3 off-the-beaten-path itineraries to explore on your next trip to Thailand 

Updated on July 25 2017

Attracting over 30 million tourists a year, Thailand doesn’t typically come to mind when you think of remote, unexplored travel destinations, but that doesn’t mean your vacation has to involve pushing your way through crowds and getting hounded by street vendors trying to sell you souvenirs.

Idyllic retreats are still plentiful in the land of beaches and Buddhas, and the pristine tropical scenery in Thailand is still as awe-inspiring as ever. Whether you’re looking for a secluded, romantic getaway for two at a luxe oceanfront resort, or travelling inland to seek out the cultural heartland of the country, here are three itineraries that will take you away from the crowds and the chaos, exploring the best this beautiful country has to offer.

 

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Find Romance at Kata Rocks in Phuket 

Beautiful beaches, gorgeous weather and a bustling nightlife and dining scene (not to mention cheap direct flights) make Phuket a perpetually popular weekend destination from Hong Kong. Despite its stunning scenery, however, a flood in tourism, cheap vacation packages and a reputation for being a bit of a party city can make the city seem more suitable for young partygoers than couples looking for a quiet getaway…

Nonetheless, there’s still romance and serenity to be found if you know where to look. Follow our itinerary below to make the most of a relaxing weekend getaway for two in Phuket.

Where to Stay

A one-of-a-kind luxury oceanfront resort located on the west coast of the island, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more secluded and peaceful resort than Kata Rocks. The first property from Infinite Luxury, Kata Rocks has none of the overly groomed feel of international chains, offering a truly bespoke experience from start to finish — an idyllic retreat far removed from Phuket’s tourist crowds.

Overlooking the sparkling Andaman Sea at the southern tip of Kata Beach, the staggered property means that all of the 34 one, two, three and four-bedroom villas afford panoramic views of the water, with each boasting its own private infinity pool for lounging in utter seclusion. With its whitewashed walls, the resort can feel more like you’re in Greece than Thailand, where traditional decor has been swapped out for eye-catching glass and metal, clean and modern lines, and a sophisticated and sleek design. In short, Kata Rocks is the epitome of super-luxe and exclusive accommodations in Phuket.

What to Do

If you only have a few short days in Phuket, it’s likely you’ll be spending most of your time holed up in this little slice of paradise. Each villa feels like your own private party pad — decked out with a fully equipped kitchen and dining area, two flat-screen TVs and private butler service, and state-of-the-art iPad technology for that luxe penthouse feel. And of course, there’s the private plunge pool — a secluded spot to cuddle up with your significant other away from prying eyes.

The top-notch facilities are well-deserving of the resort’s 5-6 star rating. Head to Infinite Luxury Spa to indulge in a Chakra Wellbeing healing massage and facial in one of seven plush treatment rooms, followed by a personal training session at the Infinite Luxury Gym, outfitted with intuitive, touch-screen navigation from PowerPlate resistance exercise stations to LifeFitness elliptical cross trainers. If you’re looking to dial up the romance at night, opt for a candlelit dinner for two on the rocks — the only sound being the waves crashing on the shores — or step into the Wine Cellar for a personalised cheese and wine tasting session, guided by head sommelier Kathrin Liebscher. It’s one of the few wine cellars in all of Phuket and offers over 300 wine labels with 24 varieties available by the glass. 

When hunger strikes, the Restaurant and Bar at Kata Rocks serves up fresh Mediterranean and local Thai fare from head chef Laia Pons, a graduate of two of the city’s finest Michelin-starred restaurants. At the hour between dusk and nightfall, the Sunset Bar is a magical spot to watch the sky turn in gradients of colour, with the drifting clouds reflecting off the infinity pool and stylish sun bathers soaking up the last rays. With a cocktail in hand and live music playing in the lounge, it’s hard to imagine anywhere else you’d rather be.

