Top Underestimated Thai Cities You Should Visit

28 Apr 2022

Thailand is among the world's top tourist destinations, thanks to its outstanding cuisine, natural beauty, and unforgettable experiences. But, while Bangkok and Chiang Mai are the Kingdom's most well-known and popular metropolises, if you skip everything in between, you're missing out on a whole world of Siamese beauty and character.

So, we've compiled all the most interesting, looked-over cities into a list. Each offers a delightful mix of character, activity, and genuine Thai charm. Most importantly, they are places to go when you want to avoid crowded tourist traps. The following places are the country's best-kept secrets and must-visit destinations. So, take a trip to one (or more) of these underestimated, quieter cities, and you won't regret it!

 

Chanthaburi

Chanthaburi Province

Chanthaburi is a popular stopover for travelers heading to Cambodia or the eastern Gulf of Thailand islands of Koh Chang and Koh Kood. It's located three to four hours south of Bangkok.

The city's character, gastronomy, and architecture are a mix of Thai, Chinese, Khmer, Vietnamese, and French (French colonial soldiers occupied it from 1894 to 1905). Chantaburi has even had a Bishop since 1944.

It's famous for its abundance of tropical fruits, especially durian, and its massive gem market that attracts gem hunters from all over the world, ready to trade. To experience a truly tropical cultural fruit festival, you must visit Chanthaburi during the Durian Festival.

In Chanthaburi's Old Town, the shoreline is a quiet haven for travelers looking to relax. However, the splendor of Chanthaburi extends through the province's mountains, rivers, national parks, and beaches. Its main beach, Ao Krathing, is a solitary, peaceful place - nearly empty except for a few monkeys.

No foreigners are likely to be found in the tranquil Namtok Phlio National Park (14 kilometers outside town). In addition to the park's waterfalls and its lagoon pools, there are a variety of fauna and an emerald-green moss-covered pagoda to see. Also, just outside the city is the Khao Khitchakhut National Park, home to waterfalls and an abundance of wildlife.

Where to stay:

Yosaenghill Resort (Chao Lao Beach, Chanthaburi)

 

Chiang Dao

Chiang Mai Province

Visit Chiang Dao instead of (or, better yet, in addition to) the farang-filled Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai when you go to the north. In English, Chiang Dao means city of the stars, referring to its high altitude and mountains. It offers spectacular natural views, ecological treasures like hot springs and waterfalls, and a glimpse into northern Thai culture – without the tourist hordes. With so many trekking possibilities, it's ideal for introverts. Regardless, it is a superb illustration of Thailand's natural beauty.

Where to stay:

Azalea Village (Chiang Dao, Chiang Dao)

 

Chiang Khan

Loei Province

Chiang Khan is a modest town in Loei province. It is rustic and peacefully picturesque, with its rows of ancient teakwood houses enticing the imagination of what life was like decades ago.

After admiring the lovely architecture, you can take advantage of Chiang Khan's location on the banks of the Mekong River to view a glorious sunset. You'll surely miss its sedate pace of life when you leave.

Where to stay:

Chiangkhan River Green Hill (Phu Thok, Chiangkhan)

 

Chumpon

Chumpon Province

For those who know Chumpon, a provincial town on the western shores of the Gulf of Thailand, it is a treasure. Unfortunately, most visitors stop here on their way to Koh Tao or Phuket but don't think to stay. That is a missed opportunity!

Those that spend a while there love the town. It has plenty of restaurants and beautiful fine sand beaches nearby. With few tourists and lush, unspoiled terrain, this is a terrific location to unwind. Hiking, caving, fishing, sailing, diving, and more are possible here.

Where to stay:

Tusita Wellness Resort (Muang Chumphon, Chumphon)

 

Hat Yai

Songkhla Province

Hat Yai is Thailand's 4th largest city and a significant transit hub - it is the access point to Malaysia and Singapore going south, and Chiang Mai for Malaysian Muslim pilgrims on their trip north to Mecca. It is a vast metropolitan area with shopping and marketplaces, thus an excellent place to discover a different side of Thai culture.

Hat Yai has a substantial Chinese and Muslim presence, which is evident in its character, culture, and cuisine. In addition, Malaysian and Singaporean tourists replace Westerners typically found in more populated cities.

Luxury retail complexes are rare in Thailand, but Hat Yai has a few Western-style shopping malls that will gratify even the most ardent consumers. In addition, Ton Nga Chang Waterfall, called Elephant's Tusks Waterfall, is just 20 minutes outside of the city. The waterfall cascades over seven stunning levels, the most impressive being the third tier, when the stream separates and splits into two, mimicking an elephant's tusks.

