Parents are often reluctant to wander off the well-worn tourist trail. Yes, travel can be a little more challenging and you may need to hire a car or pay more than usual for tours. But all of that is worth it when you consider how the lesser-known regions reveal extraordinary attractions and genuine local hospitality, which is not always a given in destinations crammed with tourists.

Go see Nan

One of a few alternatives to Chiang Mai is Nan, which rhymes with John and boasts its own historic wats (temples). Check out the giant fighting rhinoceros beetles before hitting the terraced mountains in Doi Phuka National Park, named after a pink flower that blossoms perennially in February – and only here. A tumble down the eastern slopes brings you to Bo Kluea, a remote village with wells that have pulled salt from the earth for more than 1,000 years.

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Chiang Rai's Chinese tea village

The village of Mae Salong balances on a nearly 1,000m high ridgeline overlooking tea plantations that blanket the valleys. Settled by Chinese descended from Kuomintang supporters who fled China after Mao Zedong's forces won the Civil War in 1950, the Mae Salong area is also home to Akha tribes at minimally touristed villages like Hloyo and Lorcha.

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On the dinosaur trail in Khon Kaen

Back in the Cretacious period, an early cousin of the T-Rex roamed in what is now Phu Wiang National Park west of Khon Kaen, the north east's largest city. View the bones remaining in several dig sites, followed by a life-size dinosaur park and museum to thrill burgeoning archaeologists. Also consider a climb up Phu Kradueng, a high plateau in neighbouring Loei province with slopes rimmed by waterfalls and topped by a campground. Bring sweaters.

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Eye-popping sculptures in Nong Khai

Created in the 1970s by celebrated Lao artist Boun Leua Sulilat, Wat Sala Kaew Ku sculpture park contains more than 100 giant, detailed images inspired by Hinduism, Buddhism and animist beliefs. One crowd-pleaser is a 25m tall, seven-headed naga serpent. Riverside guesthouses accommodate many families, including those crossing the Mekong to enter Laos at Vientiane.

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Mekong vistas and ancient cliff art at Pha Taem

Near the junction of the Mekong and the Moon River in a distant corner of Ubon Ratchathani province, Pha Taem National Park is the venue for Thailand's earliest sunrise, viewed with plenty of drama from atop a towering sandstone cliff. Also see mystifying 3,000-year-old cliff paintings before striking north for a boat ride at Sam Phan Bok, named after three million large holes – probably not an exact count – pegging a canyon at one of the Mekong's narrowest points.

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Immersive homestays at Khiri Wong

Award-winning, eco-conscious homestays dot this fog-draped village at the foot of southern Thailand's tallest peak, 1,835m Khao Luang. Visitors learn crafts like basketry and soap making along with techniques for tending tropical fruits such as rambutan, mangosteen and durian. The latter is a golden treat with a repulsive stench, creamy texture and strangely delicious flavour emerging from a spiky green shell. Approach with caution.

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More family adventures in Thailand

Visit our Thailand guide to read more about family adventures in Thailand.

Family travel in Thailand off the tourist trail

By David Luekens

Based in Thailand since 2011, David first waded into Southeast Asia in the early 2000s via friendships forged in the Thai, Vietnamese and Karen communities of Vermont, almost Canada, USA. He is a bona fide nerd in maps, islands and travel planning with a research background in Buddhism and the environmental, political and human rights issues of Southeast Asia. Bylines include CNN Travel, Conde Nast Traveller China and more than 100 Travelfish guides.

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