Pack those suitcases.
2020 Bucket List
Why: Last month, Airbnb ranked Buriram third in its top 20 places to visit worldwide—best get in there before the droves start to descend.
Highlights: The grand Phanom Rung complex, which is often compared to Angkor Wat, and the return of racing event MotoGP in March. A follow up to this year’s Pan Ram weed festival is yet to be confirmed.
Getting there: Flights from B920 (1h) or a six-hour drive from Bangkok.
Why: This province is slowly eclipsing Chiang Mai as northern Thailand’s most popular destination thanks to its perfect mix of stunning nature and local experiences.
Highlights: “I just took an amazing countryside trip to Doi Mae Salong in Chiang Rai. Waking up above the fog was so beautiful. I can't recommend it strongly enough,” says Calum Evans, Thailand-based founder of The Gay Passport (thegaypassport.com). TAT’s Kitsana Kaewtumrong adds, “Tham Luang Cave is becoming a major tourist spot—you can visit the exhibition about the entire mission of the rescue of the ‘Wild Boars.’ Other attractions include the Pang Ha community, where visitors can learn about the Karen ethnic group’s wisdom on how to make natural paper without cutting down any trees.”
Getting there: Flights from B1,050 (1h 25).
Why: “Located in southern Thailand, this is a great location for culture, beauty and diving,” says Kaewtumrong. Plus, some scenes from Netflix’s new Thai series The Stranded were filmed here.
Highlights: “Chumphon Archipelago National Park has many beautiful islands and beaches, one of which is over 100 kilometres long. The Blue Crab Community Research Centre in Pathiu district aims to replenish the dwindling population of blue crabs along the Chumphon coast,” says Kaewtumrong.
Getting there: Flights to Chumphon from B1,300 (1h 15) or buses from B300 (7h).
Khao Sok, Surat Thani
Why: “Khao Sok is a fairly underappreciated natural gem in Thailand, and for people that love nature and wildlife, it is an absolute must,” says Jhingran (Smiling Albino).
Highlights: Jungle camping in the Bang Hman wilderness.
Getting there: Flights to Surat Thani from B920 (1h 20 followed by a 1.5 hour drive).
Koh Jum, Krabi
Why: “Closer to Krabi than Koh Lanta but with a fraction of the crowds. A real gem of an island,” says Jhingran.
Highlights: “Koh Jum Beach Villas is the place to stay, with gorgeous villas and an undisturbed beachfront you can only dream of.”
Getting there: Flights to Krabi from B920 (1h 25 followed by a 1.5 hour journey).
Koh Phayam, Ranong
Why: “This hidden gem on the Andaman coast is a secluded beach getaway,” says Kaewtumrong.
Highlights: “An organic farm tour implements the sufficiency economy and way of life to manage community-based tourism. Activities include learning how to tap a rubber tree, processing raw cashew nuts into finished products, and collecting vegetables from a farm for cooking.”
Getting there: Flights to Ranong from B1,300 (1h 15 followed by a 1.5 hour journey).
Koh Phra Thong (Golden Buddha Island), Phang-nga
Why: “One of Thailand’s largest islands but surprisingly almost unknown to so many travel insiders, including locals in Phuket!” says Jhingran.
Highlights: “The island has amazing beaches, a savanna landscape interior (the only of its kind in Thailand), jungles, and interesting local villages (including a post-Tsunami set up commune with abandoned houses). If you need a detox from modern living without compromising comfort, Golden Buddha Beach Resort is as good as it gets.”
Getting there: Flights to Surat Thani from B920 (1h 20 followed by a three hour drive).
Mae Tuen, Chiang Mai
Why: “I’ve been going to Mae Tuen for a while, it’s around six hours from the city up in the mountains. The people there live in a communal way according to nature, it’s very pure. They only accept 80 travelers a year between October and March. People who go here always come back!” says Mint (I Roam Alone).
Highlights: “You don’t have phone signal, so people talk, eat together and play games together.”
Getting there: Flights to Chiang Mai from B695 (1h 15 followed by a six hour drive). fb.com/maetuean
Why: “Nan is the frontier town of the eastern Lanna Kingdom and has a mix of cultures from the high mountain ranges to the plains,” says Kaewtumrong.
Highlights: “Wat Phumin features a famous painting of the ‘Whisper of Love,’ and the main road is lined with many cafes that offer espresso brewed from locally-sourced Arabica beans with panoramic views of rice fields and mountains in the distance.”
Getting there: Flights to Nan from B1,400 (1h 30).
Why: “Trang is known as a ‘foodie haven.’ It’s a beach getaway for those who prefer an off-the-beaten track holiday, such as Koh Muk and Tham Morakot or Emerald Cave,” says Kaewtumrong.
Highlights: “[Koh Libong is] home to a large group of dugong marine species. Travelers can join in saving the sea cows by planting sea grass, which is the staple food for dugongs.”
Getting there: Flights to Trang from B1,300 (1h 15).
