When searching for Thailand off the beaten track destinations, you inevitably see many places that aren’t off the beaten tourist path at all. For example, Koh Chang, Mae Hong Song, Hat Yai, etc. There certainly isn’t anything wrong with these destinations. In fact, we have been to them all, and love them too. But they are filled with tourists, and have an established infrastructure that caters to foreigners. This is all great, too. Because many tourists aren’t of the “intrepid” type, and greatly appreciate the availability of tour guides, hotels where English is spoken, and other conveniences.
However, we consider “off the beaten track destinations” as places where you aren’t going to see many tourists. That is why we refer to Sakon Nakhon as one of the best off the beaten path destinations in Thailand. You could travel throughout Sakon Nakhon province for a week, and there is a good likelihood that you won’t see a single foreign tourist. So, if your are looking for a true off the beaten track destination, a place where you can have an authentic cultural experience, away from the tourist crowds, we highly recommend Sakon Nakhon, a mountain province in the Northeast of Thailand with a rich cultural history (Read Our Sakon Nakhon History). If you decide to come to this Isaan province, here are our Top 10 places to visit.
Wat Tham Pha Daen is the most popular tourist attraction in Sakon Nakhon. However, it is still an off the beaten path destination, because if you visit this stunning Buddhist temple on weekdays, you’ll likely see few tourists, and be able to spend hours taking in the attractions and beautiful views of Sakon Nakhon province. On the weekends, it can get busy with local Thais visiting, but it will be far less busy than famous temples in Bangkok or Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Phra That Phu Phek will always remain one of Thailand’s true off the beaten track destinations, because to reach this Khmer era temple ruin, you must be quite healthy and fit, so as to climb the very steep 491 steps up the mountainside. In addition to the temple ruins that were built by Khmer artisans in the 12th century, Phra That Phu Phek provides you with a great vantage point to view the Sakon Nakhon landscape. After visiting the ruins, you should also visit the nearby mountaintop temple of Wat Tham Kham, which often has friendly monkeys walking the grounds.
Ban Tha Rae is Vietnamese-founded village that is also the largest Catholic community in Thailand. The area is noted for its classic European architecture, its beautiful St. Michael’s Cathedral, and its Christmas time festivities (in particular, The Christmas Star Parade), which attracts Thai tourists from throughout the country.
For some tourists, seeing live elephants is a must do activity when visiting Thailand. You are in luck when visiting Sakon Nakhon. Chang Phuak Elephant Camp, which runs several elephant camps in Thailand, recently opened a camp in Sakon Nakhon. At this camp, you will have the opportunity to feed the elephants, see an elephant show, and/or ride an elephant. You can also ride elephants by visiting Kaew Kwan Cafe, and there is always the chance that you might encounter a Sakon Nakhon elephant while walking the streets of a village!
A visit to Thailand is many a food lover’s fantasy. A visit to Sakon Nakhon is a true culinary excursion, one that is filled with fabulous flavors, textures, and smells. Leading the way is House Number 1712, which specializes in Thai/Isaan fusion, all dishes being made with farm fresh local ingredients. There are wonderful menu items here which you’ll find nowhere else in Thailand. Indeed, you could spend all day here just sampling the delicious dishes and handcrafted Sakon Nakhon white spirit known as Onson. The owner Tammawit Limlertcharoenvanich speaks English and will be delighted to explain the offerings to you.
If you are looking for a temple in Thailand that is not a tourist attraction but an awe inspiring spiritual retreat, Sakon Nakhon has one of the most uplifting: Wat Doi Dhammachedi. The head monk of this off the beaten track temple is quite serious about not allowing the sacred grounds to become a tourist scene, filled with loud talking, wandering foreign tourists. The sign outside the temple reminds visitors that this is not a tourist attraction. Thus you should be on your best behavior when entering the temple grounds, remain quiet, and be discreet when taking any photos. It’s a great place to spend the day meditating on the transcendent meaning of life.
Sakon Nakhon is famous for its Indigo dyed fashion, with KramSakon being one of the most popular Indigo fashion shops. At Mann Craft’s “off the beaten path” shop you’ll find not only Indigo dyed fashion, but a variety of other shirts, scarves, skirts, and other fashion made with traditional Thai dying techniques and handcrafted methods. Mann Craft also runs a Weekend Thai Craft Market, which promotes the works of other artisans in the province. Khun Mann (whose formal name is Prach Niyomkar) also speaks English and loves to talk with tourists about traditional, handmade, Thai/Isaan fashion.
Nature lovers will enjoy the Chaloem Phrakiat Lotus Park, with its 100+ species of lotus flowers. There is also a giant Naga serpent statue on the grounds, the naga being an important symbol to the people of Sakon Nakhon (which is considered a Naga city). We suggest visiting about a couple hours before sunset, and then heading over to the Nong Han Viewpoint. Nong Han lake is the largest natural lake in Northeast Thailand, and this viewpoint is a great place to take in some of the most beautiful sunsets in Thailand.
A wonderful way to spend an afternoon off the beaten track in Thailand is to order up a bunch of Thai food, fill a cooler of refreshments, and take out a raft onto Nong Han Lake. The most popular launching point is from the village of Ban Tha Wat — an area which also has several lovely lakeside temples that you can visit.
Sakon Nakhon is a coffee drinker’s paradise, with many great coffeehouses, such as the iconic Come Home Cafe, the Guzzjung Cafe and Alexkoff Roaster in Ban Tha Rae, and “the slow bar” Gypsy Coffee Drip Cafe. However, our choice for this Top 10 is the Art Hopper Bar, a vintage Thai style coffee house which plays lovely Thai folk songs in the background, and has a guesthouse upstairs. Conveniently located in downtown Sakon Nakhon, it is one of Thailand’s best off the beaten track home stays and coffee shops. They also sell locally made products, and support Sakon Nakhon’s vibrant arts scene.
We couldn’t end this discussion of Thailand “off the beaten track” destinations without also mentioning our favorite hidden spiritual retreat, Tham Thoeng Nak Nimit Priest’s Camp (สำนักสงฆ์ถ้ำเทิ้งนาคนิมิต), which provides a long, meandering path up a mountainside, that feels truly mythical and enchanting. This retreat is so undiscovered that you likely won’t even see any local Thais walking the mountain path, unless there is some special occasion that has been organized.