As a long term working Expat in Thailand I have spent most of my years in Pattaya, Bangkok and a brief spell in Hua Hin. Hardly adventurous but it has proven a convenient base. I have visited most of the Islands and also had two short trips up North to Chiang Mai. Fundamentally though they share the commonality of being ‘farang friendly’, all first tier regions in Thailand where foreigners not only visit but live.
The real Thailand has proved pretty much elusive to me hitherto. Now however I have spent some time in areas away from the foriegn tourist beaten path and after some initial reservations I ended up loving it!
I am half way through a four day excursion with the Tourism Authority of Thailand to what they term ‘second tier’ locations in Northern Thailand that currently have a sheltered tourist market, made up mostly of limited Thai visitors. It means you will not find your farang restaurants and bars and mainstream attractions like water parks and large shopping centres. No, what you find here is what I can only describe as the real Thailand – a location you feel privileged to be visiting.
It has proven to be a great learning for me and one in which I needed to take an inwards look at myself – and my perceptions – before I could fully appreciate what the provinces of Phrae and Nan could offer me.
I will be the first to admit that my initial perceptions were inhibiting and incorrectly attuned ones at that. You see I am used to the fast pace of Western influenced regions like Bangkok and Phuket. Ones with busy traffic, business that catered specifically for foreigners and a significant local retiree and working Expat community. My initial metrics therefore were based on this, so my initial perception was that these Northern regions were sleepy and lacking.
I was being completely narrow minded but fortunately I was able to shift this outlook fairly quickly. Through fresh, embracing eyes I found myself in two beautiful provinces. I had escaped the hustle and tourist dominated regions of Thailand and replaced it with something positively sedate. It was absolutely a good thing. Being regions so out of kilter with my usual lifestyle norms nourished me with new – albeit slightly different – experiences.
What could initially I perceived as negatives were in the end huge positives and benefits. A slower pace of life with less things to do does not equate to an inferior existence, it’s how you approach and look at life that counts.
A chance to discover a more Traditional side of Thailand
Phrae and Nan are peaceful, the scenery leafy and green, there is no traffic, and the areas are steeped in traditional Thai customs.
The night markets were full of so much locally produced bespoke fashion, jewelry and bits and bobs; it was both enchanting and charming. I took the opportunity to buy some souvenirs for my family and everything was noticeably cheaper versus mainstream tourist hangouts found in the more Southern Thai locations. I enjoyed leisurely strolls through the many temples and museums here and learning about the vast history these provinces have.
Furthermore, such is the polarisation of these provinces to Bangkok and the likes that it is made even more amazing given both have direct flights from the Capital city. You can be in both of these provinces from Don Muang Bangkok airport in little over one hour. In almost a blink of the eye your surroundings are unrecognisably transformed.
What I also am noticing whilst spending time in these two provinces is my soul feels better for it.
As I meet the locals whilst visiting local museums, temples, coffee shops and markets; their warmth as individuals is infectious. I can get pretty focused and into my own daily routine and rituals that I, arguably, become a little selfish and self-centered. This trip has softened me and slowed me down a little, and that is not just a good but great. We can also lose a little grasp of reality sometimes and what is important.
If you want to see a breadth of what Thailand can offer then I whole-heartedly recommend adding some second tier locations to your holiday plan. I am not suggesting areas like Phrae and Nan should replace your Thailand trip from more popular locations like Samui and the likes, but complement them.
You may just find, like me, that the experience turns out to be very good for your soul too!