See another side to ‘The Land of Smiles’ through these under-the-radar activities
While the popular backpacking routes and temple trails of Thailand may have become a bit too well-trodden, it is still possible to experience this lemongrass-scented land at its most authentic – if you know where to look, and the hotels to book. Here, we’ve handpicked ten locally approved activities which get to the heart of Thailand’s many charms.
1. Pick up Pwo Karen treasures from Sop Moei Arts, Chiang Mai
Tucked away amidst the teak wood houses of Old Chiang Mai, 137 Pillars House beautifully blends in with its historic surroundings – wrapped up within luscious gardens. The superbly situated hotel sends shoppers to the nearby Sop Moei Arts, where you’ll find everything from tapestries to table runners and handbags that are undeniably Thai, yet are unlike any products you’ll find anywhere else (except for the brand’s Bangkok shop).
Image Right: @sopmoeiarts
Incredibly stylish products and aesthetically pleasing space aside, Sop Moei Arts stands out from the other boutiques that dot Wat Gate. The brand has been working with the Pwo Karen in the Sop Mei district of Mae Hong Son Province for 30 years, employing villagers’ expertise in weaving and basket making. While creating a sustainable source of income for the community, the organisation’s efforts also help keep the tradition of the Pwo Karen’s craft alive, which is rapidly disappearing. Plus, the informative staff will help you get familiar with the community that your purchase is directly benefitting.
If you’d like to step back in time to the heyday of the teak industry in the 1930s when the Borneo Company was headquartered in the original teak homestead of 137 Pillars House, the hotel also offers samlor tours (traditional rickshaw taxis) to take in the city’s historical highlights, including the oldest house in Chiang Mai, known as the Lanna Ancient House, formerly owned by a Burmese teak trader. After crossing the Ping River via the Iron Bridge, the samlor tour concludes at the First Church of Chiang Mai.
2. Tropical wine tasting in the Monsoon Valley, Pranburi
A toes-in-the-sand paradise surrounded by sand, sea and swaying palms, Aleenta Resort & Spa Hua Hin is the ultimate place to unwind. While many guests gravitate to the beach, the verdant Hua Hin countryside hides one of Thailand’s best-kept secrets. Monsoon Valley is a locally owned vineyard specialising in tropical viticulture, which relies on the heavy rainfall during monsoon season and the constant ocean breeze to produce aromatic grapes. Aleenta guests can enjoy a wine tasting and vineyard tour package to learn about the vines firsthand, along with bottle painting and label making for the more creative.
On your wine safari, you might spot the vineyard’s resident elephants who roam and graze in their natural habitat, with the opportunity to help staff during the animals’ feeding and bathing times. The winery’s popular Monsoon Valley Wines are also available to sample at the Aleenta Restaurant, paired with delicious dishes made using the fresh ingredients and organic herbs and vegetables from the resort’s garden.
3. Explore the lesser-visited side of Thonburi by bicycle, Bangkok
Soaring above the city of Bangkok, 137 Pillars Suites occupies the uppermost levels of a bespoke building with a skyline-skimming infinity pool. Down below, the tangle of streets are best explored by bicycle – which the hotel has on hand, as well as a team of local guides to take guests to the less-touristy Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River. Thonburi was once the capital of Thailand and is home to many important off-the beaten-path historical riverside sites that predate Bangkok.
Pedal at a leisurely pace through Bangkok’s peaceful back streets with frequent stops for refreshments, photo ops and sightseeing on this half-day biking adventure. Come back to a cool drink in the hotel’s cabana lounge after working up a sweat, followed by a dip in the sensational sky pool.
4. Eat your way around the Phang Nga markets, Phuket
Set on a spellbinding sandy white beach, Aleenta Resort & Spa Phuket is all about ‘outside living-in’ – think retractable glass walls, floor-to-ceiling sea views, and spacious outdoor areas. If you can tear yourself away from this seaside sanctuary, the resort organises visits to a local market most mornings. As you wander between stalls brimming with seasonal produce, learn about the Thai herbs and vegetables that are used in traditional Thai dishes, before returning to the resort for a hands-on cooking class using the ingredients you collected from the market.
Sit down to your freshly prepared meal overlooking the Andaman Sea, then laze the afternoon away beside your private pool.
