I love the feeling of standing in a place that seems like it shouldn’t exist. It’s either too old, or too beautiful, or too strange…sometimes a mix of all three. Thailand is full of magical destinations. Here are 5 of the most surreal places we’ve visited while living and teaching in Thailand.
Phraya Nakhon Cave Temple, Hua Hin
Reaching the majestic temple located deep inside Phraya Nakhon cave is not for the lazy traveler. For us the journey involved a 45 minute ride in the back of a truck, wading into the ocean to jump on long-tail boat, a boat ride to a secluded beach, a steep uphill hike, and finally a refreshing descent into the cool air of the cave.
The temple was built in 1890 and has been visited by 3 of Thailand’s Kings since its construction. While hiking to the temple I could only imagine how difficult it was to lug the building supplies there over 100 years ago.
The roof of the cave is open allowing gorgeous sunlight to stream in and illuminate the temple. When we visited, our group of friends and 2 monks were the only people in the cave. We enjoyed a picnic lunch in the serene silence while taking in the beauty of this site.
Phi Phi Islands, Krabi
The Phi Phi Islands are a small group of limestone karsts jetting out of the bluest water I have ever laid eyes on. The main island has a small inhabitable strip full of hostels, restaurants, bars, and beaches. The tiny island has no motorized vehicles other than boats, of course. We enjoyed walking through the quaint alleyways. The location was so well-developed and bustling with activity when we visited that we could hardly believe it was almost completely wiped about by a tsunami just 12 years prior.
The water surrounding the islands is the most beautiful shade of blue I have ever seen. It seems to glow when the sunlight hits it. I spent most of our boat ride starring in disbelief at the amazing colors surrounding us.
Red Lotus Sea, Udon Thani
From the shore this lake looks like any other, but a few minutes into our boat ride we began to realize this was no ordinary lake. This 600 acre lake in Northeastern Thailand is home to millions of lotus flowers. The locals call it the Red Lotus Sea (yeah, it’s actually a lake and yeah, they’re actually pink).
The brightly colored blooms hover a few inches above the water and extend as far as the eye can see. Boats have driven through the lake creating the illusion of blue roads cutting through the dense flowers.
Being there was so beautiful it felt like something from a movie and so otherworldly that if felt like something from a dream. Because of it’s remote location and short blooming season, few tourists in Thailand ever lay eyes on this spectacular attraction. Definitely worth the 14 hour bus ride.
Maeklong Railway Market, Amphawa
Why does this place even exist? Who would think it’s a good idea to have an open and active market on the exact spot that a train drives through multiple times a day? The Maeklong Railway Market has all the characteristics of a typical Thai market, oh, except that a train barrels through it 8 times a day.
A patch-work of colorful awnings cover the meat, seafood, produce, and other goods sold at the market. The train tracks run through the middle and vendors keep their goods right next to the tracks. We witnessed tourists snapping photos and Thai people doing their daily grocery shopping. A bell sounds and suddenly the vendors spring into action. They lower their specially designed awnings and pull back merchandise to make room for the train to pass. We could see why the Thai name of the market, Talad Rom Hoop, literally translates to “Market Umbrella Close.”
Just minutes after the warning bell, the train rolls through. We were shocked by how close it came! Before the train is even out of sight, the vendors have put their awnings back up and normal market life resumes. As strange as this place was, I feel like it was a neat testament to the adaptability of humankind.
Erawan Falls National Park, Kanchanaburi
Erawan Falls feels like something out of a fairytale. Each level of the seven-tiered waterfall has a shape and character of its own. They all share the same bright, emerald green water. It feels like everywhere you look there is beautiful, cascading water with the peaceful sound of running water in your ears. As we climbed we kept thinking to ourselves “There can’t possibly be even more waterfalls!”
The pools at each of the seven tiers are popular places to seek respite from the intense Thai heat. Fish swim near the surface and will nibble at the dead skin on your feet. Level 4 boasts a natural rock slide, although I was the only person brave enough to try it when we visited.
Which of these Thailand destinations are you adding to your travel bucket list?