Help me figure out where else to go on my Thailand trip!
May 19, 2011 5:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to Thailand to see a friend, who is on an island off of Phuket. I'll be there for about a week. Apparently this island has great beaches and is great for relaxing, snorkeling, and doing a whole lot of nothing. I'd like to take two or three weeks on this trip, but the problem is that I don't know where else to go in addition to this island!

I've never been to Thailand, and everything seems to focus on the great diving and snorkeling (not my thing, I don't like deep water), the beaches (chilling on a beach for more than a few days makes me antsy), and the insane partying (I'm not into drugs and I'm past my getting-totally-wasted-and-passing-out life phase). What am I into? I like food, wine, art, architecture, day hiking with great views (and without too many bugs or wildlife), biking, music, cooking, important historic sites, things that are very old, and off the beaten path adventures. However, I don't like the "shady" factor of Thailand - I have traveled elsewhere in Asia and in the Middle East and I don't like sticking out as a foreigner (I am white) and being preyed on constantly by people who want to take you to "their brother's shop" or whatever other shady thing. I'm wondering if I shouldn't spend the other weeks of my trip in Japan or something. I'm also terrified of dengue fever! Anyway, with the above in mind, are there any other can't miss parts of Thailand or SE Asia?
posted by emily37 to Travel & Transportation around Thailand (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
It should also be mentioned that I can't really stand touristy stuff of any kind - I prefer to make my own plans, though I do know from past experience in Asia that using a tour company or agent is sometimes completely necessary and the smart thing to do to get the best experience.
posted by emily37 at 6:04 PM on May 19, 2011

Are you interested in WWII history? The Kanchanaburi area might be one to look into. I was there only briefly, but the Bridge on the River Kwai and Sai Yok Noi Falls were interesting. We took a train from Bangkok to get there, but that wiki page has more travel info. It looks like the Erawan National Park/Erawan Falls might have some decent light hiking, too.
posted by BlooPen at 6:17 PM on May 19, 2011

Angkor Wat in Cambodia (tourists, but you don't really need a guide)
Ayuthaya, Krabi, and Chiang Mai in Thailand were three nice places that weren't too touristy. Chiang Mai has treks and cooking classes that are are touristy, but it is still worth seeing. Taking a cooking class was a lot of fun, though.

The Thais are very friendly. Other than the sex tourism (easily avoided) I didn't find much I'd deem shady about the country.
posted by backwards guitar at 6:22 PM on May 19, 2011

Thailand will hold a general election on 03July2011. It may be interesting times looking at the yellow shirts vs the red shirts, but you want to me careful too. Try avoiding Bangkok during that time.
posted by jchaw at 6:43 PM on May 19, 2011

I was there in 1997 so...anyway, I am totally seconding Chiang Mai. At the time it wasn't touristy at all, I saw an elephant walking down the street (i think delivering bananas?) and it was totally awesome with a night market, and intense trekking mountain trips. (i went on a four-day one that was amazing- yes with a guide but with an ex-monk turned opium addict?, so not too predictable or cheesy, too say the least!). I heard now (again seconding above) that they have good cooking classes as well. I would definitely recommend it. I loved Cambodia too, but there is so much to see just in Thailand itself. (also went to koh samui, and of course spent a bit of time in bangkok- which..I would just use as base to get in and out from!).
posted by bquarters at 6:51 PM on May 19, 2011

Vietnam is very cool too.
posted by bquarters at 6:51 PM on May 19, 2011

The touts in Thailand aren't so bad, Cambodia a bit more aggressive, Vietnam the touts are ridiculously aggressive. At least, they were when I was there. Just keep saying no thank you, and move on. In Bangkok, If you get a tuk tuk--three wheeled taxi--to take you somewhere, it'll probably be cheap. Because he'll take you to some souvenir shop or tailor shop or something. If you can spare the 10 minutes, just window shop, say no thanks, get back in the tuk tuk. The drivers make money by taking you there, so just play along, I say. If you want to avoid that, just get a regular (car) taxi.

I've done the Thailand thing a few times, and a couple summers ago spent about two months backpacking around SE Asia: Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam.

Go to Chaing Mai. This is in the north of the country, near the Myanmar border, and you can do jungle trekking. Which is my only regret in that trip, not doing that more. Just you and your group and a few guides and the Thai jungle. Camping at local Caren and other native villages. Back in the city, you can get all the stuff you want from a city, but Chaing Mai is much smaller and laid back than Bangkok. Actually since you'll be landing in Bangkok, I'd say spend as much time as you can there, and when it starts to drive you nuts, head to Chaing Mai.

(i went on a four-day one that was amazing- yes with a guide but with an ex-monk turned opium addict?

bquarters, I think we had the same guide! Or that's a common type amongst the guides there...

I met some people who went to some backpacker haven even further north, can't remember the name. They said it was heaven on earth, very beautiful and relaxing.

