SANGKHLA BURI, THAILAND
Bruce Haxton: Operations director of I-to-i, a British travel outfit that helps volunteers find international service projects (i-to-i.com)
If Bruce Haxton had a title at I-to-i, a British tour operator that hooks volunteers up with 500 international service projects, it would be operations director. But the company had a ritual burning of job titles--"an actual beach bonfire!"
Haxton is part of a team responsible for choosing locations to host new programs, and he takes about 10 trips a year for up to three weeks at a time. One of his favorite spots is a village in Thailand called Sangkhla Buri, right next to Myanmar and about 220 miles northwest of Bangkok. "It's sort of a Wild West border town," he says. "The approach is a steep, hairpin road that was only paved about 15 years ago. But it's also unbelievably relaxed and calm--almost like going to another planet."
It's also a cultural melting pot of sorts, with a mix of Thai, Myanmar, and Indian communities, plus a small population of Buddhist monks who are commonly spotted crossing Sangkhla Buri's old wooden bridge at sunrise. "The town, right on the banks of a lake, is flanked by two fantastic temples, one of which has a massive golden stupa," says Haxton. "When I was there, it was the home of one of the most senior and respected monks in the country, and he'd bless you if you asked him." Visitors can rent canoes and paddle around to see other nearby temples.
There are a handful of guesthouses; Haxton likes the P. Guest House, a 20-room inn with stone walls and log ceilings that's right by the water. "The Thai owner first came to Sangkhla Buri to build electricity lines, but he fell in love with a local woman and the town, and decided to stay," says Haxton. "The place is basic, but it's really clean and they serve fantastic food. I've taken my folks there--they're in their 60s--and they absolutely adored it."
How to get there: Two-hour bus ride from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, $3; three-hour bus ride from Kanchanaburi, about $5; P. Guest House, 011-66/34-59-50-61, pguesthouse.com, from $6.