October 20, 2020
While pundits continue to argue about what the extended travel bans mean in the long term for tourism, I believe it's safe to say that most destinations that were popular before the pandemic will, eventually, be popular again. That may leave some of you in a bit of a quandry: Do you really want to go where there are a lot of people, and therefore a higher risk? Or, do you look for places that are off the beaten track. I've always been a fan of lesser traveled destinations, so the answer is easy for me. In this latest installment of my travel inspiration series, I've listed some of the destinations that come to mind where you can get away from the crowds and still experience new cultures and places.
This first choice may seem a bit odd. Sukhothai does sometimes get a lot of tourists, or at least used to, but they almost all come by bus up from Bangkok on the way to Chiang Mai. They arrive late in the morning, and by mid-afternoon they're all gone. They also just stop at the main temple (pictured above) before moving on. If you actually stay in Sukhothai, you can see the sights at the center of the old town in the morning before the hordes arrive, and move on the the largely unvisited places outside of the old city.
There isn't a lot of accommodation in the old city, which is one of the reasons the big tour groups don't stay. However, there are a few charming small hotels in the area.
For more details on what to see in Sukhothai, see ThailandForVisitors.com
Located almost right in the center of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, Toraja really does feel like a totally different place, distinct from the rest of Indonesia, which does have a diverse set of cultures. Of all the places on this list, Toraja is probably the hardest to get to. Flights to the one small airport in the area were infrequent even in normal times, leaving the only way to get there a drive from Makassar that takes the better part of a day. But, once you get there, you can soak up the unique traditional villages set in rock-strewn terraces, where some of the larger boulders have been turned into tombs.
See our Tana Toraja Guide for more information on this unique destination.
Nakorn Si Thammarat is definitely in the running for the most overlooked tourist destination in Thailand. Although short on tourist facilities, there is an amazing amount of history and culture on display in this pleasant and welcoming city. It may well be the oldest continuously occupied city in Thailand, and is where many of the classical fine arts of Thailand originated, which can make it a great place to do some shopping.
See my full guide to Nakorn Si Thammarat at ThailandForVisitors.com.
To my mind, Kampot is one of the best places I can think of to slow down and relax. If you want some beach time, you can spend a day or two in nearby Kep, a former getaway spot for the Cambodian elite before the Vietnam war. But on the whole, I think I prefer to stay in Kampot. The city has a plethora of old buildings, some of which have converted to small hotels and guesthouses, and then there's the collection of little restaurants along the river. The day trip up to the old hill station on Bokor Mountain used to be a nice diversion, although I'm not sure how things stand there now, with numerous threats to redevelop the old ghost town.
See our complete guide to Kampot for more details.
Although it's just a short distance from the bustling Thai border town of Hat Yai, the provincial capital of Songkhla town is quite a different world. It's nearly the definition of a sleepy provicial town, but with a bit of history to it. The city sits on a narrow ismuth between the gulf of Siam and the large inland sea of Thale Sap. The old town is rich with eighteenth century buildings, some of which have now been rennovated and even turned into small hotels. While most of the destinations covered here lack a significant beach component, Songkhla does in fact feature a long stretch of largely deserted beach.
See my guide to Songkhla at ThailandForVisitors.com for more ideas about what to see and do.