Why: Besides its stunning natural scenery, the land of “Gross National Happiness” boasts status as the world’s only carbon-negative country thanks to its vast forests and thriving hydro-electric power industry—not to mention its ambition to become a fully organic country within the coming year. The $200-250 (B6,000-7,555) per day visitor fee may be prohibitive, but not only does it cover accommodation, meals, a tour guide and entry fees, $65 of it goes towards free education and healthcare for the locals—how’s that for giving back?
Highlights: The iconic, cliffside Taktshang Goemba, AKA Tiger’s Nest Monastery.
Essentials: Direct flights (3h) to Paro from B27,000—ouch. A visa must be acquired in advance ($40/B1,200) and your tour must be pre-booked through an official operator.
Why: On top of its famed hospitality, delicious food and breathtaking landscapes encompassing mountains, valleys and sea, Georgia is enticingly affordable (once you’ve paid for the flight, that is). “It’s a place where you can go and feel like you’re in Europe but you don’t have to pay the price!” says Mint (I Roam Alone). Also, Thai nationals get a free one year visa.
Highlights: Getting to grips with the country’s 8,000 year history of winemaking at a local winery.
Essentials: Flights to Tbilisi from B16,200. Free one-year tourist visa for Thai nationals.
Why: Packed with forts and gilded former palaces, this royal city comes with a tantalizing bonus: cheap flights.
Highlights: Besides the iconic, pink Hawa Mahal palace, Jaipur hosts the prestigious annual Jaipur Literature Festival in January (23-27) and roars to life every year with the Hindu festival, Teej (Jul 23, 2020).
Essentials: Direct flights to Jaipur from B4,800 (4h 30). A 60-day e-visa costs from around B1,200.
Why: If Iraq and Afghanistan sound a little too hardcore, then this country located at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and Asia should satisfy your Middle East curiosities.
Highlights: From exploring the ancient sandstone-cut city of Petra to bobbing around in the Dead Sea, Jordan is packed with once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Getting there: Flights to Aman from B15,850 (9h direct/12h with stopover). A 90-day visa on arrival costs B1,700 for Thai nationals.
Nagsasa Cove, the Philippines
Why: Located just three hours’ drive from Manila, this local secret is the perfect back-to-nature retreat. Detach from it all amid sweeping, tree-lined shores and rugged mountains dotted with hiking trails and campsites—where there’s no phone signal to be found. Plus, the flights are a steal.
Highlights: Charcoal-grilling seafood caught by the local fishermen.
Essentials: Flights to Manila from B3,000 (3h 20). 30-day visa free travel for Thai nationals.
Seoul, South Korea
Why: This enduringly popular destination has offered visa-free travel to Thais since the ‘80s, though rumours over the past year have hinted that this may be in jeopardy—so visit for free while you can.
Highlights: The bustling Myeong-dong shopping area; the traditional Gwangjang Market; the hilltop heritage village of Bukchon Hanok; the buzzing nightlife in Hongdae and Itaewon.
Getting there: 90-day visa-free travel for Thai citizens.
Why: After legalizing same-sex marriage in 2019, Taiwan became one of Asia’s most progressive countries in terms of human rights.
Highlights: “In gay travel, we continue to see huge growth in event travel—visiting destinations to take part in circuit parties or LGBTQ+ celebrations. Taipei Pride [Oct 24, 2020] is one of the biggest in this region.” says Evans (The Gay Passport).
Essentials: Flights from B3,607. 14-day visa-free entry for Thai nationals.
Why: “Japan is opening up in preparation for the Olympic Games, so it’s a bit more ‘foreigner friendly,’” says Junca (Secret Retreats).
Highlights: There’s still time to nab tickets for the Olympics (Jul 24-Aug 9, 2020), plus you can catch the nearby Yokohama Triennale—one of Japan's most important art exhibitions—at the same time (Jul 3-Oct 11, 2020).
Essentials: Flights during the Olympics run from around B6,900. A 15-day visa exemption for Thai nationals is available.
Why: “Uzbekistan has made some great improvements in terms of welcoming tourists—switching to e-visas, getting rid of their currency controls and installing international ATMs,” says Gazarian (GlobalGaz). “It used to be considered challenging but now there’s great infrastructure, it’s very cheap, there’s not a ton of tourists and there are lots of amazing things to see.”
Highlights: Registan Square in the historic Silk Road city of Samarkand; the famous tomb of Ismail Samani in ancient Bukhara; and, for something off the beaten path, the shrinking Aral Sea between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Essentials: Flights to Tashkent from B17,300; to Samarkand from B23,700. A 30-day e-visa costs from around B1,300.
Why: “I’ve been going to Yerevan in Armenia every year since 2003 and I’ve seen it develop from a dark backwater into a very cool, fun, cosmopolitan European city,” says Gazarian (GlobalGaz).
Highlights: Climbing the striking Yerevan Cascade at the Cafesjian Center for the Arts, with a view of Mount Ararat from the top.
Essentials: Flights from B18,600. 21-day visa on arrival for Thai nationals (B200).
All flight prices based on lowest Skyscanner fare from Bangkok.