things to do, read on…

It’s no secret that Thailand is a traveller’s paradise. The mere mention of its name can conjure up thousands of vivid images in one’s mind. From picture perfect tropical beaches fringed with trees, to lush hills hooded with tree covers, Thailand is the perfect destination for anyone looking for a getaway. The options within this lovely country are innumerable, so we’ve collated a list of 8 unique places we think you absolutely must visit if you’re looking for a more off-beat travel experience.

Go North!

If your current state of mind is nudging you towards a greener destination with plenty of hills and waterfalls, then the North of Thailand is your best bet. Cities here offer an idyllic blend of modernity and the rich Thai culture. Here are our top three recommendations:

1. Chiang Mai

A 700-year-old town, Chiang Mai is the perfect fusion of traditional Thai culture and contemporary cafes that have mushroomed all over the city. Craggy and ribboned by the pristine Ping river, Chiang Mai, a land of lush rainforests, truly is a sight to behold. Head this way for some adventure (cliff jumping, trekking), great bargains (the best street markets), temple hopping and, of course, their legendary dish – Khao Soi. You can also visit the country’s only ethical elephant sanctuary here. (Read here to know more about things to do in Chiang Mai)

Ithaka Pro Tip: Chiang Rai, a smaller, quainter version of Chiang Mai, is a short drive away. A day trip to Chiang Rai is well worth your time. Make sure you visit the White Temple here.

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Ways to get here: Chiang Mai is about 3 hours from Bangkok, or 700 kilometres away. You can choose to fly or take a train.
What should you visit for: Less commercial, Culture, Historical sites & monuments, Natural Beauty, and Adventure.

2. Pai

The town that was once a favourite among hippies, is now a favorite with backpackers and is the epitome of “chill”. You can hop over to Pai to be one with nature, to relax, or  just soak in its lively energy. Pai has the most scenic vistas for biking around (think lush green surroundings that soothe the senses) amidst great weather. It offers beach vibes, barring the sea itself. Consider exploring Pai’s own ‘Grand Canyon’, visiting the ‘Tha Pai Hot Springs’ for a relaxing bath, the world famous Lod Caves or just exploring the various temples here. Pai is also famed for the super yummy food (and yes, they also make fantastic Khao Soi).

Ithaka Pro Tip:
1. Those looking for a hippie vibe should consider staying at ‘Circus Hostel’. Be sure to book well in advance – they’re almost always sold out.
2. If you suffer from motion sickness, consider popping an anti-nausea med prior to the trip.

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Ways to get here: Pai is a little over 800 kms from Bangkok and can be reached by air, road or rail.
What should you visit for: Natural beauty, Unwinding in the lap of tranquil nature.

When You Prefer Being In And Around Bangkok

So you don’t want to head out too far from Bangkok but want more from your trip? We feel you, and we’ve got you covered. There is a wealth of experience around the bustling capital city for you to explore. Here are some fun options:

3. Ayutthaya

If you’re a history buff and like the idea of spending a day exploring ruins from centuries ago, then a day trip to Ayutthaya is a must. A 14th century city, Ayutthaya was one of the largest urban areas of its time, built with immaculate planning – strategically placed on an island. The city was burnt down by the Burmese army in the 18th century and has been in ruins ever since. What you can hope to see here are the remains of large monuments like the reliquary towers (where relics were housed) and Buddhist monasteries. Ayutthaya is also a UNESCO world heritage site.

Ithaka Pro Tip:
1. Consider renting a bicycle in Ayutthaya to explore the island better.
2. You can pre-book a tour that serves you lunch at the site and offers a river cruise in the evening.

Thomas Cook Tip: Do keep cash handy – certain temples have an entry free.

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What should you visit for: History, Culture.

4. Kanchanaburi

There is no glamour in war. And yet, the remnants of it act as a reminder of its atrocities. That’s what a visit to Kanchanaburi offers – a haunting glimpse into the tragic effects of World War II. Kanchanaburi is where the infamous ‘Death Railway’ was built – at the cost of the lives of over 100,000 Prisoners of War and native labourers. It is also home to war museums and cemeteries. Read more about it here.

