5 Thailand hotspots the locals are hitting this year

5 Thailand hotspots the locals are hitting this year

Kitschy towns, mountain top chills and a village inhabited by the offspring of tea-making former Nationalist Chinese soldiers. Most locals prefer quiet over drunk-filled beaches

Most foreign tourists who head for Thailand stick to the usual suspects: Pattaya, Koh Samui, Phuket, Krabi, Phi Phi.  

And that suits the locals just fine. Rather than hit the over-priced, drunk-filled beaches of the south they’ve got their own destinations to escape to for a weekend of natural beauty, culture and relaxation. 

Here’s a look at the travel hotspots Thailand’s domestic tourists are hitting this year.   

1. Chiang Khan, Loei

Chiang KhanChiang Khan defys the dusty, dirty feel traditionally associated with border towns.Almost overnight Chiang Khan has become the latest tourist trap among Thai travelers looking for something tranquil with a side of kitsch, taking the place of backpacker favorite Pai. 

It's a small, slow-paced town in the northern part of Loei province, northeastern Thailand, right on the banks of the Mekong River overlooking Laos. 

Though foreigners might find it a bit on the quirky side, Thais have fallen in love with the town's main walking street, with its strange displays made up of old retro oddities and wooden architecture.

About three kilometers east of town, towards Nong Khai is Kaeng Khut Khu Rapids, where local vendors set up stalls offering local goods and cook up fresh fish and shrimp dishes. 

The local specialties “koong ten” -- tiny live shrimp that dance around your plate in a spicy dressing, and “koong tord" -- deep fried and crunchy shrimp -- are especially popular.

Getting there: Buses travel several times a day to Loei from Bangkok's northern Mor Chit Song bus terminal. For the most comfortable ride, opt for the VIP bus that leaves in the evening. The ride is nine hours. 

Domestic airline Happy Air offers direct flights between Bangkok and Loei, four days a week. From Loei grab a connecting bus or taxi to make the one-hour drive to Chiang Khan.   

2. Doi Mae Salong Mountain, Chiang Rai

Oolong Tea ThailandDoi Mae Salong Mountain, home to Thailand's most unlikeliest export, Oolong tea.When Thailand experiences its blink-and-you'll-miss-it December-February "winter" and temps drop to a nipply 20 degrees celsius in Bangkok, it's time to throw on a scarf and a fuzzy pompom-topped hat and head north. 

Doi Mae Salong Mountain is located in Chiang Rai, the northernmost province of Thailand. At 1,800 meters above sea level it is one of the highest peaks in the province and offers incredible and far-reaching panoramic views of the surrounding mountain range.

The mountain is notable not only for its beautiful landscape and climate (cool and refreshing all year round) but its unique history. In 1948, when the Communists took over mainland China, many Nationalist Chinese soldiers fled to the Thai-Burmese border. Some of these Yunnanese eventually settled on Doi Mae Salong Mountain and to this day the area has a strong Chinese presence. 

For instance, Doi Mae Salong Mountain is well known for its quality Oolong tea. The sharp differences in day and night temperatures allow the tea plants to grow more slowly and develop a more flavorful aroma and sweetness while the gushes of clouds and fog that surround the mountain allow the tea leaves to absorb more moisture.

Getting there: Take the bus from Chiang Rai -- accessible by air or bus from Bangkok -- to Ban Basang (15 baht) where you can pick up a songtaew truck to the mountain top (50 baht).

3. Khao Kho, Phetchabun

 Phu Por BotOne of Phu Por Bot's guest houses overlooking the Khao Kho mountains.“Sleeping at Phu Por Bot for only one night gives you one more year to live."

Though we have our doubts about the legitimacy of this statement, made by the Khao Kho resort's zealous marketers, there is something rather purifying about the fresh cool air of the mountains in north-central Thailand's Phetchabun province.

Phu Por Bot is one of the more famous resorts in Phetchabun's Khao Kho district. Set 940 meters above sea level, its guesthouses and villas are constructed from recycled carts and containers, including one that looks like a chuck wagon. There are tents for rent too if you're going for the full-on outdoor experience. 

Khao Kho itself has quite a few good attractions worth checking out such as national parks, waterfalls, Khao Kho Palace, Buddhist historial sites, a wildlife breeding center, a war monument and military museum (the mountains are a former hotspot during Thailand's fight against Communist insurgants). 

How to get there: Buses travel the 375-kilometer journey from Bangkok to Khao Kho daily from the city's Mor Chit Song bus terminal. 

4. Wang Nam Khiew, Nakhon Ratchasima

Wang Nam KhiaoWang Nam Khiao: The Switzerland of Isaan. Wang Nam Khiew, which in English means Green Water Palace, is another district popular among those looking to get back to nature.

Located in Nakhon Ratchasima province, about 240 kilometers from Bangkok, Thais refer to this place as the Switzerland of the Northeast. Northeast Thailand, that is. 

Wang Nam Khiew does offer fresh cool air all year round, making it a favorite among ecotourism fans drawn to it's rolling hills filled with trees, beautiful flowers, waterfalls and fresh fruit. 

Boosting its popularity is the Wang Nam Khiew Flora Fantasia, a massive floral art exhibition featuring more than 200,000 plants on until the end of this month. 

How to get there: Buses travel from Bangkok to the Nakhon Ratchasima region daily from the city's Mor Chit Song bus terminal. 

5. Amphawa Floating Market, Samut Songkram

Amphawa Floating MarketLeave the over-rated Damnoen Saduak Floating Market to the tourists and hit Amphawa instead. Foreign tourists might flock to the far-from-authentic Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, but over the last couple of years locals have increasingly been heading to the nearby Amphawa Floating Market instead.

Part of the Amphawa district in Samut Songkram province, about 75 kilometers from Bangkok, this market is open on Friday to Sunday from around 2-9 p.m and is the only evening floating market in Thailand. 

Samut Songkram might be the smallest province in Thailand but it has 330 canals running off the Maeklong River, which is connected to an estuary, contributing to the Amphawa Floating Market's popularity as it's a great base for side trips.

This includes a now-famous night boat journey to see the twinkling fireflies that hang out in the trees along the sides of the river. 

The Amphawa Floating Market is great for a Bangkok day trip or for an overnight escape from the city as there are many cute home stays, some sitting right on the water. 

How to get there: Get on the minibus at Victory Monument or MoChit Song (opposite JJ market). Buses run regularly from Bangkok's Southern bus terminal to Samut Songkram as well.