5. Learn the art of Thai fruit carving at Tongsai Pool Villas, Koh Samui
A collection of exclusive villas set on the hillside surrounded by trees and wildlife, Tongsai Pool Villas overlook the waters of Tongsai Bay in the north-east of Koh Samui. Rise and shine from your private villa, complete with outdoor gazebos for sleeping beneath the stars, and make your way down to an exotic breakfast spread. It is almost impossible to miss one of these two characters when passing the fruit and juice station – Khun Pu and Khun Jee have a combined 44 years working in Tongsai Bay, and specialising in kae sa luk, the unmistakably Thai tradition of fruit carving that’s as beautiful as it is delicious.
From table centrepieces of watermelon flowers to plate garnishing, these talented women teach guests how to make creations which will impress friends and family, or add a special touch to a dinner party back home.
6. Spot macaque monkeys on a mangrove tour, Lanta Island
Hidden away on the tiny island of Koh Lanta facing the Andaman Sea, Pimalai Resort & Spa sits alongside a vast stretch of sandy beach. Deeply connected with its natural setting, the Considerate Collection resort has developed a “Sabai Sabai” eco-tour with local guides for guests to discover the surrounding mangrove forests by longtail boat.
Spot macaque monkeys amidst the trees as you drift peacefully along, simply soaking up the wild beauty of this undiscovered island. Back on dry land, the resort offers nature and wildlife walks around its grounds and organic gardens.
7. Master Muay Thai and Tai Chi at Keemala, Phuket
An air of serenity hangs over Keemala. With streams and waterfalls running through it, this sustainably-minded resort is seamlessly woven into its surroundings. Find your flow in the Meditation Cave, a ‘Pa Ta Pea’ zone within the resort where guests are guided through a series of calming exercises, from sunrise yoga sessions to the more energetic Muay Thai and Tai Chi. Follow the jungle walkways back to your tribal-inspired room and relax to the rhythms of the rainforest.
8. Discover the secrets of the Karen Hill Tribes, Chiang Mai
An urban oasis in buzzing Chiang Mai, Akyra Manor makes the perfect base for discovering this spirited city set amongst the rolling mist-topped hills of Northern Thailand. With an array of cultural experiences for guests to uncover Chiang Mai like a local, Akyra Manor offers guided tours around the villages of the Karen Hill Tribes, who originally hail from Burma and now live in the northern most parts of Chiang Mai. The Karen are recognisable for the large number of neck rings worn by the women, which elongate the length of the neck to dramatic proportions. These friendly and welcoming people will guide you through their daily lives and invite you into their stilted homes deep inside the Chiang Mai forests.
Rising into the clouds, the Chiang Dao caves overlook the Karen Hill Tribes below. Combine your visit to the tribes with a 1km trek through the caves and mystical rocky outcrop, following a local lantern-bearing guide who will walk (and talk) you through the crystal caverns.
9. Tuk-tuk bar hopping through Thonglor, Bangkok
Akyra Thonglor Bangkok doesn’t just let you holiday in Thailand – it invites you to live in the city and opens up the capital’s cosmopolitan side. Join a cocktail-infused adventure around Bangkok’s hippest street with Akyra Thonglor’s exclusive bar hopping bonanza in the back of Thailand’s signature mode of transport — the tuk-tuk! Discover some of Thonglor’s best-kept boozy secrets, high-end haunts and fabled hangouts before finishing up the way locals do with a steaming bowl of traditional rice soup at the legendary street-food shop 55 Pochana.
From the clandestine Find the Locker Room, a Prohibition-style speakeasy concealed behind a wall of, you guessed it, unassuming lockers, to the Rabbit Hole, one of the more recent additions to Thonglor’s well-established cocktail corridor, this back-street tuk-tuk tour gives travellers an in-the-know insight into Bangkok’s buzzing nightlife.
10. Hike the hilltops of Racha Yai, Phuket
Fringed by the powdery sands of Batok Bay, The Racha is an eco-luxury beach resort on a small tropical island near Phuket. Much of the charm of Racha Yai is that little has changed over the years. Water buffalos are still used to work the land and can often be seen around mud holes, while many parts of the island are covered in dense jungle. The Racha makes the perfect back-to-nature base for discovering the tranquil coconut groves, pristine beaches, and fragrant forests of Racha Yai – all linked by a small network of pretty pathways.
For sweeping views of the island, head to the hilltop left of Batok Bay. The uphill route will take around 30 to 45 minutes to reach the top, and the resort’s Water Sports Centre staff will be able to point you in the right direction. Back at The Racha, guests are welcome to amble through many of the resort’s larger ‘green’ initiatives – including the hydroponic farm, the on-site drinking water bottling plant, bio-gas station, charcoal station, and solar diesel hybrid station.