Where to stay:

Centara Hotel Hat Yai / SHA Extra Plus (Hat Yai Central, Hat Yai)

 

Hua Hin

Prachuap Khiri Khan Province

Hua Hin, Thailand's perfect place, is two hours south of Bangkok yet still on the seaside. Hua Hin is one of Thailand's oldest beach resorts. This attractive, family-friendly community is also fairly remote. It's ideal for snorkeling and fishing sans people. It is one of Thailand's most incredible spots if you want to escape the crowded beaches of more touristy hotspots like Phuket.

Here, there's a beach for everyone: quiet white sand beaches, restaurants-lined beaches, and even pine tree-lined beaches. Aside from that, Hua Hin has multiple temples, Kaeng Krachan (Thailand's largest national park), tasty cuisine, a fantastic night market, and vibrant nightlife. Finally, Monsoon Valley Vineyard, located in a beautiful mountain valley just outside of town, is necessary. Enjoy excellent Thai wine and the stunning scenic Salsa Wine Bar & Bistro while biking.

Where to stay:

Anantara Hua Hin Resort / SHA Extra Plus (Hua Hin Beachfront, Hua Hin / Cha-am)

 

Kanchanaburi

Kanchanaburi Province

Kanchanaburi is a historic town located in Central Thailand, close to Bangkok. It sits near the junction of the Kwai Noi and Kwai Yai rivers. The province of Kanchanaburi is enormous, with seven national parks, but the town itself has lots to offer.

The Bridge spanning the River Kwai is the most famous landmark. Known as the starting point of the Death Railway, it was built by British, US, and Dutch prisoners of war under Japanese supervision. The historic wooden bridge and the 'Hellfire Pass,' a rocking stretch carved out by hand to build the railway, are still visible today. In addition, there are several noteworthy, related railway museums and a well-maintained war cemetery.

Aside from the historical tragedies, Kanchanaburi has some lovely national parks and Thai scenery. Erawan Falls is a seven-tiered waterfall surrounded by limestone mountains. Sri Nakarin has hot springs and native animals, including charming, slow lorises.

Where to stay:

U Inchantree Kanchanaburi / SHA Extra Plus (River Kwai, Kanchanaburi)

 

Khon Kaen

Khon Kaen Province

On the surface, Khon Kaen is a typical Thai city. It's one of Isaan's 'big four' cities and home to the region's leading university. It's a financial powerhouse visited mainly by business travelers rather than tourists, although it is worth considering an alternative to Bangkok.

It is a thriving, contemporary Thai metropolis adorned with Buddhist symbols and temples. Its culture is a mix of Laos and Northeastern Thailand. In addition, Chinese, Indian, and Vietnamese communities abound.

It has many temples, but one sticks out. The Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon Temple is nine floors high and glistening with gold. The lower floor is often a swarm of activity, but tranquility descends as you ascend the winding staircase. Each story is a sensory overload with brightly painted ceilings, walls, and wooden window shutters to educate and remind visitors of Buddhist principles.

Orange-robed monks calmly walk up and down the many steps. Tiny bells jingle pleasantly in the breeze under the eaves, and as you rise, more and more of the lake below is visible. You can see the entire Kaen Nakhon Lake from the golden tower's vantage point.

Where to stay:

Nadee 10 Resort & Hotel (Khon Kaen City Center, Khon Kaen)

 

Lampang

Lampang Province

Lampang may be the city for you if you enjoy Northern Thai culture and heritage – and somewhere a little off the beaten path. It's as touristy as Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai but a gateway to northern Thailand.

It's located in the Wang River valley, surrounded by mountains, offering lots of natural beauty to escape to. There are five national parks nearby! However, Lampang is notable for its horse-drawn carriages, Burmese-style temples, multiple universities, and the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre.

Where to stay:

Wienglakor Hotel / SHA Extra Plus 

 

Maha Sarakham

Maha Sarakham Province

Maha Sarakham is in the center of Isan, Thailand's Northeastern Region. The province is a major educational center in the region, hence the nickname "Taxila of Isan." It's known for its historical sites, gorgeous Buddhist temples, and Buddha statues.

Many Buddhist Archaeological artifacts have been uncovered here, including a Relic of Lord Buddha at Amphoe Na Dun. These findings support the notion that the site was formerly home to a 1500-year-old kingdom. The city built a pagoda to commemorate the glory days of Buddhism and host important Buddhist rites.

Maha Sarakham is also known for its excellent woven materials, such as silk and cotton cloths. Otherwise, the province's economy is based on agriculture.

