There’s more to Thailand than the tourism hot spots of Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket. In fact there are 77 provinces to explore.
If you’re after authentic villages, regional food and untouched paradises, then travel search engine Skyscanner has found 12 spots for you.
1. Lampang, North Thailand
Many people pass by Lampang on the way to Chiang Mai, but this laid-back town is well worth a stop over thanks to its riverside bars and restaurants, its many horse-drawn carriages, and impressive Buddhist temples.
Lampang Province is also home to the Thailand Elephant Conservation Centre, where you watch more than 50 elephants bathing, including babies, and take an elephant ride too.
2. Phetchabun, North Thailand
A land of waterfalls, mountain ranges and rivers, Phetchabun Province also hosts two impressive national parks. The misty heights of Khao Kho National Park provides a forest home for wild elephants, Asian golden cats, mouse deer, porcupines and the gorgeous slow loris. Meanwhile, tigers, leopards, black bears and sun bears live in the equally enticing Nam Nao National Park.
3. Nan, North Thailand
Remote Nan Province is a tranquil place bordering Laos. Trekking is popular here with visits to hill tribe communities on the cards. Rice paddies and fruit forests predominate, while the provincial town of Nan offers a relaxing hangout complete with more temples and riverside bars.
4. Buriram, Northeast Thailand
If you like ruins then this is the place for you. Ancient Khmer ruins are commonplace, the most impressive being Phanom Rung, which is one of the best preserved Khmer temple complexes in Southeast Asia. Apart from this, it’s the rural Thai life that’s the drawcard, with hot, hot Isan food on the menu.
5. Loei, Northeast Thailand
Featuring a border with the Mekong River, lovely Loei Province offers impressive Buddhist temples and stupas, fiery-hot food, mountainous national parks, great cycling, ethnic minorities like the Thai Dam, and the incredible Pi Ta Kon Festival, where locals dress up as ghosts in colourful costumes and masks (or cake themselves in mud) and dance through town clanging their cow bells.
A vibrant mix of market stalls, temples, vineyards and natural wonders in Loei province. Picture: Phensri Rutledge.
A vibrant mix of market stalls, temples, vineyards and natural wonders in Loei province.
6. Samut Songkhram, Central Thailand
An hour or so south west of Bangkok you’ll come across one of the most exciting sights in Thailand — the Maeklong Railway Market. This huge market has a large area dedicated to fish of all types and a vegetable section that spills onto the railway tracks.
When the trains arrive or leave from the local station the vendors pull back their overhanging store shades and the train rumbles within centimetres of you and them. Your nose could almost scrape the dust of the side of the massive locomotive. From here head to the Amphawa Floating markets and take a long-tailed boat through the floating food vendors and along the canals.
7. Ratchaburi, Central Thailand
Also not far from Bangkok is Ratchaburi which is famed for the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. Come to see lots of women in straw hats paddling boats laden with fresh fruit, noodles, fried bananas, and souvenirs. It wraps up at midday so arrive early.
The nearby Rose Garden offers traditional dancing, handicrafts, authentic houses from all over Thailand, and Muay Thai martial arts demonstrations.
8. Trat, East Thailand
Thailand’s easternmost province is best known for its popular Koh Chang chain of islands, but there are plenty of other unspoilt beaches and coral reefs to discover that only the locals know. In fact, there are 52 islands around here, and golden sand along the coast too. Trat borders Cambodia and the area is an important supply route, with lots of fascinating markets to explore.
9. Chanthaburi, East Thailand
Thailand at it’s natural best, Chanthaburi province is waterfall heaven, with pools and rivers and rainforest slopes. Namtok Phlio National Park has some great hikes and you can join the locals feeding fish with long beans. Expect lots of temples and pagodas, while the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is a delightful Catholic interlude.
10. Trang, South Thailand
Undiscovered Trang could compete with popular Krabi when it comes to beautiful offshore islands, tranquil white-sand beaches and entrancing inland limestone mountains. The Andaman Sea is clear and green and home to dugongs. There are world-class dive sites, national parks, waterside caves, and friendly villages. It’s going to become huge, so get there before the crowds do.
11. Chumphon, South Thailand
Remote beaches and gorgeous islands make Chumphon province a must-see destination. Little Koh Lang Ka Jew island is simply gorgeous, and several idyllic days can pass before you realise. In Chumphon town visit the Royal Palace and wander around the bustling Street Night Market. Join the locals and experience the best Pad Thai and seafood stir-fries.
12. Nakhon Si Thammarat, South Thailand
If you are on the ferry to Ko Samui and look back towards the mainland you might just see a portion of the wonderful coastline of this fascinating province. Visit the friendly small city of Nakhon Si Thammarat and offer alms to the local Buddhist monks before jumping on a boat tour of the stunning Had Khanom National Marine Park.
Look out for the beautiful pink dolphins than swim in the emerald sea. The scenery, which includes craggy islands and ancient layered sandstone rocks topped with prehistoric-looking trees, is breathtaking.