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Beyond beaches and boutiques

HOLIDAY FUN   |     15 May 2018   |   0  |  
From shipwrecks to jungle shrines, these rare sightseeing spots in Thailand and Bali are guaranteed to add mystery and intrigue to your Instagram account.

With more than 20,000 shrines on the island, Bali is primed for temple hunting

Even the most popular resort destinations play host to hidden secrets if you know where to look and Southeast Asian hotspots in Thailand and Bali are no exception.

From weird and wonderful temples to historical mansions and underwater relics, destinations like Phuket, Bali, and the Gulf of Siam offer a range of opportunities to explore and enjoy the less visited side of the region.

Dig out the fedora and khakis and leave the luxury villa and beaches behind in search of the lands that time forgot - well, almost.

Colonial house hunting

The Blue Elephant Cooking School is just one of the many Sino-Portuguese mansions on Phuket

Thailand may pride itself on having never fallen under colonial rule, but that’s not to say that the former European powers didn’t leave an indelible footprint in the Kingdom. The Portuguese, who first forayed into Thailand in the 16th century, were more prominent than most and their influence can be seen to this day across Phuket in the form of beautifully preserved colonial-style buildings. Mostly dating from the late 1800s, the mansions were built in the Sino-Portuguese style of the time and while a number have fallen to the wrecking ball over the years, it’s still possible to find these grand dames of yesterday – if you know where to look. 

Some of the mansions have obviously received more love than others and nowadays function as both public and private establishments – such as the local Thai Airways office, Blue Elephant cooking school and the half-hidden gem Raya House restaurant – while a handful have been left to nature’s mercy. These include Limpanon House on Bangkok Road, which, like many older buildings across the country, is reputed to be haunted, a gloriously dilapidated mansion behind the infamous Thavorn Museum and a shrouded, whitewashed villa tucked off Satun Road. If you plan to visit these on the same trip, you’re probably best hiring a motorbike (or pushbike if you’re feeling active) for the day – and don’t forget the camera!

Bali’s bizarre temples

Bali’s car temple truly is one of those see-it-to-believe-it attractions

If you want a break from the beach but aren’t in the mood for anything too strenuous, then a trip to the spa for a couples’ treatment is ideal. Thanks to its long history of traditional medicine and healing techniques, Thailand has developed a world-class spa sector. Many of the finest establishments are situated in holiday hotspots like Koh Samui and Phuket, and they offer an array of tailored packages for couples. Many will even include champagne and nibbles enjoyed after all your treatments.

If you’re staying in a luxury private villas, you could even set up your own couples’ spa session within the property. Some villas boast their own dedicated spa rooms, and others feature outdoor salas overlooking the ocean – perfect for an invigorating couples’ massage. Spacious bathing suites with enormous sunken tubs provide the perfect setting for a long hot soak after your couples’ pamper session. If this sounds like your cup of tea, your villa manager will be able to arrange for a professional spa therapist to come to the house, and you will be able to create your couples’ package from an extended menu of treatments.

Diving Deep in Koh Tao

Shipwreck dives off the coast of Thailand’s Koh Tao have grown in popularity

Although known for its excellent diving spots, surprisingly few people associate the pristine island off the coast of Chumpon with shipwrecks. Yet adventure-orientated tourists are increasingly choosing Thailand’s Koh Tao as a base from which to explore the underwater bounty that surrounds its shores. The most celebrated resident of Davy Jones’ locker is the former Thai Navy ship, the Sattakut. Not technically a shipwreck, the boat was purposefully sunk to a depth of about 30 metres in 2011 to act as an artificial reef and dive site and now houses incredible reefs and sea life. The MV Trident, located just off the coast of the nearby Shark Island, was also intentionally capsized around 2010, but is better suited for experienced divers.

A much easier expedition is to the Tanote Bay catamaran. Sitting about 17 metres below the surface of the cerulean waters, you can swim straight out from the coral reef and explore the small, yet vibrant wreck. After 15 years on the seabed the catamaran has become home to many vivacious corals and sightings of rays are common. There are a few reputable dive centres on Koh Tao with whom you can organise these trips, but if you’re unsure on which to opt for you can always ask the villa manager for a suggestion.

Off the beaten track

Ditch the GPS if you dare

Every traveller loves the idea of going where no one has gone before. Unfortunately final frontiers are hard to come by nowadays, but that shouldn’t dent your sense of adventure! Just remember to take extra precautions when leaving the beaten track behind.

  • If you think there’s any chance of losing your way, be sure to tell someone beforehand exactly where you’re going and when you plan to be back, as well as providing a contact number
  • If there’s one thing more important than having a fully-charged phone when hurtling into the unknown it’s water – and plenty of it
  • Why not go old school and opt for a physical map and compass? If you get bored (or lost!) you phone can always come to the rescue