How to see more of Thailand than just the typical tourist trail
It’s not all ladyboys and Full Moon parties
The launch of E4’s new show ‘Gap Year’ will certainly bring back memories of Full Moon parties, dorm room sex, and buckets of questionable cocktails to uni students across the country. There’s no doubt that Thailand really is the ‘land of smiles’, and the perfect destination for a student budget trip but it’s also possible to see some of the real Thailand, in addition to plenty of partying.
Where everyone goes: Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok
Bangkok is the place everyone starts their South East Asia journey; it has everything from cheap Changs (the local beer) and crazy tuk-tuks, to strange smells and an abundance of ping-pong shows.
While Chatuchak market is one of the largest markets in Asia, it’s also a bit of a let-down as far as tourist hotspots go. It’s mostly filled with the standard tourist knickknacks that you can find anywhere in Thailand, and is a tourist trap for pickpockets! If you do visit, make sure you’re ‘Travel Aware’ regarding pickpocketing.
Where to go instead: Ratchada Train Night Market
A highlight of Bangkok and one of the coolest night markets I’ve ever been to – nowhere near as touristy and way less chance of being hustled.
This is the place that Thai people go to for chilled drinks and great buys. There aren’t many Westerners wandering around here – it does seem to be a hidden gem in Bangkok! They have everything from vintage clothes to cool street food restaurants. You can also find some cool souvenirs but not the Gap-Yah elephant trousers and embroidered crop tops that everyone else buys! I managed to get a vintage denim jacket for a steal at just £4 – would deffo recommend!
Where everyone goes: Koh Samui
The tried and tested backpacker island – it was the start of Leo Dicaprio’s adventure in 90s classic The Beach (worth a watch, if only for the landscape … and the man himself!).
It is a great visit but don’t expect the quiet and tranquil paradise that it once was. Nowadays it’s quite rowdy and overcrowded.
Highlights include: Hin Ta and Hin Yai Rocks (this literally translates as Grandfather and Grandmother rocks as they look like the corresponding genitals), some good spas, and the Green Mango Club.
Where to go instead: Koh Chang
This is still relatively undeveloped and far quieter than Koh Samui. It’s also off the usual tourist trail – closer to the Cambodian border in the bay of Thailand – but it is still a low-key party destination with good vibes and quite a few fun reggae bars on Lonely Beach.
Over 90% of the island is jungle so the sights are unbelievable, and you can wake up with a jungle view from your window for not much more than the price of 2 pints.
Where everyone goes: Koh Phi Phi
The biggest party island after Koh Phangngan. But there is zero room to chill with a constant rush of people. Partying on a tiny island you can walk across in 20 minutes is great for a couple of days but after that you will be craving some real chill time on a tranquil paradise island after too many Thai beers and some regretful actions.
Where to go instead: Koh Lanta
However, when you need a break from the party lifestyle, Koh Lanta is only a ferry ride away.
With plenty of untouched white beaches, this is Koh Phi Phi as it was 20 years ago. The perfect place to relax and rejuvenate after the party lifestyle of previous islands – a great start or end to a trip and a great place to try out surfing too!
Where everyone goes: Angkor Watt, Cambodia
It’s not quite Thailand but it’s on most backpackers’ itineraries anyway.
Beautiful and definitely worth a visit, as it is one of the largest of the Khmer temples with a lot of history, but it’s also the busiest by far. The crowds mean you’ll struggle to get a good Instagram pic even if you arrive at 5am to watch the sunrise (believe it or not, this photo took 20 mins of strategic placement and dodging the approx. 300 people around me at 5:30am while extremely hungover)!
Where to go instead: Phimai Temple, Thailand
The one and only place I visited in which I was the only Westerner for 2 whole days! It is situated in the East of Thailand, a region called Isan. This is also a Khmer temple with a similar design as Angkor Watt, built in the same empire, but seems to be forgotten. Apart from 5 monks, I was the only visitor there, it was definitely a better experience than the few thousand around me at Angkor Watt – it made the 3 different buses from Bangkok and considerable use of Google Translate worth it in the end!
If you are going travelling this summer, then make sure you check out the FCO advice on how to stay ‘Travel Aware’ while backpacking abroad.