This is one of the original Intrepid journeys that started it all. Discover why Northern Thailand was chosen all those years back as an ideal destination to launch a world of travel experiences.. Experience rural Thai life with multi-day trek through scenic hilltribe villages in the remote Thai countryside, meeting welcoming locals and sharing laughs along the way.. Visit the home of the infamous ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’, learning about its dark history and the construction of the railway during the war.. Even the transport on this trip is an adventure – discover the joys of travelling on overnight sleeper trains, longtail boats, songthaew and rafthouses.
There’s a reason this trip was the tour that started it all, and still remains one of the most popular. Discover Northern Thailand, a lush adventure destination that takes you to the heart of what it means to be Intrepid. Experience the chaotic metropolis of bustling Bangkok, trek among the hillside villages near Chiang Rai, drift down the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi and see the historic temples of the Siam Kingdom. With welcoming hospitality, local experiences, mouth-watering cooking classes and plenty of free time to travel at your own pace, come along and see why Beautiful Northern Thailand was, and still is, a benchmark for all other Intrepid adventures.
Sa-wat dee! Welcome to Thailand. Thailand's bustling capital, Bangkok is famous for its tuk tuks, khlong boats and street vendors serving up delicious Thai food. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm tonight. Bangkok has so much to offer those with time to explore, so perhaps arrive a day or so early and take a riverboat to Chinatown and explore the crowded streets, uncover the magnificent Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, wander down the tourist mecca of Khao San Road, or indulge in some Thai massage. After the meeting tonight, why not get some of your newfound travel pals together for a street food crawl.
Bangkok - Kanchanaburi
Start the day with a one-hour river cruise down the Chao Phraya River to explore the famous ‘khlongs’, or canals. Life along these canals seems a world away from the chaotic streets of the capital. Pay a visit to Wat Pho, one of the ‘trinity’ of Bangkok temples, with a 46-metre long gold plated Buddha reclining inside. Even the feet of this statue are incredible, three metres long and intricately decorated with mother of pearl. The temple grounds are equally fascinating, filled with beautifully decorated stupas, halls and shrines. Afterwards, hop on a local bus and travel northwest to Kanchanaburi (approximately 4 hours). Located where the Khwae Noi and Khwae Yai rivers converge, Kanchanaburi is home to the infamous 'Bridge on the River Kwai'.
River Kwai - Erawan NP - Kanchanaburi
This morning you’ll get an insight into the darker side of Kanchanaburi’s history with a visit to the Kanchanaburi War Cemetary (POW Cemetary) which was one of the first museums to attempt to educate the public and keep alive the memory of the Asian and POW workers who died constructing the infamous ‘Death Railway’. Then travel to Erawan National Park (approximately 1.5 hours each way), where you can explore the famous seven-level waterfall, and take a dip, if you’d like! The falls are considered the most beautiful in the whole country, with turquoise blue waters rushing through the forest into bamboo-shaded pools. If you want to make the climb all the way from level one to level seven it’s about a 90-minute hike, with the uppermost level usually quiet and with a stunning view over the jungle below. Be sure to pack your swimming gear, but also appropriate footwear if you’re going to make the walk. Level seven features a triple cascade that gives the falls their name – Erawan is the mythological three-headed white elephant that carries the Hindu god Indra.
Be ready for a cruisy day as you’ll spend today and tonight floating down the Mae Glong River in a raft house. The rafthouse is towed by a boat and is an ideal and relaxing way to travel down the river – definitely setting the scene for pure relaxation. Spend the afternoon temple-hopping down the river, stopping off to see the cave temple of Wat Baan Tham, the Chinese Wat Tham Khao Noi, and Wat Tham Suea. There’s also plenty of time for travel games, reading a book, listening to your favourite playlist or just watching the world go by with a view of the lush Thai countryside. Enjoy a Thai meal on board and watch day turn to night as you moor on the riverside and fall asleep with the gentle rock of the boat.
