When it comes to Thailand, many of us have probably been to some of its most famous sites – whether it’s Chiang Mai in the north, Bangkok in the central region, or Phuket in the southwest. However, there are other attractions beyond these famous sites that are worth exploring depending on the region you’re in.
Many visitors to the north have Chiang Mai on their agenda, but at just a 1.5-hour drive away is Lampang, famous for its horse-drawn carriages and beautiful whitewashed Lanna-period Buddhist temples with views over the misty mountains.
Despite these charms, this riverside city sees relatively few visitors. But with the slow spread of hip cafes and trendy hotels, it’s only a matter of time before tourism booms. Lampang is the only town in Thailand where horse carts are still found – exclusively for tourists, these open-air tricycles can take you around popular temples and stop at important monuments like the 100-year-old City Pillar Shrine.
Some of the most picturesque Lanna temples within the town include Wat Mon Chamsin, Wat Chedi Sao (with its collection of 20 gold-tipped chedi), and Wat Phra That Lampang Luang, a complex of religious teak structures that date back centuries and showcase the best of Lanna architecture in Thailand.
Perhaps the most dramatic temple complex in Lampang district is Wat Chalermprakiat, with white stupas perched precariously on the pinnacles of Pu Yak mountain – it’s worth the 1.5-hour drive from the city.
Northeast: Sa Kaeo
Bangkok is not only a popular destination, but it’s also a transport hub for the rest of the country. At about 3 hours’ drive away is Sa Kaeo, a popular border town to Cambodia’s Siem Reap.
This ‘frontier of the east’ is made for history buffs – the Prasat Sdok Kok Thom temple complex provides a glimpse into the ancient Khmer civilisation, and it’s older than Angkor Wat. Buil in the 11th century, this sandstone sanctuary is dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva. Another religious site is the Wat Tham Khao Chakan, an ancient cave temple complex boasting a dozen caverns – by night, you can witness an exodus of millions of bats.
At the Buddhist retreat of Nana Dhamma Sathan, you can see 300 pure white Buddha images sitting in the open, plus more than 5,000 smaller versions, all created with donations from devout Buddhists.
The lush Pang Sida National Park is home to wildlife like the rare Siamese fireback pheasant, muntjac, tiger, and more. It also features stunning waterfalls (Pang Sida and Pha Takian), which explode in colour in June/July when over 400 kinds of butterflies flutter near the falls. At Ta Phraya National Park is Lalu, where unique natural soil sculptures resemble giant termite mounds set amidst the verdant rice fields.
South: Tai Rom Yen
Visitors to Thailand’s south are no stranger to Hat Yai or Koh Samui, however, the nearby Tai Rom Yen National Park is rarely visited. Previously the stronghold of communist rebels in the 1980s, today it is a refuge of forest, waterfalls and caves that house wildlife like mountain goats, tapirs, and chevrotain (a type of mousedeer).
In addition to its misty mountain peak and numerous hiking trails, you can visit its two waterfalls (Tat Fa and Mueang Thuat), explore the Khamin Cave complex, and drop in on the Communist party’s old campsites: Camp 180 and Camp 357.