10 Most Charming Small Towns in Thailand

by Kasem Niran
Pai River in Pai, Thailand

Elephants roam the rainforests freely, cheeky monkeys inhabit the old temples, and the locals are as kind and welcoming as can be. Paradise has arrived, complete with stunning beaches, towering karsts, and some of the best cuisine in the world. You can find every sort of adventure in the Thai towns, from the sleazy nightlife of Ao Nang to the peaceful natural getaway of Pai. Choosing your time in Thailand thoughtfully can allow you to make a trip that is really memorable.

10. Lamphun

Colorful Lamp Festival and Lantern in Loi Krathong at Wat Phra That Hariphunchai

A vibrant scene of colorful lanterns during the Loi Krathong Festival at Wat Phra That Hariphunchai in Lamphun Province, Thailand. Image source: Southtownboy Studio/Shutterstock.com

A former northernmost outpost of the ancient Mon Dvaravati Kingdom, Lamphun is now in the middle of a mountain range. When the city was an important defense position under Queen Chama Thevi, one of Thailand’s most respected queens, she built a fortress to protect the city’s historic temples.

In spite of its long history, the city does not make much of it, despite its attractive location on the Mae Kuang River. The picturesque 26-kilometer (16-mile) rural trip from neighboring Chang Mai can be the most gorgeous sight, since it provides visitors a glimpse of the stunning river valley scenery.

9. Ao Nang

Ao Nang Beach in Krabi Province, Thailand

A beautiful view of the exotic Ao Nang Beach in Krabi Province, Thailand. Image source: Lukasz Janyst/Shutterstock.com

In this southern Thai beach town next to Krabi, you can expect a high level of service from your hotel. Ao Nang’s nightlife attracts partygoers from all over the globe due to its rowdy and sometimes sleazy atmosphere, which is perfect for a booze cruise. But the town is ringed by imposing limestone karsts, and its beaches are woven in between them.

Friendly locals will take you out to the distant karst islands in longtail boats if you’re looking for a secluded beach. There is a wide variety of outdoor activities to partake in Ao Nang, from scuba diving to exploring the mangroves.

8. Chiang Saen

Wat Rong Khun Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand

A stunning view of the Wat Rong Khun Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Image source: opportunity_2015/Shutterstock.com

Located in the heart of northern Thailand, just south of the Golden Triangle, lies the town of Chiang Saen, a virtual ghost town that is slowly coming back to life. Chiang Saen was formerly an important city in the Lanna Kingdom, although it has been plundered and conquered several times.

The repopulation started about 1900, but the remnants of the fortifications testify to the region’s turbulent history. Massive barges loaded with fruit, auto components, and other Chinese exports make their way down the Mekong River and out to sea. And over the Mekong from this tranquil river town is the country of Laos.

7. Chaweng

Chaweng Beach on Koh Samui Island, Thailand

A stunning view of the turquoise waters of Chaweng Beach on Koh Samui Island, Thailand. Image source: Preto Perola/Shutterstock.com

On Ko Samui, in the heart of the Gulf of Thailand, you’ll find Chaweng. You can easily explore the whole island with the help of the excellent tourism infrastructure by renting a scooter. As the sun goes down over the blue waters of Chaweng, the long, white sands of the beach come alive with restaurants and cafes.

There are two little islands off the coast that you should look out for. At low tide, you can walk between the islands and enjoy the snorkeling reef. You can choose between a loud, club-like beach party and a quiet, laid-back beach bar as the sun goes down.

6. Chiang Khan

Chiang Khan Walking Street in Loei District, Thailand

A bustling scene of tourists at Chiang Khan Walking Street in Loei District, Thailand. Image source: Nor Gal/Shutterstock.com

Chiang Khan, in far northeastern Thailand, is where you can go swimming in the Mekong. Following the riverside road down into the valley for a mile or two will lead you to Gaeng Kut Kuu, a popular swimming spot. If the river bed is dry, you can find temporary restaurants there.

