Thailand Off the Beaten Path

As I continue my focus on quality travel experiences, including travel that emphasizes the slow, experiential, and mindful, I am highlighting off-the-beaten-path choices for well known destinations. I have always tried to get off the main tourist path to discover the real beat of a place, and in some destinations (Prague, Florence), I couldn’t imagine traveling without getting away from the most popular tourist attractions.

The first post in this series was about Prague. Today’s post is by Kristin, a fellow travel blogger who got to know Thailand a whole lot better through choosing to get off the beaten path.

Thailand Off the Beaten Path

Over the years, the land of a thousand smiles has quickly become a top tourist destination.  With each passing season, more and more resorts spring up, enclaves of this beautiful country start to lose their authenticity, and it becomes harder to find off-the-beaten path adventures.  Luckily, if you look hard enough, there are still plenty of unique, spiritual, and beautiful things to see and do here.

off beaten path thailand

After spending two months traveling around Thailand, these were my favorite escapes featuring natural beauty, a feeling of authenticity, and often a spiritual awakening.

Meditating in silence at a wat in Southern Thailand

While there are several options for those looking to participate in a silent meditation retreat, few offer the authenticity of Wat Suan Mokkh, a forest monastery in Southern Thailand.  Each meditation begins at the first of the month and goes for ten days.  This year, I chose to ring in 2013 while sitting cross-legged in silence in the open-air meditation hall as fireworks exploded in the distance of the neighboring city of Chaiya.

meditation thailand

While there are several options for those looking to participate in a silent meditation retreat, few offer the authenticity of Wat Suan Mokkh, a forest monastery in Southern Thailand.  Each meditation begins at the first of the month and goes for ten days.  This year, I chose to ring in 2013 while sitting cross-legged in silence in the open-air meditation hall as fireworks exploded in the distance of the neighboring city of Chaiya.

The days are spent waking at 4am to the sound of a gong.  After a morning reading and meditation, we spent an hour doing yoga, performing sun salutations as the sun rose.  Each meal was a Burmese-style vegetarian delight (though mostly suitable for vegans as well), with hot chocolate served each evening.  Throughout the ten days, we learned how to deal with our thoughts – both positive and negative, became present, attempted meditation, and let go of unpleasant thoughts of the past and angst over the future.

For a donation of only USD$60 for ten days of meals, meditation instruction, and a dorm room (though it was just a concrete bed with a wooden pillow, be forewarned), it was well worth both the time and monetary commitment.  For more on how to prepare and what to expect read my write up.

Getting a Sak Yant tattoo from a Buddhist monk

Once again rising at quite an early hour, I headed to Wat Bang Phra just outside of Bangkok to be given a magic sak yant tattoo.

The unique thing about these tattoos is that you don’t get to choose which tattoo you get or where on the body it goes.  The monk decides what you need most and proceeds without any further discussion.  That said, most tattoos are placed on the upper back, and most first-timers will get one of three common sak yants.

tattoo in Thailand

I was blessed with the hah-thaew, or 5 lines, which bestow blessings of peace, success in life, protection from evil, and other charms of good luck.  The tattoo took about ten minutes at the cost of a $1.50 donation to the wat.

Learning to slack line walk in Tonsai

Tonsai is a beautiful beach near Krabi that is best known for slack-lining and rock climbing.  Many also come here to participate in yoga, learn how to fire dance, and to enjoy freshly-ground chai tea and coffee.

thailand off the beaten path

I spent several days here just reading and staring out at the beautiful ocean.  With the help of two men on either side (okay, I cheated), I also successfully walked a slack line rope.

In the distance, strung up between two rocks over the sea, sits another slack line that I often watched the more skilled and experienced slack liners attempt.  If they miss-stepped, they fell straight into the ocean.

Motorbiking around Pai

Pai is one of the most naturally beautiful places I have seen.  Nestled in the mountains in northern Thailand and home to waterfalls you can swim under and slide down, Pai is a vegetarian, yoga lovers’, tea drinkers’ dream.  I’ve never encountered a place quite like it.

thailand off the beaten path

Over the course of a day, you can have a custom macramé headdress made, have a chat with a Thai Captain Jack Sparrow look-alike, take a yoga class, learn to hula hoop, and ride a motorbike all around the countryside, with very few other cars to contend with on the roads.

Spiritual, beautiful, and off-beat, Pai is a dream.

There you have my top off-the-beaten path destinations in Thailand.  Do you know of a few? Comment below!

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Be My Travel Muse is a website geared towards independent women travelers who like to head off the beaten path in Asia and Australia. She is a former investment banker and now travels and shares her budget plans around the world, exploring off-beat destinations.