Where to stay:

Taksila Hotel / SHA Extra Plus (Mahasarakham City Center, Mahasarakham)

 

Mae Sot

Tak Province

Mae Sot is a picturesque and culturally diverse city on the Myanmar border. The city is known for its substantial Burmese population. Most visitors pass through the town on a visa run and don't stay. But those that do get hooked by its unique cultural blend. There are Burmese, Thai, Chinese, ethnic Hmong, and Karen hill tribes, military personnel, and a few Westerners, most of whom work for NGOs organizing adjacent refugee camps. As you can expect from such a diversified city, the food is delicious.

The city also has a buzzing border market and enjoyable eclectic shopping and arts and crafts sector.

Where to stay:

The Teak Hotel / SHA Extra Plus (Mae Sot, Tak)

 

Nong Khai

Nong Khai Province

Nong Khai is the provincial capital of Isaan and a must-see for any traveler. Located near the Laos border, it is a charming town with several temples, marketplaces, and natural attractions. Mountains and plantations along the great Mekong River provide some of the country's most beautiful views. In addition, the downtown area has magnificent structures in a European colonial design.

Where to stay:

Mut Mee Garden Guest House (Nongkhai City Center, Nongkhai)

 

Pai

Mae Hong Son Province

Pai isn't underestimated; it's already a popular backpacking destination. But it's worth mentioning as a lovely, low-key alternative to nearby Chiang Mai. While many people pass through Pai on their way to the North, others like to stay and enjoy the laid-back and welcoming atmosphere.

Pai, roughly four hours north of Chiang Mai, is a near-identical twin to its busier cousin but considerably smaller and quieter. Yet, despite its modest size, the city is packed with attractions. Natural beauty is provided by adjacent hills and hill tribes, while markets, cheap eateries, resorts, and even an airport, give convenience.

The Land Split, Tha Pai Hot Springs, Pai Canyon, and Wat Phra That Mae Yen, or 'Temple on the Hill,' are among the finest destinations. Food-wise, the city is a hippy haven, featuring several restaurants and cafés serving vegetarian and vegan fare. However, its Walking Street is lined with Thai and Western street food stalls of all kinds.

Where to stay:

Reverie Siam Resort / SHA Plus+ (Pai Riverside, Pai)

 

Phetchabun

Phetchabun Province

Don't dismiss the thought of taking a five-hour bus ride from Bangkok to Phetchabun. The journey is quite dull, with only rare vistas of attractive farmland and mountain ranges. Upon arrival, you will forget the agonizing bus ride.

Waterfalls, mountains, lakes, and national parks are the city's principal attractions. Aside from its gorgeous scenery, Phetchabun has one of Thailand's most striking temples: Wat Pha Sorn Kaew. It is also known as the 'temple on a high glass cliff' due to its spectacular setting with the surrounding hilly scenery. There are thousands of mosaic tiles and a pagoda with five Buddha images in the temple itself.

Where to stay:

Livist Resort Phetchabun (Nai Mueang, Phetchabun)

 

Sukhothai

Sukhothai Province

King Ram Khamhaeng tried to expand the empire during the Sukhothai era (1238-1438), often termed the "golden age." Sukhothai, the former capital of Siam, has many relics of this wealthy age. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site six hours away from Bangkok by bus. When planning your trip here, a couple of days is plenty to visit the old city and see the famed Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai Historical Parks.

Where to stay:

Legendha Sukhothai / SHA Certified (Historical Park, Sukhothai)

 

Tonsai

Krabi Province

Tonsai is a tiny hippie's paradise. This location is frequently mistaken for an island because it can only be reached by boat; however, it is actually on the mainland. Its enormous limestone backdrop hinders road access, rendering it a sanctuary.

There are no cars - only one long beach dotted with guesthouses, hotels, bars, and restaurants. The bars are all quirky, bohemian, and psychedelic. In addition, the karsts are amazing for rock climbing enthusiasts, and the beach is perfect for everyone to relax and escape the tropical heat. Where to stay:

Where to stay:

Banyan Tree Krabi / SHA Extra Plus (Tub Kaek Beach, Krabi)

 

Trang

Trang Province

Trang is generally seen as a stopover for the province's picturesque islands. But the city itself is worth a gander, especially if you like markets and food. It will appeal to individuals who enjoy the landscape and temperature of adjacent provinces like Krabi and Phuket but prefer a more relaxed atmosphere with fewer tourists. It should also spark the curiosity of culture vultures due to the substantial Chinese influence observed in the city's architectural and culinary sector.

Its 70-mile coastline offers a more rural and private experience. Nevertheless, Trang has it all: gorgeous islands and beaches with a vibrant city atmosphere in Trang Town. While there, don't miss the night and hawker markets. Also, visit the nearby islands for a less busy version of a tropical paradise.

Where to stay:

Rua Rasada Hotel (Trang City Center, Trang)

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