Vacationing Thais go to Chiang Khan for its famed strolling streets and picturesque vistas of mountains in neighboring Laos. Traders, restaurants, bars, stores, yoga centers, and fashion boutiques fill the street that has been blocked off to traffic. If you want to see Laos for yourself, get a room at a guesthouse on a hill.

5. Hat Karon

Karon Beach’s fine white sand is noisy underfoot. About 19 kilometers (12 miles) from Phuket city, this two-mile stretch of sand is close to the more well-known Patong Beach. There is more beach space per person here than virtually everywhere else in Phuket since no resorts have claimed any of the sand as their property.

Several rows of houses go up to a roadway, which is separated from the beach by a pedestrian walkway. There are a wide variety of hotels and motels across the street, from luxury resorts to budget inns. Among the T-shirt and food vendors lining the winding streets, you’ll find plenty of Russian-language signs.

4. Phetchaburi

Phra Nakhon Khiri Summer Palace in Phetchaburi, Thailand

A stunning view of Phra Nakhon Khiri, the hilltop summer palace of Thai King Rama IV, in Phetchaburi, Thailand. Image source: Ben Petcharapiracht/Shutterstock.com

This city on the Myanmar border is surrounded by the dense rainforest of Kaeng Krachan National Park. Phetchaburi isn’t far from Bangkok, but it’s not exactly a must-see destination for tourists. Phetchaburi is one of Thailand’s most historically and culturally significant towns, so instead, you’ll see school groups visiting for the day to learn about Thai history and heritage. Despite the country’s turbulent past, numerous artifacts from the Khmer, Sukhothai, and Ayuthaya dynasties can be found today. The city is quiet at night, so you can spend your days exploring the rainforest and the Gulf of Thailand.

3. Lopburi

Pra Prang Sam Yod Temple in Lopburi, Thailand

A magnificent view of Pra Prang Sam Yod, a 13th-century temple located in Lopburi, Thailand. Image source: SRSST/Shutterstock.com

Lopburi, one of the oldest cities in Thailand, is located in the jungle about three hours north of Bangkok. The Dvaravati era, which lasted from the sixth to the tenth century, is considered the pinnacle of the city. The Old Town district preserves most of the city’s history, including buildings from the Khmer and Ayuthaya eras.

Since Lopburi is most known for its enormous colony of mischievous, crab-eating macaque monkeys, much of your time will be spent amid the ruins of the city’s Old Town. Spend the day at the monkey adventure park, where you can purchase snacks for your cheeky companions. Sunflower farms and tunnels await discovery on the outskirts of the city.

2. Kanchanaburi

Train crossing Kwai River on Death Railway in Kanchanaburi, Thailand

A striking view of trains running on tracks crossing Kwai River on the Death Railway in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. Image source: banjongseal168/Shutterstock.com

Tourists from Bangkok come here to relax by the river and get away from the city’s hectic pace. Fans of “The Bridge over the River Kwai” movies often go to Kanchanaburi in order to see the real bridge for themselves. Though it has a laid-back riverbank atmosphere presently, Kanchanaburi has a troubled history.

During World War II, the occupying Japanese exploited American and other Allied POWs to build a railway to Burma (now Myanmar). The town, which has been termed the “center of Thailand’s Wild West,” is filled with museums and monuments honoring this heritage.

1. Pai

Pai River in Pai, Thailand

A peaceful view of the Pai River at Pai, Thailand. Image source: Kittichai/Shutterstock.com

Local rastas, Western hippies, and Muslim immigrants all call Pai home. Located north of Chang Mai, this bustling tourist hub is in a beautiful valley dotted with waterfalls and hiking trails. The town’s largest structure is a massive mosque located in the middle of town, and guesthouses flank the main street.

The tranquility of the natural setting has not yet been compromised by the blossoming tourist sector. In addition to its proximity to Huai Nam Dang National Park, Pai Canyon, and the WWII Memorial Bridge, Pai serves as an ideal starting point for explorations of North Thailand.

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