Tackling Thailand by road
Thailand is one of the most visited countries in south-east Asia, but despite its ever-growing popularity, the Land of Smiles still retains its cultural heart among the remote fishing villages, Buddhist temples and rice plantations. Travelling around this green and surprising land by car is a great way to discover places far out of reach of public transport and explore Thailand beyond its frenetic cities and touristic landmarks. Here are a few suggested routes to try once you’re on the road.
Northern city Chiang Mai is becoming as much an essential part of holidays to Thailand, which are widely available online, as Bangkok or Phuket. Go by car, however, and you can cruise through national parks and rest in serene mountain communities, undisturbed by the outside world. One scenic round-trip begins and ends in the city, taking you up towards the border with Myanmar. You’ll need a reliable SUV such as a Jeep Wrangler to stay on track on the rough ascents of the northern roads. This said, stretches of the route are unparalleled in their beauty: the section going up to Doi Inthanon peak and its surrounding reserve, or the forested gorges near Mae Hong Son, at the top of the circular route.
The capital of the country, Bangkok, lies in a key central position and offers plenty of opportunities to escape the urban jungle for a day. If you have something longer in mind, the route eastwards can take you all the way to Siem Reap in Cambodia, or you can just make it a straight-forward journey to Poipet on the border, taking in the mist-covered waterfalls of Khao Yai National Park at least one way. Alternatively, head south for a relatively easy trip ending on the beaches of Bang Saen. Smooth road surfaces on the main highways here mean you can get away with something like a Buick sedan.
If you’re after something really epic, some adventurers voyage all the way from Nong Khai in the north to southern coastal spot of Krabi. Those considering the long haul may want to rent a good-old fashioned RV camper, to avoid worrying about camp sites or guesthouses along the way. Once at Krabi, it’s possible to catch a car ferry and do some island-hopping to places like Khao Lanta and the quiet sands of Khao Lak, though you would probably need to swap a caravanning vehicle for something smaller like a Chevrolet Cruze.
Be sure to allow enough time for all your travels, as each region of Thailand merits a few weeks of well-paced travel and with the flexibility of your own transport, it’s good to use the opportunity to absorb the different ways of life. From the jungle palm beaches of the Andaman coast to the desert plains of the north-east, Thailand is ripe for exploration at your pace.