Bordering Cambodia and Laos to its east and Myanmaar to its west, Thailand's unique geographic location makes it an ideal holiday retreat. While places like Bangkok and Chiang Mai often top everyone's wishlist, there are several other destinations in this Southeast Asian nation that are sure to wow you. From rock climbing on the Andaman coast of the country in Railay, Krabi to scuba diving in Similan Islands, here are six off-beat locations that will evoke your sixth sense.
If you find yourself at Railay on the Andaman Coast of Thailand, chances are you’re there to spend the day rock climbing some of its 700 bolted routes. This secluded peninsula is known for its limestone cliffs with fine rock faces that attract climbers from across the globe. The rock quality is fantastic and there are enough options for both beginners and pros. There’s a lot for non-climbers too—Phra Nang Nai cave or Diamond cave on the east side of the island may be small, but its diamond-like sparkling formations more than make up for that. You could also spend time kayaking around the many limestone islets near Phra Nang beach. There’s no ferry for Railay, but long-tail boats depart from Krabi town, Ao Nam Mao pier, Ao Nang town and Ton Sai beach.
Stark white beaches, unabashedly turquoise waters and lush green vegetation—we’ll forgive you for mistaking the Similan Islands for paradise. Adding drama to an already magical landscape are the large, unreal boulders scattered across its coast. This cluster of 11 islands, located 84km northwest of Phuket, has stunning corals that make it one of the best spots for diving and snorkelling in Thailand. Stand-out islands include Koh Similan (Island 8), home to the interestingly shaped Sailing Boat Rock, and Koh Payu (Island 7), which is considered the best for diving. Reach Thap Lamu port from Khao Lak in southern Thailand—from here, speedboats take 60 to 80 minutes to reach the islands. The islands shut down from May to November every year, but dates may vary.
HAAD RIN, KOH PHA NGAN
Imagine a beach party as wild as a New Year’s Eve celebration, except that it occurs every full moon. Koh Pha Ngan island in southern Thailand has been hosting just such an extravaganza for a while now at Haad Rin beach—the legendary ‘Full Moon Party’. The story goes that, once upon a time, a group of tourists threw a bash here to celebrate what they thought was ‘the most beautiful full moon’. Today, tens of thousands of partygoers get together every month and carry forward the tradition. The festivities begin at dusk with varied genres of music playing to get everyone in the groove, and continue till the wee hours of the morning. Also, jugglers and fire-eaters perform for a high-spirited and uninhibited crowd. The next two Full Moon Parties are on 3rd November and 3rd December, respectively. To reach Koh Pha Ngan, take one of the many ferries that depart throughout the day from Koh Samui island.
KOH MOOK, TRANG
When the tide is low, the otherwise inconspicuous Koh Mook (lit. Pearl Island) reveals its hidden gem—the aptly named Tham Morakot or Emerald Cave. The tiny island has just two beaches, and you access the cave from one of them—Farang beach. From here, hire a boat or a kayak to take you to Emerald, 30 minutes away. You enter the narrow cave, just wide enough for a small boat, and tread onward until you arrive at a clearing—there’s a small, enclosed beach here right beneath an open ceiling that faces a plant-strewn hill. The water here is of an emerald hue, a fact that inspired the naming of the cave. Reach Trang, approximately 280km from Phuket, by flight/bus/taxi. From here, a minibus connects to the Koh Mook ferry at Kuan Thung Khu pier.
KOH BULON LAE, SATUN
At Koh Bulon Lae, an island on the Andaman Coast, you will find a pervading sense of serenity, just a few resorts and, interestingly, a small community of sea gypsies who live in a fishing village on the west side. The Chao Lae people are completely dependent on the sea for their sustenance. There are only 2,000 to 3,000 individuals left in all, keeping their semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle alive. An ancient forest also lies close to the gypsy village. Apart from interacting with the gypsies, you can indulge in jungle walks and snorkel and swim here. Catch a tourist minibus from Trang, Krabi, Phuket, Hat Yai or Surat Thani to reach Pak Bara, from where a daily speedboat departs for Bulon Lae.