This trip is perfect for those with limited time and would like to sample the rich diversity Thailand offers. We travel on a wide variety of local transport, including train, bus, boat, songthaew and tuk-tuk, and stay in an interesting mix of hotels and guesthouses.
Thailand in Depth
We visit hill tribe villages in the north, while in the south we enjoy relaxing on tropical beaches, as well as trekking in the pristine jungles of Khao Sok National Park.
Your trip starts today with your arrival in Bangkok. No activities are planned until your evening group meeting, so you may arrive at any time. Please check the noticeboard in the hotel lobby, located on the ground floor, for a notice containing details of your tour. This will advise you of your tour guide’s name, telephone number and the time and location of your group meeting. Normally this meeting takes place around 6pm. Until your meeting we encourage you to get out and discover the delights that Bangkok has to offer, including Thailand’s famous cuisine. Make sure that you take a hotel business card so that you will be able to find your way back to the hotel.
After a morning transfer to the railway station, we board the northbound train to Phitsanulok travelling through Thailand’s central plains where much of the countries rice harvest is cultivate (approximately 5 hours). Here we transfer to a local fan cooled bus and travel to Sukhothai (approximately 1 hour), where we stay in a local style wooden guesthouse. The accommodation is basic; however it enables you to experience how the Thai people live. The township is small and offers a real respite after the hectic pace of Bangkok.
Sukhothai is historically known as 'The Dawn of Happiness'. Up until the early 13th Century it was an outpost on the edge of a Khmer empire that stretched across much of the region. The Khmers were ousted in 1238 and the town became the Kingdom of Siam’s first capital. This period of the Sukhothai kingdom is often referred to as the Golden Age, as it was the time and place where the Thai culture, identity and institutions were first developed, particularly under the rule of King Ramkhamhaeng who is credited with, amongst his many achievements, developing the current-day Thai written script which he based on the ancient Khmer and Mon scripts. It was also during this period that the Thais adopted the Ceylonese school of Therevada Buddhism, still the main religion in Thailand today. Some of the finest Thai antiques, Buddha images and ceramic pieces date from this period. The historic part of Sukhothai is located twenty minutes’ drive from the town of New Sukhothai. Here we ride bicycles around the temples and other archaeological relics. After the decline of Sukhothai, the site remained deserted for centuries. The first major restoration began in 1979 and the Visitors’ Centre displays the original layout of the city. We also visit a local pottery factory in the area. (B)
Lampang Thai Elephant Conservation Centre
We travel by local bus to Lampang (approximately 4 hours), former centre of the teak wood trade, then transfer by songthaew (approximately 1 hour) to our basic local-style accommodation at the Lampang Thai Elephant Conservation Centre, where we get a guided tour of the complex as well as free time to relax and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. Originally used as beasts of burden in the timber trade, their vocation was brought to an end when the government outlawed logging in Thailand in 1989. Since then owners of elephants have been challenged to find ways of earning money to feed the huge beasts and their families. Unfortunately some have found their way into the illegal logging trade in the Thai-Burma Border region where they face many dangers, including landmines. The Elephant Conservation Centre in Lampang was created in 1991 with many functions in mind, but the main goal being maintaining the wellbeing of these magnificent beasts. The Centre cares for ill or injured animals, but it also has programs aimed at re-introducing elephants to the wild. Their latest initiative to raise money for the centre is ‘dung paper’ - that’s right, paper which is made from elephant dung! We stay the night in basic local-style accommodation at the centre.
We have another early start as we head into the forest and watch the elephants being gathered from their overnight grazing grounds. After watching them take their morning baths, we see a demonstration of the skills that had made elephants such an integral part of the Thai logging trade. It is a great chance to get close to these magnificent animals. After lunch, it’s an hour’s drive to Chiang Mai (or ‘New City’, as its name translates to in the local language). It is a moated city with the impressive backdrop of Doi Suthep, a 1,676-metre peak that offers impressive views of the surrounding countryside. Near the summit is a famous temple – Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. The combination of the local handicrafts and the traditional wares of the hilltribe people also offer fantastic shopping opportunities around the city. An evening highlight is a visit to the Night Market - a shopper's paradise!
We take an all-day excursion to Sun Pah Tong, home to many hill tribes who have made Thailand their home since migrating from southern China over the last 150 years. Our day trek consists of a good three-to-four-hour walk around the surrounding hills, during which we also have a chance to swim beneath a waterfall and ride an elephant. There are plenty of opportunities to haggle with the villagers, in order to purchase some authentic hill tribe handicrafts. We return to Chiang Mai for the evening, where you are free to enjoy a cultural show or maybe return to the Night Market for some more 'retail therapy'!
