Look at any list of the most Instagrammed locations in the world and you'll find Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport and Siam Paragon shopping mall sitting alongside iconic landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and Times Square. Thailand has so much to offer visitors, but most of them stick to the tourist traps and never experience the real thing. If you're planning a minibreak in Thailand and want to avoid the gift shops, check out our top tips for alternative things to see and do.

Watch for whales.

Behind the beaches and the banana boats hides one of nature's greatest, rarest marine ecosystems - and commercial whale watching is still a relatively new industry for the region, attracting far fewer tourists than reef dives and scuba trips. Wild Encounter Thailand is one of only a handful of tour operators working in the Gulf, offering the chance to spot giant Bryde's whales in their natural habitat.

Find a real market.

If you're spending any time in Bangkok, you'll definitely want to browse the markets - but you probably don't want to buy a hundred pairs of baggy elephant trousers. If you want to see where the locals shop, seek out Wang Lang Market, near the western bank of the Chao Phraya river - a maze of stalls selling everything from kanom krok cakes and slow-roasted massaman to vintage clothes and curios.

Turn your back on the beach.

Khao Lak is something like the quieter version of Phuket, but its beautiful beaches are still a mecca for anyone on their way to the Similan islands. Less known is the Khao Lak-Lam Ru National Park that sits a few miles inland - severely damaged by the 2004 tsunami but now fully recovered. Spend a day walking along one of two waterfall trails at Ton Chong Fa to explore the evergreen mountain paradise - home to thousands of rare birds, butterflies and mammals.

Help an elephant.

If you've been to Bangkok before, you've probably already seen plenty of elephants - but the painted pachyderms that are dragged through the city for selfies are part of a bigger animal welfare issue that affects the whole country. Find out more at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai where you can volunteer to help with the rehabilitation of elephants that have been rescued from the tourist trade - and spend the day feeding, bathing and caring for the animals in their natural habitat.

Get on your bike.

If you've only got a few days in Thailand it can be tempting to stick to the big cities - but if you want to find the real country you'll have to get away from the sprawl. You'll want a tour guide if you don't know where you're going, but you'll also want to avoid the bus and moped operators that cling to the gift shop trail. SpiceRoads run cycling tours throughout the region and offer a range of different guided routes that are tailored to whatever you want to see, eat, photograph or experience.

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