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The Monthly Top 10

Friendly people, inexpensive living, great food, a charming culture and stunning natural beauty – Thailand is a tourist paradise. In this month’s Top 10, Naked Farang picks my personal favourite holiday destinations in the Land of Smiles. Find out what tops my list here...

During my bachelor period, I had some wild times in Pattaya. I even heard an uncorroborated rumour that it also has a beach, but let’s face it, nobody comes here to swim.  The proximity to Bangkok, its myriad of inexpensive hotels, the wide choice of restaurants and the ease with which it spreads its legs make Pattaya my number 10 holiday destination in Thailand.

I like Kanchanaburi – I really do. I honestly believe that it deserves a better score than number 9 on my list, but to date I have only spent one solitary day trip there. I keep planning to go back for more, but have yet to succeed. Nevertheless, I have seen enough of Kanchanaburi's historical and natural attractions for it to earn a place in my top 10.

Chiang Mai makes a great base from which to explore the rolling hills of Northern Thailand. While the old city and surrounding hill tribe villages have sacrificed much of their charm to commercialisation, Chiang Mai remains at the very least a key transit point for any traveller’s northern adventures – number 8.

On my first ever trip to Thailand back in 1994, Koh Phangan was my first destination outside Bangkok. Even though the full moon party is vastly overrated and Had Rin is the ugliest beach resort I have ever seen, Koh Phangan still has enough natural beauty to merit a score of number 7 on my list.

Rarely visited by farangs but well-known among Thais, Phu Kradung in the far north-east of Thailand is a monolithic plateau rising defiantly from the surrounding plains. It’s a challenging 4 to 5 hour climb to the summit, but the park’s flora, fauna and environment all make it well worth the effort and place it at number 6 in my top 10.

I quite liked Koh Samet after my first visit, but it was during my second trip to this eastern island that I really fell for the place. Having stayed on the main beach during a holiday weekend on that first trip, Koh Samet seemed pretty enough – but just too crowded. A second holiday spent at Ao Cho showed me the quieter side of the island and earns Koh Samet 5th place on my list.

It is Thailand’s natural beauty that draws the tourists, but the widespread ruins of Ayutthaya offer a fascinating glimpse into the country’s past. By dawn’s early glow or in the fading light of dusk, the ancient city comes to life and conjures up images of a bygone age – number 4.

Khao Yai to the north-east of Bangkok is Thailand’s oldest and most well-known national park. While there are plenty of trails within the park, you definitely need a car to get around and fully enjoy the park’s stunning flora and fauna. I never get bored of Khao Yai and it comes in at number 3 on my list.

Koh Tao was my first love in Thailand, and I spent 2 months there on each of my first 3 visits. With a long stretch of white sand beach along one shore, protected by a coral reef that you can wade out to at low tide; with a clear turquoise sea, teeming with a rainbow of marine life; with numerous bays scattered around the island, one even boasting a shipwreck lodged in her reef; with a hilly interior of dense yet alluring jungle offering rewarding treks to stunning viewpoints; with three islands huddled together just off her coast forming an exquisite mini-archipelago, each with its own sliver of beach reaching out to touch its neighbours every low tide; and with enough sea between her and the next nearest inhabited land to make her truly remote from the cares of a quickly forgotten world; Koh Tao was a traveller’s dream. Unfortunately, her attractions were her downfall as the tiny island became ravaged by development and I haven’t been back since 2000. Thanks for the memories, Koh Tao, but you’ll have to settle for second place.

Many people tell me how Koh Chang today is a spoilt shadow of its former self, but unlike Koh Tao, it’s a big island and the developments are less concentrated. There are certainly resorts to match every taste, but spoilt? I like that I can walk along the beach into the town and get whatever I need. Equally, I like that I can be the only person swimming in the sea or sitting on the beach. To me, Koh Chang has the perfect balance of natural beauty and convenience and it is my favourite holiday destination in Thailand.

Thailand has so much to offer the tourist. Many people will wonder how Phuket, Koh Samui, Cha-Am, Koh Phi-Phi, Hua Hin, Khao Sok, Mae Hong Song and many other places never made it onto my list, but to each his own. Feel free to leave your comments below.

Paul Snowdon – February 13, 2010

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