Northern Chiang Mai Province
North of Chiang Mai, the land rucks up into forested mountains on either side of the Mae Ping river as northern Thailand merges into southeastern Myanmar. With a chartered rót daang or rented motorcycle (with sufficient horsepower) you can roam high into the hills, visiting national parks, spectacular viewpoints, Royal Project farms and hill-tribe villages. The website www.
Nakhon Si Thammarat Province
If you’re searching for less-trodden paths and fewer faràng, then this relatively non-touristy province might be the gem you’re looking for. Much of it is covered with rugged mountains and forests, its verdant jungles teem with lush vegetation and it was once the last refuge of Thailand’s communist insurgents.
Cheap and cheerful Cha-am is a popular beach getaway for working-class families and Bangkok students. On weekends and public holidays, neon-painted buses (called ‘chor ching cha’), their sound systems pumping, deliver groups of holidaymakers. It is a very Thai-style beach party, with eating and drinking marathons held around umbrella-shaded beach chairs and tables.
A chilled-out hybrid of Hat Karon and Hat Surin, Kamala lures in a mix of longer-term, low-key visitors, families and young couples. The bay is magnificent and serene. Palms and pines mingle on the leafy, rocky northern end, where the water is a rich emerald green and the snorkelling around the rock reef is halfway decent.
The town of Buriram is a friendly place, but lacks much of interest to tourists. The province, on the other hand, has some of Thailand's must-see Khmer relics. The countryside is peppered with dozens of Khmer ruins, the crowning glory of which is Phanom Rung, a beautifully restored complex climbing to the summit of an extinct volcano.
As the closest beach to Bangkok, Bang Saen is a weekend favourite for those wanting to escape city life. Recent renovations to the beachfront and a slew of new boutique hotels have boosted its popularity. During the day, the 4km-long promenade is packed with tandem bicycles and seafood stalls.
Hat Noppharat Thara
North of Ao Nang, the golden beach turns more au naturel as it curves 4km around a less developed headland, until the sea eventually spills into a busy natural lagoon at Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi-Phi National Park headquarters. The visitors centre has displays on coral reefs and mangrove ecology in Thai and English.
An elongated jungle-covered cape jutting into the sea just south of Phuket Town, Laem Phanwa is an all-natural throwback. Some say this is the last vestige of Phuket as it once was. The biggest bloom of development is near the harbour at the cape's tip, 12km south of Phuket Town.