If you’re spending more than a few days at the resort, you can make some time to venture outside the property to explore the charming surrounds, with a number of boutique shops, restaurants and bars located within walking village in Kata Village. Meanwhile, the beach is just a short buggy ride away, where water activities include parasailing, jet skiing, kayaking and paddle-boarding. Cheap massages on the beach and a scattering of oceanfront seafood restaurants are just a few of the charms of Kata Beach, providing a welcome escape from the rowdier Bangla Road and Patong Beach.

Room rates start at HK$6,175 per night for a one-bedroom sky pool villa.  

Kata Rocks, 186/22, Kok Tanode Road, Kata Beach, Phuket, 83100, Thailand, +66 76 370 777

 

Deepen Your Knowledge of Thai Culture in Isaan

One of the most underrated regions of the country, Isaan in northeastern Thailand delivers an authentic look into the day-to-day life of locals — a vibrant heartland of culture, religion and cuisine. Bordered by Laos and Cambodia, it’s much more than a stop-by on your way to Isaan’s more frequently visited neighbours — search deeper and you’ll find the most intriguing and interesting off-the-beaten-path destinations in all of Thailand.

Where to Stay

From Khmer ruins to nature walks through unspoilt terrains, the options for exploring Isaan are numerous. For a convenient and comfortable home base, book a room at Phu Na Come Resort, a beautiful property offering both traditional Isaan-style bungalows as well as more contemporary villas decorated in exotic local decor — the two styles split by a bubbling stream which runs down the middle. Nestled in the Dansai valley surrounded by lush green mountains, the eco-friendly resort embraces the spirit of Thai hospitality, offering a serene escape to immerse yourself in nature and traditional Thai culture.

The 20-room property is set on bucolic farmland, which means your stay will likely be accompanied by water buffaloes grazing on nearby pastures, and local farmers fishing and picking rice in paddy fields, paying respect to the overall spirit of sustainability, water conservation and waste reduction which pervades the region.

Natural touches will make you feel right at home at Phu Na Come, where homemade welcome gifts are left as tokens of hospitality on your pillows, only organic soaps and bath products are used, and meals are a delightful introduction to the spicy and highly sought-after local cuisine of the region.

What to Do

There are fewer English speakers in Isaan, but luckily the resort’s owners and staff are there to guide you in your exploration of the surrounding area. From the ancient architecture to the unique rock formations and colourful local markets, Isaan’s treasures are endless. A good starting point is to rent a bike from the resort and spend your first day cycling around the countryside of Dansai.

The vibrant markets are a window into the everyday life of locals, where livelihoods depend on fishing, weaving silk, growing rice, and trading with Cambodian and Laotian neighbours. At the market, make sure to pick up one of the rainbow-hued Phi Ta Khon masks, a symbol of the ghost festival that takes place every year in Isaan. Better yet, come during springtime to attend the three-day “Thai Halloween”, where costumed ghosts and demons parade through the streets in a spirited procession.

To soak in more of the region’s natural beauty, make your way to the vast Phu Ruea National Park, which covers 75,525 square kilometres and rises up to 1,365 metres above sea level. Here you can explore the beautiful natural terrain, from pine forests to waterfalls to rock gardens and caves.

If you’re in search of beautiful Khmer temples and pagodas, head south to Surin, where you can tour the ancient temples and monuments. The most visited is Prasat Sikhoraphum, built as a temple dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva during the 11th or 12th century. Alternatively, venture out east where the famous archaeological site Ban Chiang in Udon Thani is considered one of the most important prehistoric settlements ever to be discovered in Southeast Asia, with its remnants of early farming in the region and pre-historic artefacts dating back to the Neolithic and Bronze Age civilisations.

For foodies, Issan cuisine is a treat, with some of the tastiest Thai dishes originating from the northeastern region. Pop into any local village restaurant to feast on tender grilled pork neck served with spicy chilli sauce and baskets of fragrant steamed rice, minced pork salad (larb) rife with fish sauce and lime juice, sausages mixed with garlic and steamed sticky rice, and gai yang, or charcoal-grilled chicken marinated in lemongrass and garlic.

Room rates start at HK$415 per night. 

