Follow in the footsteps of Libby, our lucky sweepstake winner who was able to experience an all-expenses paid trip to Thailand from a local’s perspective, while being filmed for a TV documentary.
When you initially consider Thailand as a travel destination, you may think of two major stereotypes: hedonistic Full Moon Parties and touristic beaches heaving with travelers. This itinerary will take you off the well-trodden tourist trail, to unexpected corners that will open your eyes to local culture and traditions. Discover indigo craft markets, make contact with the brainchild of a crab rehabilitation project, and learn about the best spots for sampling sumptuous street food.
Do like a local and follow this itinerary to get the real Thailand Experience. Libby travelled all the way from Chumphon in the southern Thailand, to Kalasin in northern Thailand, and this is what she learned from her off the beaten track adventures.
Chumphon – Bangkok – Mae Hong Son – Sakhon Nakon – Kalasin
- Stop number one: Chumphon, southern Thailand
Many people consider Chumphon to be a transit town to other popular destinations such as Koh Tao or Phuket, but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll come across a charming town that gives you a glimpse into local living.
Top things to do in Chumphon
- Check out Uncle Check Crab Bank
Meet the amazing Uncle Check, a local fisher who has played an important role in the fishing community for decades. On realising that the local crab population had noticeably diminished, he decided he was going to take initiative. He racked his brains and decided to buy pregnant crabs from local fisherman and look after the crabs and eggs until they were ready, before releasing them back into the ocean. Thanks to Uncle Check, the community have now seen a significant increase in the number of crabs in the sea, and fisherman now give him the crabs for free. Those who are interested in helping him out can enjoy a homestay and get involved with his marine conservation efforts.
Experience Baan Tom Yai’s Homestay, and you’ll be able to contribute to sea horse rehabilitation, coral conservation, and help to increase the local fish community. This is a small fisherman community run by Gai and his family, who seek to grow the local sea horse population. Help to build fish hatcheries, learn about Thai culture, and soak up your beautiful surroundings. As part of the coral rehabilitation efforts, our team dove into the coral farms to release two seahorses back into their natural environment.
Bangkok is a bustling city home to ancient traditions, mesmerising temples and a wild nightlife. Whether you’re browsing streets corners for mouth-watering food or paying a visit to Wat Pho temple’s Giant Reclining Buddha, you certainly won’t be twiddling your thumbs while here. Balmy night markets intersect with a lively bar culture, and Klong River tours take you down the capital’s peaceful canals for a quieter experience of the city.
Top things to do in Bangkok
- Discover the 24-hour Flower Market (Pak Klong Talad)
Find roses, marigolds, forget me nots, lilies, orchids and much more in Bangkok’s largest retail fresh flower market. A colourful feast for the eyes. Wat Pho Temple, home to the famous gold Giant Reclining Buddha Statue, can be reached by foot from here.
- Navigate Chao Praya River by water taxi
Hope on a water taxi on Bangkok’s main river – Chao Praya River – to see the sights of the capital from the water. We’d recommend taking a ride that coincides with the sunset. Opt to ride with a hop on hop off taxi and you’ll check the chance to peruse Bangkok’s temples and other highlights in your own time.
- Sample Yaowarat Street food by night
Yaowarat road forms part of Bangkok’s Chinatown, and is home to an array of local eateries offering delicious food. Sample coffee at Yi Sheng coffeeshop, fresh fruit juices, tasty noodle stir-fries and more. Do your own food crawl along the colourful food stalls and indulge in an array of unusual dishes.
- Explore Soi Nana in Yaowarat
Calling all barefoot travelers seeking chilled out vibes. Soi Nana can be best described as an up-and-coming hipster area situated along the edge of Chinatown. Here you’ll find new bars, restaurants, and a growing coffee scene seeping its way into the city.
- Stop number three: Mae Hong Son, north Thailand
You’ll get truly off the beaten track with your next stop in Mae Hong Son, a remote town close to the Thailand/Myanmar border. Expect to admire similar scenery to other hotspots in northern Thailand, but more local, authentic vibes that the documentary makers were seeking.
Best things to do in Mae Hong Son
- Tuk tuk ride from Mae Hong Son to Su Tong Pae Bridge
This journey will take around 25 minutes, and the bridge connects a temple on a hill with a small community across the rippling paddy fields below. Enjoy the ride, and more importantly, the view!
- Teach English to novice monks
Brush up on your language skills, and volunteer to teach English to novice monks in a temple connected to Su Tong Pae Bridge. In doing so, you’ll learn about local culture, meet new people and gain relevant experience for your CV.
Do as the locals do and stay on a family-owned farm in Mae Hong Son. At Hern Tern, learn the owner’s decision to build a hotel on his family’s farm shortly after his father sadly passed away. He treats guests as if they were members of his own family, so you’ll be sure to feel at home while staying here. Travelers come and stay here to gaze at the starry night sky, overlook scenic rice paddies and hike at sunrise to take in the expansive views over the valley.
