Here is a photo of Thailand you have seen before.
There’s nothing really wrong with it: like the image of a white-haired old man when we think ‘professor’, it’s just stereotypical. It’s also not the full picture.
I was standing around a hip bar last week, drinking Old Fashioneds with a friend of mine, talking about travel. (Occupational hazard.) He swirled his drink, took a sip, and said ‘ugh, I’ll never go back to Thailand. It’s so overexposed. Any charm it ever had has long been destroyed by now. I’m going to Laos.’
Wandering along the Chiang Dao Nature Trail alone, you just have to hope that signs like these aren’t warning against anything serious.
Three months ago, I would’ve agreed with him. But I know better now, and I’ve never been so delighted to be wrong. For our September issue, I was sent to explore Thailand – and I learnt that there are still places you can go that are affordable, beautiful, and far enough from the beaten track to feel like you’re the only person in the world.
The sceptic’s guide to Thailand is on sale now – but in the meanwhile, I hope these photos give you an idea of what it’s like in the lesser-known corners of the Land of Smiles.
Calm waters, and the glittering roof of a Trang temple.
Tea with breakfast: every time you think you’ve found the limit of Things You Can Do With Rice, you are wrong.
In Chiang Dao, I had the pleasure of discovering a valley of cherry blossoms. I hiked there the whole day, and had the entire valley to myself.
There are many ways to work on the sea: moving fish towards people, or moving people towards fish. This captain did both.
This little spot by the river is only a few metres from Ko Kia, one of the best seafood restaurants in Trang.
Even if you can read Thai signs, the lichen can still beat you; coconuts are as delicious as they are ubiquitous.
Sail the world, strange hand-written note tacked to a beachside tree? Yeah. Don’t mind if I do.
The tiny island of Koh Mook is full of distant kayakers and wary cats.
In Chiang Mai, this woman sold grilled parcels of rice, wrapped in banana leaves; meanwhile just down the road, hipster coffee spots sold flat whites.
People are strange, when you’re a stranger. The bustling streets of Chiang Mai Night Market are a riot of smells, people, and buskers.
I met this fellow in Chiang Dao. We didn’t speak any common languages, but enthusiasm for cigarettes (like sport) is universally understandable.
This roadside shrine is one of many lining the side of the road leading to the National Park. There’s a spring here: it’s customary to pray and splash your face with the water.
You’ll go past scenes like this on your way to the Chiang Dao nature trail – and that’s before the trail even starts.
In this clearing, every tree was wearing a beautiful orange sash. It was equal parts moving and eerie.
One of the hikes took me through a delightfully unexpected bamboo forest. It seemed almost animate, with its creaking and swaying.
The Sceptic’s Guide to Thailand, in our September issue.
This story first appeared in the September 2016 issue of Getaway magazine.
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Our September issue features affordable destinations around SA, great photographic hides, and a Thailand travel guide. On shelves from 22 August.