Here’s the best free online travel advice for Thailand.

Where’s The Real Thailand?

Thailand is one of the most popular tourism destinations in the whole wide world, but very few travelers make the extra effort to experience the most heart-warming aspects of Thai culture. Why is this so?

Well, Thais are very accommodating people, and very, very good at putting on a show for tourists.

From ping-pong shows and poolside Pina Coladas to hill-tribe treks and elephant rides, the well-lubricated Thai tourism industry is carefully designed to cater to the expectations of foreign tourists.

Here at Matador, we know there is far more to Thailand than the attractions along the tourist trail. Get to know the people in a Thai farming village, for example, and you’ll discover some of the happiest, healthiest and good-hearted people in the world.

This edition of Best Trips is for travelers who want to experience the authentic side of Thailand, and take home memories that can’t be bought from a travel agent or captured in a tourist brochure.

Happy Travels!

“Volunteer In Thailand”

Volunteer travel opportunities are a great way to slow down and experience the rugged beauty and sunny smiles of the Thai countryside.

Matador’s Madagascar maven Mei-Ling McNamara recently published a quick guide to 3 standout volunteer opps. in Thailand. Her picks:

The Elephant Nature Foundations – a jungle retreat near Chiang Mai

The Wildlife Friends Of Thailand – a wildlife rescue center 85 miles from Bangkok

Panya Project – an eco-village near Chiang Mai

Panya, where Mei-Ling participated in a natural building workshop, is one of Matador’s favorite places in Thailand, just a mango orchard away from our next featured destination….

Pun Pun – Matador’s Favorite Thai Retreat

Pun Pun is a remarkable place – a community of idealistic farmers, poets, builders, architects and scientists who have created a living example of sustainability at the edge of a National Park in the north of Thailand.

Your loyal editor Tim Patterson wrote about Pun Pun in a story published last year in Matador’s Traverse magazine, and Matador friends got a fresh dose of stoke just last week, when Pun Pun’s new website launched.

Check out a mouth-watering description of the farm’s new organic restaurant, located on the grounds of a Buddhist monastery in Chiang Mai, and the new Pun Pun schedule, which includes a 10 Day Sustainability Study Trip in the winter of 2009.

If you only have a few days in Northern Thailand and love organic and vegetarian Thai food, check out Pun Pun’s other neighbor –You Sabai Guesthouse and Cooking School.

You Sabai is where Matador founders Ross Borden and Ben Polansky became card carrying “Thai chef ninjas” and Matador member Noellejt woke up at dawn to do mountaintop yoga.

How About The Thai Islands?

Sadly, most of the Thai islands are overdeveloped

Sadly, most of the Thai islands are overdeveloped, and in some cases the profit-driven excesses of the tourist industry have destroyed what were once pristine natural environments.

There are still gorgeous Thai islands with intact ecosystems to explore. Tezza’s Thai Islands and Beach Bits over at TalesofAsia is a good place to get a sense of the current state of development on several islands.

Ryan Libre recommends a trip to Ko Surin in his Thailand Top 10, and check out MatadorTrips next month for a detailed guide to the laidback beaches of Trang, but to experience miles of truly deserted white sand beach, your best bet is to check out the Cambodian side of the Gulf of Thailand…

Have you come across any free online travel resources that can help travelers discover the authentic side of Thailand? Please leave a comment below!