- Visit Baan Dong Lawa Hill Tribe
Located approximately an hour’s uphill trek away from Hern Tai, a visit to the Baan Dong Lawa Hill Tribe will teach you about local communities and culture. The Baan Dong Lawa Hill Tribe are an ethnic group of Khmer origin, and they are believed to have migrated from Cambodia over 900 years ago. This community have their own culture, languages and traditional dress. Unmarried Lawa girls can be seen to wear orange and yellow beads around their neck, as well as white blouses.
Get immersed into local culture and stay overnight with a local family who are the makers of Sook Coffee. Stay with them on this small coffee plantation and learn all about the process of how they make their honey roasted coffee. Meet locals who also take part in everyday activities aimed for the benefit of the local community – bamboo rug making, rice grinding, the drying of chillis and rice and weaving.
- Stop number four: Sakhon Nakon, northeast Thailand
Sakohon Nakon is one of Thailand’s most ancient cities, its history dating back almost 3000 years. Here, you can take the pace back a notch, with visits to forest temples, pretty parks and local crafts markets.
Top things to do in Sakhon Nakon
- Visit the Weekend Indigo Dye Market
Take a trip to the Weekend Indigo Dye Market and browse a variety of dyed materials and crafts. This creative market gives a platform to the creatives in local communities to sell their produce in one central market. Naturally-dyed indigo clothing has played a part in the craftmanship of these communities for many generations. Give back to the local community and purchase one of your own items of indigo-dyed clothing to take home with you.
- Explore Baan Nong San village
This quaint village, located roughly an hour away from the city center, offers many creative and cultural experiences for travelers. On a visit here you’ll be able to learn about the natural process of indigo dye. You may also get the opportunity to spend time at the local temple giving alms (money, or food) to those in need. It is common practice that monks in Thailand use alm bowls to collect food donations from the lay community every morning. Bed down in a homestay and learn how to cook isaan delicacies with your host family. Many communities in Sakon Nakon are developing their indigo dye experiences to involve travelers who are interested in their practices to learn about their trade and take part in some creative activities.
- Wat Phra That Choeng Chum Temple
The city’s most famous temple – the Wat Phra That Choeng Chum – is home to a 24-metre-high stupa. Constructed in the 18th century, it has been said that four fully enlightened buddhas have laid their footprints on this temple.
- Phra That Phu Pek Sanctuary
Climb the 491 steps to reach the Khmer-style Phra That Phu Pek sanctuary, and enjoy a lovely view of Nong Han Lake from the top. This Khmer ruin is located in Phu Phan National Park
Head out in search of golden pagodas surrounded by lush nature at the Wat Tham Pha Daen hilltop temple. Enter the gates up to the temple, turn left, and you’ll find a scenic garden with a waterfalls and exotic plants.
Sakhon Nakon is also home to Thailand’s biggest lotus park, where you can go and watch the sunset over Isan’s largest lake. Take a longtail boat ride to one of the islets, or just soak up the view on a walk. A word of warning – this lake is definitely not for swimming.
- Stop number five – Kalasin
Libby journeyed to Kalasin specifically to celebrate Makha Bucha Day. Makha Bucha Day is a Buddhist holiday, celebrated on the full moon of the 3rd month of the year. This national holiday marks the day where 1200 monks spontaneously congregated at the Veluvana Temple to the Buddha, and they were all enlightened.
Top things to do in Kalasin
Today, locals come together from all around Kalasin to Pra That Yakhu; a temple/stupa that dates back almost 1400 years. As an offering at this holy site, 1000 dancers dance together as part of the festival. Libby learned dance moves from other women in the local community and danced alongside these women on the night of the festival.
- Check out Kalasin’s silk textiles
Kalasin is famous for its silk textiles, specifically the beautiful Praewa Thai Silk Fabric – which is known to be The Queen of Thai Silks.
- Sirindhorn Museum and Phu Kum Khao Dinosaur Excavation Site
Learn about all things dinosaur at the Sirindhorn Museum and Phu Kum Khao Dinosaur Excavation Site. The museum is home to eight different exhibition sections: The Origin of the Earth and Universe; The Origin of the Living Things; Paleozoic Era; Mesozoic Era, Thai dinosaur; Dinosaurs in Thailand; Bring life to dinosaur; Cenozoic Era; Human being.
Grab some lunch, have a walk along the beach and swim in the sea to cool off. There are plenty of cheap eats around here to satisfy your food cravings!
Make it a reality
We hope that this sample itinerary has got your mind buzzing with off the beaten trail ideas, so what are you waiting for? Book your trip to Thailand now and head on a local adventure of your own inspired by the Local Traveler Documentary, now available on Amazon Prime. We know what we’d do.
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