Phu Na Come Resort, 461 Moo 3, Ban Doen, Dan Sai, 42120, Thailand, +66 81 921 8683

 

Go Island Hopping off of Koh Yao Noi

Thailand is blessed with over 2,000 miles of coastline, with hundreds of islands dotted around the turquoise blue waters of the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. While many of these have been overrun by large-scale tourist resorts, there are a few remote islands that still hold the charm of local island life and footprint-free sands.

Two such islands are Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai, sister communities which host just a handful of resorts each, providing a calm and secluded getaway from which to explore the wonders of the bay.

Where to Stay

For an unmatched experience in Thai hospitality, book a stay at Ani Villas Thailand, a private 10-bedroom resort opened in January 2016 on Koh Yao Noi island. Sleeping 20 in total, the resort houses just one party at a time and is all-inclusive of food, drinks and onsite activities, making it the ideal destination for milestone celebrations, weddings or family reunions.

With the slogan “it’s all yours,” the property on the eastern bank of the island is one of four Ani Villas around the world — Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, Anguilla and Thailand — each linked to an Ani Art Academy, an independent school that offers a wholly sponsored art education to less-privileged students.

If you thought you’d found luxury flitting from one five-star hotel to the next, you’re in for a pleasant awakening at Ani Villas. Offering a whole new class of luxury vacationing, the villas come equipped with a fully staffed kitchen, bar, spa, pools, leisure coordinators and concierge services, where every guest is treated like royalty. Want a platter of chilled mango and a cocktail while you take an afternoon dip? No problem. Need to work out the kinks after a session of paddle boarding? Simply head up to the spa for a Thai-style massage from the trained in-house therapists.

Covering a total of 8,000 square metres, the sprawling estate encompasses 2 Ocean Front Master Suites, 4 Master Pool Suites, and 2 two-bedroom Family Suites. All of the luxury suites feature king sized beds and en-suite bathrooms, while the guest house with four bedrooms also offers a private courtyard pool.

The concept at Ani Villas is “togethering”, and thus most activities take place with your travel companions — whether it’s whipping up pad thai with head chef Yao or soaking up the sun by the 100-foot infinity pool. Other onsite programmes such as morning yoga, outdoor games, unlimited movie and music streaming, and all-day snacks and cocktail service help to redefine the concept of leisure. Spend the day doing as little or as much as possible — the decision is yours.

At night, guests come together again for fantastic meals delving into traditional Thai cuisine. Set against the backdrop of Phang Nga Bay, digging into the fresh island fare nightly is an absolute treat, whether it’s an oceanfront BBQ on Ani Villas’ stretch of private beach, or a buffet set up in the style of traditional street markets, offering a sampling of the best regional dishes across Thailand. At every turn and bend, the staff do their best to make sure you leave with a unique and unforgettable experience.

What to Do

The warm hospitality and unhurried pace of life on Koh Yao Noi island makes it a charming place to explore, easily navigable by scooter or bike. A one-hour ride around the island on scooter will take you past lush mangrove forests, still rice paddies and traditional fishing communities to get a taste of local island life.

If you want to take to the sea instead, make your way out by speedboat or traditional long-tailed wooden boats (arranged by the resort), and carve your way through the archipelago, discovering hidden inner lagoons, uninhabited islands, and caves with hollow chambers under jagged limestone cliffs. Untouched by human foot traffic or tourism, the islands show little signs of life, save for the occasional curious monkey or perhaps a colony of bats hanging high up amongst the upper forest canopy.

When the sun threatens to dip below the horizon, hike your way up to the peak to take in the dramatic landscape at your feet. It’s a sight that never gets old — the rugged limestone karst formations jutting up around the still waters of Phang Nga Bay, juxtaposing land and sea and providing a postcard-worthy setting unique to this part of Thailand.

Nightly rates start at USD$4,000 (HKD$31,224) in low season for up to eight guests and increase to USD$16,000 (HK$124,896) for 30 guests over the holidays.

Ani Villas Thailand, 54/6 Moo 5, Koh Yao Noi Island, Koh Yao, Phang-Nga, 82160, Thailand, +66 96 97 37 621