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Introducing the Hidden Gems of Thailand’s Five Regions

November 11, 2013 Destination Thailand No Comments Email Email

amazingThailandNorth – Nan

Nan is a small and quiet province in the north of Thailand and has not been very much known among foreign tourists. It is a charming place with natural beauty and a laidback way of life. Historical sites and remains of Nan reflect evidences of Lanna, Sukhothai, Burmese and even Chinese.

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Attractions

Although what actually attracts most visitors to Nan is its laidback way of life rather than any physical attractions, Nan does have many natural beauties and cultural heritage to offer too.

A quiet and tranquil province, Nan is nestled in a lush valley in northern Thailand along the border with Laos. Because of its proximity to Luang Prabang, the earliest settlers in the area were the Laotians. The earliest Nan rulers allied themselves with neighboring principalities to establish the kingdom of Lanna. The centre of power in Nan eventually moved south to the fertile Nan River basin. Nan’s history, development, and architecture were greatly influenced by various neighboring kingdoms i.e. Lanna, Sukhothai, Burma and Siam in that order. Today, Nan is still the home of numerous hill tribes who retain many of their fascinating customs and traditions, including Hmong, N’tin, and Khamu.

Much of Nan is devoted to agriculture, particularly rice and fruit cultivation. Nan features six national parks, including the stunning Doi Phukha National Park, which contains mountains nearly 2,000 m high. The rich natural beauty of Nan makes it an ideal destination for trekking as the remote province sees far fewer visitors than neighboring Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. The provincial capital of Nan has a relaxed charm, an interesting history, some impressive temples, and a good museum. There are also a number of quality restaurants and bars along the town’s riverfront to plan your adventures into the countryside or relax after sightseeing in the town.

Nan National Museum: This museum is housed in the residence of its last two rulers. The museum is an excellent start for Nan visitors as its displays highlight the history and evolution of Nan.

Wat Chang Kham: Located opposite the museum is Wat Chang Kham, the historical temple which was constructed in 1406. The temple features an enormous statue of walking Buddha made of pure gold.

Wat Phumin: Situated nearby is Wat Phumin, a magnificent temple of exceptional beauty. The interior is as charming as the external architecture and is dominated by a splendid centrepiece of four Buddha statues facing the four cardinal points (below picture) and the walls covered with fine mural paintings.

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Wat Phra That Chae Haeng: This temple is a sacred place of worship, situated on a mound on the eastern side of Nan River, at the former centre of Nan. It was built in the 14th century and is dominated by a 55 m high Chedi in a bell shape, plated with a combination of brass and copper. (below picture) The staircase up to the Phra That is in a Naga shape, while the gable above the entrance gate to the wihan is the stucco relief depicting intertwined Nagas, the unique characteristic of Nan fine art.

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Doi Phu Kha National Park: Doi Phu Kha National Park is mainly forested lands on limestone mountain ranges, the source of several streams which merge into Nan River. The elevation is about 1,900 m above sea level. Here are found several rare and near-extinct floras, particularly the Chomphu Phu Kha, whose pink flowers are in full bloom during February. In the morning, a sea of mist can be seen drifting across the valley. There are also several scenic waterfalls. Permits to camp can be applied for. Alternatively, tourists may choose to utilise the accommodation services in the park.

Festival

Long Boat Racing on Nan River in October (or November): Going back almost six centuries, long – boat racing is held on the occasion of the Buddhist Rains Retreat, and is great fun. The boats are fashioned out of tree trunks, and accommodate as many as 60 rowers, colourfully attired in bright team uniforms, seated on either side and cheered on by a throng of spectators. Nan Long Boat Race is one of the largest and most exciting of all the traditional long boat races in Thailand.

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Getting to Nan

Nan is situated in the north of Thailand, approximately 670 kms north of Bangkok and 320 kms east of Chiang Mai.

By air: There are domestic flights operated from Bangkok to Nan and Chiang Mai to Nan. The journey time is about 1.5 hrs. Another option is to fly to Chiang Mai and catch a bus to Nan.

By land: There are daily buses from Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit) to Nan. The journey takes about 10 hrs. 

Northeast – Loei

Forming a border between the north and the northeast regions is the mountainous province of Loei. Due to its geographical and climatic distinction unlike anywhere else in Thailand, the natural scenery of Loei is exceptional.

Attractions:

Phu Kradueng National Park: Phu Kradueng is situated about 70 km southeast of Loei town. It comprises a bell shaped mountain topped by an extensive plateau with the highest point of 1,325 metres. With its pine forest, grassy meadows, abundance of wild flowers and waterfalls, this is a trekker’s heaven. The park is open from October to May but closed during the rainy season to preserve the flora and fauna.

