|Chiang Mai/Photo by Freeimages.com/Eng Chun Chia|
by The Daily Telegraph, March 28, 2016
For a destination bursting with culture, wildlife and stunning landscapes Thailand is the perfect choice.
While many visitors head to popular spots such as Bangkok, Ko Pha Ngan or Phuket – all fabulous places with much to see and do – the country also has many other treasures to be discovered and explored.
Audley Travel has been running trips there for many years and its specialists’ depth of knowledge is unrivalled. In that time, they have uncovered a host of hidden gems that ensure their clients get off the beaten track to experience the sights and sounds that many don’t get to see.
The area around the historic city of Chiang Mai in the north of the country is outstandingly beautiful.
It borders a verdant region that is home to several indigenous hill-tribes which have inhabited the mountainous and densely wooded forests for thousands of years.
Lisu Lodge is a 90-minute drive north of the city and is part of a community-based project to conserve the heritage of the Lisu hill-tribe.
It’s a beacon of sustainability that welcomes visitors into the community and even into locals’ homes for tea. Guests learn about Lisu customs and culture and are introduced to skilled artisans producing traditional embroidery and silverware.
The lodge is ideally located to take advantage of a range of adventure activities including mountain biking, white-water rafting and ox-cart rides.
Guests even dine with their hosts in true Thai style – there’s no set menu, just a seemingly never-ending banquet of dishes eaten while sitting cross-legged on the floor.
Rising out of the region’s thick woodland is Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest peak. At its 8,415ft summit temperatures can get so low that frost forms – a very rare occurrence for south-east Asia.
As well as an abundance of animal and plant life, the area has some of the country’s most impressive waterfalls, such as Namtok Mae Ya that cascades some 915ft across a boulder strewn cliff face.
A network of 11 excellent nature trails criss-crosses the park and has been created to showcase specific flora and fauna while offering fabulous panoramas of the surrounding countryside.
For another eco alternative, Lanjia Lodge in Chiang Rai province bordering Laos, has spectacular views across the mighty Mekong River.
It’s the perfect place from which to explore local villages to get a truly authentic understanding of traditional life.
Evenings can be spent with a shaman who unlocks the secrets of the host tribe’s culture and traditions by regaling you with tales passed down the generations.
Away from the lush interior, and for complete seclusion, Khao Lak on the country’s west coast features a series of pristine beaches with clear waters lapping at tropical white sand.
It’s tremendously quiet, effortlessly relaxing and boasts exceptional water sports of which the snorkelling and diving are second to none.
The area is not far from Phang Nga Bay with its imposing limestone karsts that jut out of the ocean like stalagmites. Many of these impressive structures contain roofless caves known as hongs that can be explored by kayak.
The dense vegetation within, sometimes inhabited by troops of monkeys and other wildlife, offers a most incongruous sight to any paddler witnessing it from a such a novel viewpoint.
Thailand has many wonderful national parks – in the south of the country Khao Sok boasts a stunning interior of shimmering lakes, deep caves and lush valleys winding through the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world.
Just two hours from Phuket, it teems with wildlife including Asian elephants, wild boar, pig-tailed macaques and gibbons.
It’s also home to the world’s biggest flower, the 31in Rafflesia, that blooms once a year.
Another area of Thailand that sees far fewer than its fair share of tourists is Isaan in the east. Bordered by Laos and Cambodia on three sides it makes up about a third of the country’s land mass.
It’s a fascinating place and has some extremely impressive Khmer ruins such as those at Prasat Hin Phimai. Housed in a rectangular complex that measures more than 3,270ft long by almost 1,950ft wide, it was constructed during the 11th and 12th centuries and bears a striking resemblance to the majestic Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia.
For those wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, Khao Yai National Park is only a three-hour drive from the vibrant metropolis.
It’s rich in forests and grasslands and is an ornithologist’s paradise with a stunning variety of colourful birds including barbets, scarlet minivets, Asian fairy bluebirds, drongos and Siamese firebacks.
It’s also home to more than 200 wild elephants that are best spotted from the back of a safari truck between the months of December and February. And with more than 30 miles of hiking trails, discovering the stunning scenery by foot with a local guide is a great way to get up close to the rich biodiversity of the land.
Getting off the beaten track with Audley Travel in Thailand will reward any traveller with a wealth of unusual adventures that many visitors to the country quite simply don’t get to experience on their journey.
This enchanting land offers the opportunity to be continually captivated and Audley’s specialists can tailor an itinerary to perfectly suit your interests, adding in a host of unique experiences that will offer a deeper understanding of Thailand.
For true comfort in the most natural of environments Elephant Hills Tented Camp in Khao Sok National Park is hard to beat. Set in a clearing deep in southern Thailand’s largest area of natural rainforest, it boasts 35 luxury tents with solid beds, sumptuous en-suite bathrooms and traditional hand-crafted local furniture.
Thailand’s first luxury tented camp is a wonderful place to become immersed in the life of the forest and waking up to a rich cacophony of whoops, calls and birdsong is a fabulous way to start the day.
It is also home to a conservation project and has 12 Asian elephants as permanent residents. Some of these mighty pachyderms were once used in the logging industry until it was banned in 1989, and others have actually been born there.
The Elephant Experience allows guests to see these incredible beasts up close. For ethical reasons there is no riding, but instead guests get to prepare a feast of bananas, pineapples and sugar cane and then feed the treats to 12 of the amazing animals.
There’s also the opportunity to give them a good scrub with a coconut husk at bath time in a giant mud pool – a truly unique experience for guests.
As well as interacting with the majestic animals that give the camp its name, several tour packages are also available.
Head out on jungle safaris to explore the waterways and lush rainforests surrounding the camp. Trek, take a self-paddle kayak tour and keep your eye out for all manner of local wildlife.
The hotel has an additional Rainforest Camp that features more tented accommodation, but this time on pontoons floating on a serene lake 65ft from shore.
The tour packages often involve accommodation at the Rainforest Camp, where you can explore the area with expert guides, swim, relax around the communal campfire, or simply stargaze at the twinkling blanket overhead. With no WiFi and a luxurious castaway atmosphere, it is the perfect opportunity to switch off from the stresses of modern life.
The camps also work to give back to the local communities. As well as raising money for elephant conservation, Elephant Hills supports three local schools. Children come to the camp each evening to perform dances and guests can donate books, pens and pencils.
Include Elephant Hills on your Thailand adventure by calling an Audley specialist on 01993 838115.
Discover moreEnjoy an unforgettable holiday in ThailandPlay!01:49
This article was from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.