We leave Chiang Mai early in the morning by local bus and wind our way through the countryside to Thaton (approximately 3 ½ hours), situated on the banks of the Mae Kok River. Around noon we board a long-tail boat for an exhilarating journey down stream, passing several villages along the way. Please note that, at some times of the year, it may be necessary to travel by songthaew due to the low water making it unsuitable to travel by boat. At other times, if the water levels are only just sufficient, you may have to lend a bit of muscle in the drier months to push the boat over a sandbar or two. The trip along the Kok River allows us time to enjoy the surroundings before we stop and meet our hill tribe hosts for this evening. A night spent in the hill tribe village accommodation allows for an insight into the local people’s unique way of life. Please accept that the conditions are very basic, but the evening is very much about sampling first-hand a very different way of life. (D)
The Golden Triangle - Chiang Rai
Today we take a tour to the Golden Triangle by songthaew. After travelling to the town of Mae Sai, located inside the Golden Triangle, we have the opportunity to cross the border for some sightseeing and shopping in the Burmese town of Tachileik. Please be aware, however, that the border unexpectedly closes from time to time. If this is the case, alternative arrangements will be made. In the afternoon we travel to the Golden Triangle - the point where the three countries, Laos, Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand meet. You have the option to visit the small opium museum that provides information on the infamous trade for which this region is known. We continue to Chiang Rai in the late afternoon. (B)
For the early risers there's time to visit the temples of Chiang Rai, such as Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Jet Yot and also to browse around the markets, where the local hill tribe people sell their wares. We leave Chiang Rai about mid-morning and travel by bus back to Chiang Mai (approximately 3 ½ hours), where we board the overnight sleeper train to Bangkok.
We arrive into Bangkok in the morning, we introduce you to some of Bangkok’s most famous sights, including the impressive Grand Palace and the adjoining Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew). We also visit Wat Po – the temple of the famous Reclining Buddha. From near our hotel we jump on board a local khlong (canal) boat, before catching a public bus to these sites. This is a great way to sample a couple of the more popular forms of local transport. You have a free afternoon to make your own discoveries, do some shopping in the many excellent shops and markets for which Bangkok is renowned. In the evening we catch the overnight train to Surat Thani, in the south of Thailand.
Our train arrives in the early morning and we transfer by bus to the ferry terminal (approximately 2 hours) for the two-hour ferry trip to the beautiful island of Koh Samui. In the afternoon we take a trip around the island in a songthaew, visiting the 15-metre tall Big Buddha. There’s time to take a dip in the cool tropical waterfalls of Na Muang and also to drop in to see the Mummified Monk. After this we head back to our secluded fan-cooled accommodation, situated in the north of the island. The rest of your time on Koh Samui is free to choose amongst a multitude of activities. Swim, laze in the sun, ride an elephant, dive or snorkel, take a optional day tour to the breath taking Ang Thong National Marine Park - the decisions are yours. In the evenings you can relax, dine on the beach at the water’s edge and soak up the pleasant tropical atmosphere.
Khao Sok National Park
We take the ferry back to the mainland and then continue to Khao Sok National Park by local songthaew (the ferry ride is approximately 2 hours and the drive to Khao Sok approximately 3 hours). This is one of Thailand’s best-kept secrets, containing the country’s finest and largest rainforest and home to a rich variety of wildlife. From our jungle guesthouse, we head down to the river for a canoeing trip. There is every chance of seeing monkeys playing by the waters edge during your excursion. Please note that we generally need to be lucky to spot other wildlife, due to the thick jungles and the nocturnal nature of many of the species. We also have the option of going for a walk along the many interesting trails and beside the many waterways that exist within the park.
In the early morning we first take a bus from Khao Sok to Takua Pa (approx 2 hours) where we transfer to another local fan cooled bus bound for Krabi (approx 2 hours). From here we transfer to Ao Nang, where we spend two days appreciating the peace and tranquillity. This is a great place to kick back, relax and swim in the warm waters of a hidden tropical paradise. Our accommodation is in comfortable, but basic, fan cooled bungalows. There are plenty of optional activities to fill your time, you can choose from cave exploring, sea kayaking, diving, exploring the islands and rock climbing.
Koh Mak(Beach Camping)
We catch a local fan-cooled bus towards beautiful Phang Nga Town (approx 2 hours), which set in the stunning Phang Nga Bay is full of spectacular limestone islands jutting out of the water. A longtail boat takes us out in the midst of this beautiful area, which was used as a setting for the James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun. We pass traditional southern Thai Muslim villages, built on stilts, and spend a night camping on a beach, on a small and secluded island. Don't let the seclusion fool you as you have the option to visit a rubber plantation, school, take a Thai cooking class or watch some Thai kick-boxing. You may even ebe lucky to have a Thai kick-boxing lesson. (N.B. During the months of May to October inclusive, weather conditions may mean that we are unable to reach the island. If this occurs, we would change our accommodation to the nearby Muslim fishing village of Koh Panyi.) (D)
Our final stop is Phuket, the largest island in Thailand. Here is a great place to finish our journey, as we can along the streets and indulge in the numerous shopping opportunities or wander through a local market in search for some delicious Thai food. Our tour finishes after breakfast on the morning of Day 17; however, you may wish to extend your holiday and stay longer in Phuket. There are many facets to this island, especially in Phuket Town, which was a major port over the centuries visited by Portuguese, Chinese and Malay traders. Here, historic remnants of the island’s past are reflected in its eclectic architecture. (B)
While the information presented here details our planned itinerary, including routes taken, activities included, accommodation and meeting times, please accept that unforseen changes may occur. We are constantly on the lookout to improve our program and further enhance your experience. Naturally, we will keep you up to date with any last minute amendments to your tour.
Key: (B) = Breakfast, (L) = Lunch, (D) = Dinner