Thailand doesn't have to be all sparkling beaches and Full Moon Parties, you know. It can also be about oversized hotel rooms in the shape of dragon fruit, water-top, open-air cinemas, mummified monks and spine-tingling gardens depicting the seven levels of Hell. Not sure what we're talking about? Read on to see 12 truly alternative things you could get up to on one of our awesome Thailand tours this year…
1. The Airplane Graveyard of Bangkok
It's been at least seven years since the rusting shells of these old airplanes were deposited on two open fields along Ramkhamhaeng Road on the western edge of the Thai capital. Since then, they've not only become an attraction in themselves but also a home for a group of local families. Most travelers come to experience the surreal sight of hulking Boeings in the shadow of the high-rise towers all around, others to see the eerie remains of oxygen masks and crooked passenger seats within.
2. The Banphasawan Resort
Set out in the far-flung jungles of the Tenasserim Hills, where the rising ridges loom up towards the border with Myanmar, the Banphasawan Resort might just be Thailand's weirdest hotel. All the rooms are shaped like oversized topical fruit. There's the recognizable magenta hues of the dragon fruit. There's the formidable spiked outer shell of the stinky durian. There's a green-topped pineapple. All are open for guests to stay in, while other attractions include a garden of fresh fruits for tasting sessions.
3. Siriraj Medical Museum
Home to not one but rather six separate museum collections, the Siriraj Medical Museum is one for the morbidly curious visitor. Between sections dedicated to pathology and parasitology, traditional holistic medicine and anatomy, it's possible to spy out dissected nervous strands, partly-decomposed corpses, snakes and reptiles in bottles of embalming fluid, various parasites and other macbre little exhibits. Oh, and it's just a stone's throw from Khaosan Road in downtown Bangkok, just in case you fancied a cheeky Chang beer afterwards!
4. Wang Saen Suk
Set just back from the rolling waters of the Thai Gulf north of Pattaya City, the fiery totems and demonic statues of the Wang Saen Suk garden might not seem like the perfect distraction from the shimmering beachfronts. However, a distraction they certainly are! They are supposed to depict Naraka, a sort of Buddhist equivalent to Hell. Yep, you'll see tortured souls and ghouls aplenty as you wander the otherworldly exhibits.
5. Archipelago Cinema
A welcome break from the other macabre off-beat attractions we've already had, the Archipelago Cinema boasts a truly wonderful location between the rugged karst cliffs on the Andaman coast. It literally floats, set on timber rafts, hosting beanbag seats and big silver screens for film showings. The only way to get there is by boat, and the most notable showings are with the annual Film on the Rocks Yao Noi Festival. (Otherwise, the attraction is usually closed.)
6. Pai Canyon
Hidden way up in the northern reaches of the country, where the rugged, dust-caked hills of Mae Hong Son Province give way to the jungle-dressed ridges on the Burmese border, the Pai Canyon is an interesting little geological wonder. It can be easily visited on motorbike or scooter from the nearby bamboo town, and offers up some truly breathtaking sunset views of the Thai hills, not to mention some spine-tingling hikes over mud-made ridges and valleys.
7. Temple on the Glass Cliff
While other temples in Thailand are best known for their ancient relics of Buddha and 1,000-year-old Khmer architectural features, this modern construction in the north of the country is more like an avant-garde artwork. Set on base of mirror-topped mosaic domes and peaked with one shimmering statue of Buddha in five stages, it's a real wonder to behold – totally unlike any other temple in the Land of Smiles!
8. Wat Rong Khun
The Wat Rong Khun is one of the main reasons travelers in Thailand now add the northern city of Chiang Rai onto the itinerary. Gilded with countless Gothic and almost Mudejar-style turrets, adorned with snarling dragons and oodles of other fantastical creatures, the whole complex is the brainchild of local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. The symbolism of the shrine is indelible, with murals on the circle of rebirth, demonic spirits, and even western heroic figures like Michael Jackson and the Terminator to see. We told you it was alternative!
9. The Mummy Monk of Wat Khunaram
If you can pull yourself away from the white-sand beaches and swaying palm groves of Koh Samui for just a little jaunt to the island's most famous temple, you're in for one seriously curious Buddhist relic. Known colloquially as the Mummy Monk, the remains of one Loung Pordaeng are a focus of reverence for the locals here. Exalted for his dedication to meditation in life, the figure is known for not having decomposed after death. His body can still be seen in a transparent glass case within the shrine.
10. The Sunken Temple
Head to the fabled Sunken Temple during the Thai rainy season to see exactly why this one's attained its moniker. Flooded each year on account of the rising water level behind the Vajiralongkorn Dam, the shrine is the only remaining structure from an old village that once stood nearby. It's only accessible by boat when the waters are high, and looks like something out of a fantasy novel, submerged out beneath the sloshing currents.
11. Hellfire Pass
One of the major attractions of the small river town of Kanchanaburi, the Hellfire Pass is also a sobering and startling reminder of the suffering visited upon POWs during WWII. It was constructed at the behest of the Japanese army between 1942 and 1945, and saw groups of prisoners carve and blow a whole railway track through the Tenasserim Hills close to the town. The conditions suffered by the workers was particularly harsh, with malaria and other tropical diseases rampant in the incessant heat. There's also an on-site museum to visit for the full historical context.
12. Phra Nang Cave
It's hard to tell what's the real reason behind the curious Phra Nang Cave just outside of Krabi. Apparently, it’s part fisherman's shrine, where seafarers go to ask for safe passage across the Indian Ocean. Things get just a little off-beat when you realize the offerings made are in the form of phallic totems, each painted in various colors and often dressed in cloths and prayer flags. To Each their own, eh?
Naturally, Thailand has countless more weird and wonderful attractions that are perfect for any travelers seeking something a little more alternative. If you'd like to add one to our list, be sure to throw it in the comments below. Or, if we've piqued your interest with these spots, be sure to check out all our awesome LBW tours in Thailand.
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