I never did go to Phuket, but I spent some time on the eastern islands: Ko Samui (for an island, it was loud, big and busy.), Ko Phan Ngan (Nice size, home of the infamous Full Moon Party at a beach called Hat Rin, which must be the most beautiful stretch of beach in the world. Depending on your taste for dance music though, it's not a tranquil place--even during the day nearby restaurants blast loud music to the party crowd there) and Ko Tao (teeny tiny island--you can walk around it in a few hours--but one of Thailand's best places for scuba diving.
posted by zardoz at 7:11 PM on May 19, 2011

I didn't try this, but some friends who live in Southeast Asia and have done a lot of exploring there, raved about it:

The Gibbon Experience

They said it was their favourite thing to do in S.E Asia, but unfortunately it didn't work into my schedule.
posted by backwards guitar at 7:40 PM on May 19, 2011

Chang Mai sounds right up your alley. I'll also second the suggestion that you go to Angkor Wat; despite the fact that it is pretty full of tourists, the architecture is just amazing, and if you go to some of the remote temples there probably won't be a ton of people around, either.
posted by rkent at 8:41 PM on May 19, 2011

I came in here to suggest the Gibbon Experience as well. If the mods can ignore a small self-link, I recently made a short video about our gibbon adventure in Laos.

Laos was crazy cheap, and very remote feeling, compared to other places.

But if four hundred metre ziplines aren't your thing, you should check out Railei and Koh phi phi. Very toursity, depending on when you're there, but they are also pretty chill places in and of themselves, offering a lot of activities and some incredible (shallow water) snorkelling. They are really beautiful and you'd be surprised how easy it is to slow the pace of life and just hang out for days. You don't have to be a partier either.

I'm also seconding that Thai touts aren't really a thing, but there is a definite backpacker circuit that made us feel like cattle at times.

Have fun!
posted by hamandcheese at 9:19 PM on May 19, 2011

Myanmar would satisfy a number of your criteria. Amongst other things, it's almost completely untouristed, and as a result touts & similar hassles are nearly completely nonexistent.

Bagan is rightly compared with Angkor for many reasons, and is a spectacular place, largely just farmland interspersed with hundreds, if not thousands, of temples. Lake Inle & the Shan Hills have plenty of hiking & other outdoorsy stuff to do, and Rangoon (Yangon) is chock-full of romantically delapidated Raj-era architecture. I didn't find Mandalay to be amazingly special, but your mileage may vary - there are some interesting historical sites within day-trip distance from it.

With limited time up your sleeve, I'd suggest taking some internal flights - less than $100 per leg to avoid 24 hours on bumpy buses. Ground transport is painfully slow (as it is in Laos, and to a lesser extent Cambodia).
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:39 PM on May 19, 2011

Phuket doesn't really have "old". There are a couple of streets in old Phuket which are interesting for their Sino Portuguese heritage. Otherwise not too much culture. Depending which Island; your ferry will either go into / out of Phuket City, Bang Rong Pier, or Chalong (Close by is Wat Chalong the largest on the Island).
It sounds as if you would be happier in Chiang Mai which has many old Wats and it is worth staying in the old part of the city and walking around. There are several cookery schools and several are associated with guest Houses. There are also some great markets especially Wororot and the flower market towards the river. Outside the city are more Wats in the hills overlooking the city, some with gardens. The City is also a good place to base yourself for hiking trips into the Golden Triangle. As usual buyer beware and talk to people and get their take on things before signing up with any company.
There are daily direct flights from Phuket with Air Asia. There are many small comfortable guest houses in Chiag Rai with very friendly and helpful owners and staff. You won't feel hassled, it's not the Thai way.
Personally I loved this guest house and the people who ran it. It is across from the terracotta museum. It is not the cheapest guest house but maybe the sweetest! Ask for a massage, the ladies who come in are instructors from a massage school and their fingers have more strength than my arms!
posted by adamvasco at 12:30 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Great video, hamandcheese.

Railay Beach has rock climbing too - which I enjoyed. You can get there pretty easily by boat from Krabi Town.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:37 AM on May 20, 2011

I wanted to pre-empt any of the Bangkok-haters to say that it is a lively city with a lot to do whether you are looking for culture, food, history, or well whatever else. It's hot and busy, but I never felt harassed as a tourist and loved every day. My then-SO and I had planned to spend a couple days in the city and then go somewhere else, but we ended up staying all 10 days of our trip together in Bangkok.

There is certainly sketch and sleaze, and there is an inevitable backpacker circuit, but it can be almost totally avoided. Also, you seem like an experienced traveler, and will probably come off as less vulnerable than the easier pickings there. Mostly, avoid the tuk-tuks and Khao San (backpacker area) and you'll have a great time.

Tourism in Viet Nam is really touristy feeling, at least in the north. Back in Thailand, stay far the hell away from Pattaya, where you feel embarrassed to be a foreigner just seeing all the sketchy old dudes with the really young girls. Nasty.
posted by whatzit at 9:21 AM on May 20, 2011

Thanks for all the feedback so far! For those of you mentioning Chiang Mai - what do you think about the Dengue fever risk? I feel like most of the people I know who have come down with dengue caught it in northern Thailand.
posted by emily37 at 10:54 AM on May 20, 2011

A rough calculation states that if you live in Thailand for 20 years with no extra precautions, then you have a 1% chance of getting Dengue. So if you are visiting it will be much less of a risk and if you use repellant during the day and sleep under a net at night then you should be fine.
If you have an adversion to DEET, Citronella is easily available.
posted by adamvasco at 11:47 AM on May 20, 2011

I think the risk is pretty minimal in Chiang Mai. I don't even recall mosquito nets over the bed (they were in other places in Southeast Asia).
posted by backwards guitar at 1:23 PM on May 20, 2011

Note that dengue-carrying mosquitoes bite during the daytime, especially after dawn & around dusk. Unless you sleep in, the presence or absence of mosquito nets isn't very relevant.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:49 PM on May 20, 2011

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