26 Comments

  • The Guy says:

    It seems as though you made the most of your time to explore and it looks like a very restful place to meditate and reflect. I’m not sure I like the idea of a monk (or anyone for that matter) putting a tattoo on me.
    The Guy recently posted..Do You Have Feelings Of Guilt In Farmington?My Profile

  • Jessica says:

    Cool ideas! Motorbiking is definitely the best way to see Thailand – it’s how most of the locals get around, and I really think you learn a lot about any place by traveling how the locals do, instead of taking the usual tourist transport. Local markets are also a great way to get off the beaten path in Thailand. In some of the bigger cities, they’re more geared towards tourists, but in small towns, they’re a great place to learn about the unique food and culture in the area.
    Jessica recently posted..How to Choose Your Kyoto Temples and ShrinesMy Profile

  • Megan says:

    What a beautiful writeup. I didn’t do many of these things when I was in Thailand, but would definitely do some/all whenever I return. Though getting up at 4am and not talking for ten days would be REALLY, REALLY hard. Slacklining is really popular where I live right now (Boulder, CO) but man, its hard. I still prefer to hold onto someone’s hand when I walk across 🙂
    Megan recently posted..Queenstown, New Zealand Adventure Guide: Channel Your Inner BadassMy Profile

    • I hold onto shoulders when I slack line too 🙂

      The meditation was really hard, but really rewarding too.
      Kristin Addis recently posted..When Did Travel Stop Being Special?My Profile

    • Jenna says:

      When I saw Kristin’s suggestion of slacklining, I wanted to mention that I had the world slacklining champion in my class last year! (I teach ESL, and he was living in California for a few months training in Yosemite on weekends). His name is Mich Kemeter–he is insanely good!

  • Andrea says:

    Some awesome ideas here. Is the tattoo temporary or permanent? 10 minutes sounds fast!
    Andrea recently posted..Beer In France: A Taste Of the CountryMy Profile

  • Beautiful tattoo. You’re a one brave girl to trust that monk!
    Aga @ a matter of taste recently posted..The Velo Project, MooloolabaMy Profile

  • Marcia says:

    Very timely post, Jenna & Kristin. My travel buddies and I have started to plan our trip to Thailand so I’ll be sharing this post with them.
    I prefer off the beaten path destinations, that’s the real joy of travel for me. Thanks for sharing your insights, Kristin!
    Marcia recently posted..Ahhh…Ras Natango Garden and Gallery, an Eco-Tourism DestinationMy Profile

  • Kathryn says:

    A concrete bed with a wooden pillow!! I wouldn’t get any sleep and I’d get really cranky. If they had comfy beds I’d be keen.
    Kathryn recently posted..Tammy on the Move – Expat in CambodiaMy Profile

  • Just confirmed I definitely need to head back to Thailand to spend more time! These ideas are awesome ladies
    Kate – CanuckiwiKate recently posted..The best free fun we’ve found so far: Watching roadside wildlife in CanadaMy Profile

  • lola says:

    i remember when you got that tattoo with Yvonne. really such a neat souvenir. 🙂
    lola recently posted..stepping out of my comfort zone…in MiamiMy Profile

  • Chris Wotton says:

    A lovely post and some really beautiful pictures, but I just wanted to say – Pai and Ao Tonsai are not off the beaten path by any means. They’re on a path trodden by thousands upon thousands of backpackers and travellers before you, who in turn all thought they were heading off the beaten path too. I’ve not been to Pai (I plan to go at some stage though am wary, because it gets a lot of hype like this and yet at the same time I’ve heard a lot of let-down stories to the contrary) but it features on the itineraries of a huge number of those visiting northern Thailand. Ao Tonsai and the other beaches on the Railay peninsular, near Krabi as you say, is beautiful (I was there in January) and slightly more chilled out than other nearby very touristy destinations – but off the beaten path it’s not. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that, per se – but let’s not pretend these places are something they’re not.
    Chris Wotton recently posted..A week in Instagram shotsMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks for the information. I haven’t been to Thailand, so I have no idea what these destinations are like. I think that Kirsten, the writer of this guest post, was suggesting unusual or off-beat things to do in these popular destinations.

  • Prabuddha says:

    Is camera allowed in meditation centre? how did you take the photograph of Wat Suan Mokkh bed ? I read you cannot keep your mobile and camera.

    • Jenna says:

      I’m not sure about that because this is a guest post written by another blogger. You can contact her directly as stated at the bottom of the post, and thank you for your question.

  • Susan says:

    oh I love these off-the-beaten-path experiences. Very inspiring.

  • Some interesting suggestions here.

    We offer experiences of rural Thailand off the beaten track in Isan, the country’s northeast – an area that is visited by less than 1% of visitors to the kingdom. Set in the rice paddies of Udon Thani province, our villa aims to offer unusual and memorable experiences and direct connections with the locals – all away from the crowds. Let us know if you plan to come and explore the area soon!

    As an update to the Pai motorcycling section, I would suggest that in the north of Thailand, Pai has now developed into a major tourism hub and prices at resorts and hotels have skyrocketed. Mae Hong Son may be a better bet nowadays!

  • Janelle says:

    What is the best way to get to the Wat for the tattoo? I don’t feel comfortable renting a motor bike!

    • Jenna says:

      Hi Janelle,

      Sorry, I am not sure about this one. You may want to try asking on the Lonely Planet forum.

  • Pen says:

    Getting off the beaten track is simply a question of getting somewhere no one speaks English or American or Tourist. The problem however is finding stuff to do and understanding why it is important. We are working on a programme to promote the village where we live in Kanchanaburi. This involves facilitating a transfer of web skills that will hopefully open doors for local youngsters who otherwise will end up moving to Bangkok in search of adventure, wealth and happiness. Erawan National Park is beautiful. But it is heaving with the wrong sort of people and if that is a problem, look a look further to find a quieter more relaxed pace of life.

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