Phu Ruea National Park: Phu Ruea, located 60 km west of Loei town, is another picturesque mountain topped by pine covered plateau. Other features include viewpoints, waterfalls, rock gardens, caves and Chateau de Loei vineyard and winery. Its highest point is 1,365 metre above sea level.

Phu Luang Wildlife Reserve: Although this jungle clad plateau has a cool climate all year round, the best time for trekking is from October to May. Some parts are open to visitors who can follow a 6 km trail through a pine forest, grass fields and flower meadows along the rocky plateau.

Trekkers must be accompanied by an official guide and prior contact must be made with the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department. (www.dnp.go.th)

Besides trekking sites mentioned above, a charming little town called Chiang Khan on the bank of Mekong River is also worth a visit. Two of the most important sights are Wat Si Khun Mueang which has a northern Thai – style chapel with mural paintings and Wat Tha Khaek, an ancient temple on the bank of Mekong River enshrining three granite Buddha images.

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Festivals:

Phi Ta Khon: Phi Ta Khon is a grand merit making event that takes place over 3 days (June) in Dan Sai district. The most interesting part of this festival is the Phi Ta Khon procession which is a re-enactment of the take of Phra Wetsandon, believed to be the last incarnation before the last rebirth of Lord Buddha. The participants would wear ghost masks made of colourful bamboo sticky rice steamers, and dress in costumes made of many pieces of fabric sewed together. The rocket festival where bamboo rockets are launched into the sky as prayers for rain is also part of the festival.

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Getting to Loei

By land: There is no direct train from Bangkok to Loei. Visitors are recommended to take a train to Khon Kaen and catch a bus to Loei. Bangkok – Loei buses depart daily and the journey take approximately 8 hrs. Driving to Loei takes 7 – 8 hrs. (around 540 kms from Bangkok)

By air: There are no direct flights from Bangkok to Loei. Several airlines operate flights from Bangkok to Udon Thani where visitors can catch a bus to Loei. 

East – Trat

Eastern Thailand – Trat

Trat is Thailand’s furthest province along the east coast. The best time to visit is between November to February as it is relatively cool, dry and sunny.

Attractions:

Trat is famous for its rugged mountains and idyllic beaches, both on the main land as well as on the off shore islands.

Ko Chang National Park (below picture): This comprises an archipelago of 52 islands, of which Ko Chang is the largest. It features rainforests, steep hills, cliffs, waterfalls, fine beaches, coral reefs and plentiful marine life.

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Other islands include Ko Kut – the farthest island from the coast of Trat, Ko Mak, Ko Wai, Ko Laoya, Ko Kradat, Ko Kra, Ko Rang (below picture), Ko Man and many more. These islands are good for snorkelling as well as scuba diving. Its natural features are similar to Ko Chang. Some islands do not have accommodation.

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Getting to Trat

By air: Bangkok Airways operates daily flights from Bangkok to Trat and the journey takes approximately 40 mins.

By land: Trat is 315 km east of Bangkok. There are regular buses departing from Bangkok Eastern Bus Terminal (Ekamai) and the journey takes approximately 5 hrs.

Getting to the offshore islands

There are frequent ferries from mainland to Ko Chang and other islands, departing from several piers i.e. Laem Ngop Pier, Centre Point Pier and Ao Thammachat Pier. 

Central – Samut Songkram

Samut Songkram is approximately 70 km southwest from Bangkok. From Bangkok by car, the most noticeable landmark is probably the salt farms.(below picture)

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Attractions:

Amphawa: Amphawa is a district of Samut Songkram and is famous for its two distinctively unique markets i.e. Rom Hup Market and Amphawa Floating Market.

Rom Hup Market (literally means umbrella closing) is a 100 m long market located along as well as “on” the Mae Klong – Ban Laem railway line near Mae Klong Railway Station. The most interesting activity here is to see the vendors collecting their goods and closing their umbrellas when the train is approaching and setting them back up once the train has passed. (at 6.20, 8.30, 9.00, 11.10, 11.30, 14.30, 15.30 and 17.40 hrs) (below picture)

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Amphawa Floating Market (above picture) is a canal side market where vendors row their boats selling fresh produce, seafood dishes, beverages, etc. Along the canal banks are old shops and houses.

Firefly Cruise: Along the small canals in Amphawa are Lamphu trees full of fireflies and after dark they are beautifully flickering. Most cruises are operated by the locals and depart from the floating market.

