What's better than doing the whole tourist thing? Travelling like you know the place. Here's our pick of the top quirky destinations and travel hacks to have you exploring Thailand like you've been there a thousand times — even if it's your first time.
There are the usual suspects when it comes to travel destinations, and then there are these quirky spots you really should be adding to your itinerary.
1. Lotus Lake
During Thai high season, October through March, this freshwater lake is overrun by blooming, fuchsia lotus flowers. This Monet-esque natural wonder is a feast for the eyes and basically every photographers dream come true.
The only access is by wooden boats owned by the locals — but there are plenty of fisherman happy to take visitors on a tour around the lake. It is a little bit off the beaten track, in a rural rice-farming region — but if you do make the pilgrimage up to the North of Thailand to witness this wonder, you certainly won’t regret it.
Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for the rare birds that call the lake and surrounding wetlands home.
2. Monkey Beach
Yep. It’s a beach filled with monkeys. Lots and lots of monkeys. This small strip of sand is tucked into a cove of Ao Ling, Phi Phi Island. It is a common stop for the Phi Phi Island boat, if that's your preferred method of travel, but to avoid the tourists, it can also be reached by renting a water taxi or kayak from Phi Phi’s Loh Dalum Bay.
These monkeys are a rare treat, they’re friendly and reasonably passive. They love people and will happily pose for photos or chill beside you on the beach. However, they’re still monkeys. Keep physical interactions limited to passing food and maybe a handshake.
3. Wat Mahathat of Bangkok
Temple of the Great Relic, Wat Mahathat of Bangkok was built to house a relic of Buddha in the 14th century. Despite some structural collapses over the years, it's one of the oldest standing sites in Thailand. The grounds of the temple are filled with ancient relics, structures and statues and it's also home to the Buddha head embedded in tree roots, one of the iconic images of Thailand.
This ancient temple is now home to Thailand’s largest monastic order, the Mahanikai school of Buddhism, and it’s also a Vispassana Meditation centre
4. Surin Beach
Surin Beach is the beach from the travel ads — think white sand and aquamarine water. If you’re looking for tranquillity and a few killer photos, this is the place to go. It’s often missed by tourists vacationing on the Thai island of Phuket because it is about 20 minutes by car north of the main district of Patong. As a result it’s one of the quieter and least populated beaches in Phuket, making it the ideal place to relax and chill out.
Don't bother heading here for nightlife — most of the nightclubs were all torn down during the 2014 coup.
5. Erawan National Park
This stunning national park is home to awesome waterfalls, with the highest said to resemble the mythical three-headed white elephant Erawan. The rocks in the park are mostly limestone which, when eroded by the water has resulted in some truly spectacular rock formations and brightly coloured plunge pools.
Erawan is a great secluded place to swim, hike and explore.
You know where to go, now here's how to not stand out as a wide eyed tourist.
1. Tuk Tuks Vs Taxis
Tuk tuks are a popular tourist gimmick so they often try to charge the unsuspecting foreigner quite a bit more than a regular taxi. Always agree on a price with the driver before getting in — ask your hotel concierge or the information desk at the airport for an idea of prices. It should cost roughly 8000 baht from Phuket airport to the main district, Patong. For Bangkok, it should cost roughly 1000 baht from the airport to the centre of town.
In particularly touristy areas, tuk tuk drivers are also sometimes paid by stores to bring them customers. So while you might ask to be taken back to your hotel, you might find yourself on route to tailor or jewellery shop instead. If using a tuk tuk, try to always take one from a designated stand and be very clear about where you want to go.
2. Eat Where The Locals Eat
You’re not going to find the best Thai food at a beach side café chain visited only by tourists. Also, you’ll look like a clueless foreigner. Sometimes the best food is found at the dodgy-looking, hole in the wall eatery packed to the brim with Thai people. You definitely won't accidentally be given tap water there, either.
3. Never Accept The First Price
When perusing through the markets, it’s important to know that the shopkeepers will expect you to barter with them. When you ask how much something is, the price they give you will be significantly more than they expect you to pay. You should try to negotiate the price as low as possible. They will never accept a price that leaves them unhappy so don’t be concerned that you’re driving too hard a bargain.
4. The good stuff is in the back
If you see a stall with a few things that you like, ask the shopkeeper: “do you have any more like this?”. If they do, they’ll signal you to follow them to the back room. Sometimes it’s a little bit of a walk, but once you get there you’ll be a in a lovely air-conditioned room with display cases full of all the good stuff they don’t want to get dirty or stolen on the street.
5. A Little Bit of Thai Goes A Long Way
Saying hello (swad-dee kha for women or swad-dee krub for men) and thank you (kop khun kha for women or kop khun krub for men) in Thai will not only get you a long way with locals, but it will make you sound like less of a tourist.