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There’s no place in Southeast Asia, it seems, that is so perfectly designed and so successful in marketing itself as a travel destination than Thailand. In fact, tourism is almost a Thai way of life.
Tourism is so deeply entrenched that it’s difficult to find a place where no visitor has ventured before. But that’s a perception that the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is trying to quash this year.
At this year’s Thailand Travel Mart Plus, which took place in the city of Pattaya, a press conference with TAT executives revealed that Thailand still has a few aces up its sleeves. I caught up with Kittipong Prapattong, Director of the TAT in Los Angeles, to get the skinny on some of Thailand’s less frequented spots.
“These destinations are actually Thai locals’ best-kept secrets,” he said. “Travelers haven’t learned about and discovered them. Therefore, TAT believes that it’s time to open the new shades of off-the-beaten-path destinations, especially to the repeater and millennial travelers."
Here are the top five under-the-radar spots in Thailand, according to Prapattong.Chiang Rai Prapattong calls Chiang Rai “a fascinating city filled with cultural and natural wonders, from the ruins of ancient settlements to magnificent mountain scenery.” While it has long been sitting in the shadow of its more famous neighbor, Chiang Mai, this province holds its own as a destination for discerning travelers.
In fact, Thailand’s northernmost province boasts a plethora of diverse attractions, from enigmatic temples and unforgettable local food to dramatic peaks and lush lowland plains. These are coupled with a peaceful, rustic vibe that you’d be hard-pressed to find in its southwest neighbor. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, this is your spot.Chumphon and RanongThe neighboring provinces of Chumphon and Ranong are among Prapattong’s favorite places, not just because they’re lesser known, but also because they “are ideal destinations for those who are seeking relaxation in a natural and quiet atmosphere,” he said. Though Chumphon is mostly treated as a jumping-off point to Thailand’s southern vacation spots, it also has its share of incredible natural attractions, many of which are better preserved and more beautifully untamed than their tourist-riddled counterparts. Ranong, on the other hand, is the country’s least populated province and is, therefore, a paradisal base for Andaman adventures. If you only have time for one site, Mu Ko Chumphon National Park is worth ticking off your list.Koh Mak “Its peaceful nature, thriving ecotourism, white-sand beaches and stunning clear blue water make the island well-worth exploring,” said Prapattong — and that pretty much sums up the small tropical island of Koh Mak. Located south of Mu Koh Chang National Park in the eastern part of Thailand, Koh Mak is an unspoiled paradise, with palm trees, tranquil resorts, fishing villages, a few restaurants and very little in the way of nightlife. Those who love watersports will find the nearby marine park a great venue for snorkeling and diving adventures. If sunning on the beach, indulging on massages and napping in hammocks is your idea of a Thai vacation, Koh Mak is the place to be.Koh Phangan Koh Samui’s younger sibling is definitely one of Thailand’s best islands, even if it’s mostly known for one thing: the Full Moon Party. “Many people think of Koh Phangan as a party island, but most don’t know that it also features some of the best health and wellness retreats in Thailand,” Prapattong said. “People can enjoy this quiet area for yoga and meditation retreats as well as healthful detox meals.”
Indeed, out of Koh Phangan’s five tourism zones, only one is allotted for partying. It’s fifth — and arguably best — is Health and Wellness, where the streets are paved with yoga retreats, boutique properties, spas, organic restaurants such as Seed to Feed and hip cafes. Of course, the other zones (Commercial; Natural Beauty – Heritage and Nature; and Fishing) are also worth exploring, so hop on a scooter and get yourself lost.www.fullmoonparty-thailand.com Trang Images of stunning sunsets on a quiet, seashell-lined beach while feasting on highly addictive crispy pork are what I remember most about Trang, one of Thailand’s last few remaining local strongholds. Tourism is starting to make its mark, but the province is still very pristine, enough that you can run along a stretch of beach without a tourist in sight. “From idyllic islands with breathtaking karst formations and unspoiled beaches to delicious local food, Trang makes a hot new destination for those looking for less developed beaches and islands,” Prapattong said. And he’s not wrong. One must-do here, though, is to jump on a bike, visit local spots and get your fill at a nearby market. For a pampering stay, Anantara Si Kao is an excellent choice.www.sikao.anantara.com The DetailsThailand Travel Mart Pluswww.thailandtravelmartplus.comTourism Authority of Thailandwww.tourismthailand.org