If the dark history of war gets too much, consider exploring the verdant side of this town. Kanchanaburi is home to the beautiful river Kwai, – yes, that River Kwai – and many breathtaking sites,  like the national parks and caves which are speckled with waterfalls. (Look out for the seven-tiered waterfall). There are also plenty of eateries and resorts along the river, if you wish to spend a night here.

Ithaka Pro Tip: Kanchanaburi is notorious for really high temperatures – especially in the summers. Avoid visiting it during the month of April.

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What should you visit for: History, Natural Beauty.

5. Hua Hin

This picturesque resort town was once the holiday home of Thai aristocracy. Just a few years in, Hua Hin comfortably blended into a resort town open for all. Pick Hua Hin if you are keen on a beach holiday and don’t intend to go far south for the pretty beaches. A cosmopolitan town, it has great resorts that suit every kind of budget and offer sprawling golf courses, delectable food choices, and a laid back, relaxed atmosphere accompanied by the unbeatable Thai hospitality.

Ithaka Pro Tip: Hua Hin is a paradise for seafood lovers.

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What should you visit for: Relaxing beachside vacations with great food options.

Head South For More

When one thinks of Thailand, it is the postcard-friendly beaches that people picture. But there’s a lot more here that’s ideal for a getaway. From the oldest national park, to the party capital, to the beach that’s a divers paradise, southern Thailand has some pretty hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Here are the ones we recommend:

6. Khao Sok National Park

If you’ve had your share of beach bumming and are looking for something more, consider visiting the Khao Sok National Park. It is a perfect fit for nature lovers and adventure seekers. The world’s oldest national park, Khao Sok’s forest is known to be approximately 160 million years old. What you can hope to find in this green cover is close encounters with inmates and animals – both wild, and not so wild ones. Spend time soaking in the stunning vistas – waterfalls that speckle the limestone mountains and lakes that sit pretty in the park. If you’re in the mood for some adventure, spend time trekking, go bamboo rafting, or take a jungle walk.

Ithaka Pro Tip: Do check out the Overnight Lake Tour, the floating raft houses, and luxury tents on the Cheow Larn Lake.

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What should you visit for: Pristine natural beauty, Adventure.

7. Koh Phangan

Love parties? Can’t have enough of them? Then Koh Phangan must definitely feature on your must-party-here list. This beautiful island’s claim to fame is the full-moon party. Sitting in close proximity to Koh Samui, this beach destination is perfect for people looking to let their hair down and party through the night with sandy toes. During these parties, a stretch of the beach turns into an open air nightclub with music blaring, plenty of alcohol, and party hoppers (something like 30,000 people) grooving away. One of the most sought after parties, this one’s now a must-do activity in Thailand for the young, and the young at heart!

Ithaka Pro Tip: The only way to get to Koh Phangan is by ferry. Do check on its timings, and weather conditions, prior to departing.

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What should you visit for: Full Moon Party.

8. Similan Islands

Similan Islands, literally Nine Islands, is one of the most heavenly locales in all of Thailand. Though the name indicates nine, there are eleven islands in all that form the archipelago. Each island ribboned by its own pool of crystal clear blue water. Head here if you’re looking to spend some time with marine life – sharks, barracudas, triggerfish, and various nemos. This protected island has unmatched snorkelling and scuba diving opportunities. National Geographic has rated Similan Islands among the top ten diving sites in the world. These islands are also home to some interesting wild animals and some rare species of birds.

Ithaka Pro Tip: You need prior permission from the Thai government to visit these islands as they are protected areas. This permit can be obtained once you land in Thailand. The island is shut from May to October,  so plan accordingly.

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Ways to get here: (From Bangkok) You could get here by flight but that is one of the more expensive options. The cheapest option is to get on a night bus from Bangkok and then take a taxi boat to the islands.
What should you visit for: Snorkelling, Scuba Diving, Natural Beauty.

Thailand is home to many more such gems but we think these places are great to start with. If you know of any others that must feature in our list, please do share the names. And if you’ve been to any of these already, we’d love to hear all about your experiences.