Getting to Amphawa

By land: From Bangkok, take a train from Wong Wien Yai Station to Mahachai Station then catch a river ferry to Ta Chalom to board another train to Mae Klong Station. This train will go through Rom Hup Market. There are direct buses departing Bangkok Southern Bus Terminal to Mae Klong Market on a regular basis every day.

South – Nakhon Si Thammarat

The southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat on the Gulf of Thailand Coast may not be as famous as Phuket, Krabi or Phang – Nga, its neighbouring provinces on the Andaman Coast in term of attractive beaches but in term of history and culture, it is one of Thailand’s most important religious and cultural centres.

Attractions:

Wat Phra Mahathat (below pictures): This temple is the South’s largest temple and believed to be more than 1,000 years old. The complex is dominated by a 77 m high Chedi, topped by a solid gold spire. Several halls enshrine Buddha images and other religious objects.

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Baan Nang Talung Suchart Subsin: Mr. Suchart is a well – known shadow puppet performer and maker who has obtained several national awards for his excellent skills. He opened his home to the people who are interested in puppetry with the hope of reviving Nang Talung or shadow puppet play.

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Lan Saka:

Khao Luang National Park: Nakhon Si Thammarat is mostly mountainous and forested. The 570 sq km Khao Luang National Park is noted for its waterfalls, the largest of which, Namtok Karom, is about 1,300 m high and falls over 19 levels.

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Ban Khiriwong: Ban Khiriwong is a peaceful ancient community which settled at the foot of Khao Luang in Tambon Kamlon, a path up the mountain. The main occupation of the villagers is farming mixed fruits, such as mangosteen, rambutan, durian, and sato.  Ban Khiriwong is a prototype of eco-tourism management and has won the 1998 Thailand Tourism Award in the city and community category.

To get to the village, visitors are advised to take a minibus from Klongtha road. The minibus leaves every 7 min from 6.20 – 17.30hrs and the fare is only 25 baht.  Alternatively, one can drive on the Amphoe Muang – Lan Saka route for 26 kms. The sign pointing to the village is at km 20 on the right.  Please contact Khiriwong Cooperation Centre at tel. +66 75 533113.

Khanom: The district of Khanom has not really been discovered by foreign tourists so it is an ideal place for those who look for a quiet holiday by the beach. Visitors can get there by hiring a taxi from the city of Nakhon Si Thammarat or the city of Surat Thani. Direct bus from Bangkok to Khanom also runs twice a day.

Ao Khanom (Khanom Bay) is the largest bay in Khanom and consists of many beaches i.e.

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Hat Nai Phlao is Khanom’s largest beach and the most popular tourist attraction. The white sandy beach curves along a mountain range and is perfect for an easy day in the sun. Accommodation and restaurant facilities are available.

Hat Na Dan is a long, palm – fringed white sandy beach.  From this quiet beach, one can see the beautiful aquamarine water of the Gulf of Thailand.

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Hat Nai Praet is a beautiful and long curved beach, located between Hat Na Dan and Hat Nai Phlao and is rocky in some areas.

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Ao Thong Yi is a beach that is very suitable for camping because of its complete natural surroundings. Ao Thong Yi is encompassed by Khao Phlao and Khao Klang, making it a peaceful hideaway from the outside world. Accommodation can be obtained by contacting the owner of the property.

Khao Wang Thong Cave is situated 77 kms from the city and is one of the most awesome caves of the province.  The cave has many large and small chambers, each with stalagmites and stalactites of odd sizes and shapes. Some chambers can only be accessed by crawling or climbing, making it fun for visitors. Visitors must first obtain the cave key from the keeper at the cave entrance.

Another must see attraction of Khanom is the Pink Dolphins. The best time of the year to see them is between March to September.

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Pak Panang: Museum Honouring the King for the Development of Pak Panang Basin is a museum conceived by the Project to Develop Pak Panang Basin of His Majesty the King that covers the provinces of Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phatthalung and Songkhla. The museum is in the project itself and consists of His Majesty’s office, a meeting room and an exhibition room.

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Getting to Nakhon Si Thammarat

By land: Nakhon Si Thammarat is about 800 km by road from Bangkok and there are daily buses departing from Bangkok Southern Bus Terminal. Most southbound trains from Bangkok stop at Thung Song, about 40 km west of Nakhon Si Thammarat, a few daily trains stop at the city.

By air: There are Nok Air & Air Asia direct flights departing Bangkok every day.

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