Ayutthaya - Overnight train
After your river adventure, disembark and travel by private minivan to Ayutthaya, via Suphanburi (approximately 5 hours). You’ll have access to a day room, so you can freshen up before your overnight train later tonight. Ayutthaya was the second capital of Siam after Sukhothai, and it became one of the most powerful in Asia with over a million residents by the 18th century. Trading brought great riches to the city, and merchant tales tell of golden palaces, elaborate ceremonies, and breathtaking temples. You’ll see the remains and reminders of its golden age with a guided tour of the historic ruins and temples spread across the town. The rows of headless Buddhas at Wat Phra Mahathat, sacked by the Burmese in the 18th century, are very atmospheric, and a Buddha head surrounded by Banyan tree roots is perhaps the most photographed site in all of Ayutthaya. This evening, head north to Chiang Mai on an overnight train journey, accommodated in air-conditioned sleeping berths (approximately 13 hours).
The most vibrant city in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai has is most renowned for its temples and an interesting old city area. Renowned for dazzling beauty and extremely welcoming locals, the ‘Rose of the North’ will leave you spellbound – chances are, you may not want to leave. When you arrive in Chiang Mai, your day will be free. There are a number of optional activities for you to choose from, so you can do as much, or as little, as you like. There are also many Thai cooking schools offering courses for budding chefs, sure to help you impress your friends when you return home. Or get active with a bicycle tour to discover the city and surrounding countryside from a different perspective. Tonight, you might like to get some of your crew together and tackle the famous night markets – your group leader can help you out with their recommendations.
Today is another free day for you to spend how you wish. While Chiang Mai's markets, temples and cooking schools offer more than enough to keep visitors busy, there's also the option of a very special outing to an Elephant Nature Park. In a country where the cruel industry of elephant riding is still big business, elephant nature parks provide a sanctuary for rescued, injured and orphaned elephants. You’ll be greeted by an expert guide, who'll tell you stories of rescued elephants and explain the issues surrounding elephants in South East Asia. You'll then have a chance to feed the elephants from a viewing platform. Lunch on these activities is also provided, followed by elephant bath time. Sit back and watch these creatures so clearly enjoying themselves.
Doi Mae Salong
Set off by road and travel by public bus from Chiang Mai to Mae Chan (approximately 4 hours), then transfer to a private minivan to continue onto Doi Mae Salong (approximately 1 hour). The atmosphere in the charming town of Doi Mae Salong is reminiscent of a small southern Chinese village, as it was settled by former Chinese Nationalist soldiers who fled from (then) Burma in the 1960s. The region is famous for its Chinese tea traders and you can enjoy a cup of tea in a traditional Chinese tea house overlooking the mountains and tea fields. Check out the interesting markets, where you may see produce and crafts made by hilltribe people like the Akha.
Jump in a private vehicle and drive for about 1 hour into the Mae Chan District to reach the Ahsa farm stay. Here, take part in a farm to table cooking experience, where you’ll wander the property in search for organic eggs, fruits and vegetables. Then, continue back to the kitchen and begin whipping up a culinary storm – you’ll learn the secrets of a punchy chilli paste, hot and sour soups, a Thai-style stir fry and a traditional dessert. You’ll learn how to make these dishes from a local chef from the village, and then enjoy the fruits of your labour over a relaxed lunch. After your hunger is tamed, continue to Chiang Rai city, where you’ll arrive at your guesthouse for the evening. Chiang Mai's 'little sister', Chiang Rai boasts a relaxed atmosphere, a great night market, and a variety of good restaurants. This charming city has a small-town feel and is a great place to explore on foot.
Hilltribe Villages Trek
Today marks the beginning of your trek through hilltribe villages which, for many travellers is the highlight of their Thai adventure. Visit various villages, each with their own unique language, clothing style and belief system. After breakfast, transfer to Karen village of Baan Yang Khamnu. After a short walk along the road, climb through bamboo forest for just over an hour to the top of a hill. Around 50 minutes later you’ll arrive at a lovely waterfall where you’ll break for lunch. Through more beautiful forest, crossing streams and climbing up a mountainside, you’ll reach the Akha village of Baan Pha Sert Nai mid-afternoon. There are around 46 families in the village, most of whom emigrated from Myanmar around 16 years ago, and you’ll stay with in a home near a stream with a forest view. You can join in with the villagers playing football, volleyball or other local games. Lend a hand to help your guide cook a delicious dinner of local food and enjoy an early evening meal in this memorable location and experience.
Hilltribe Villages Trek
After breakfast, chat with local women and see the handicrafts that they sell, perhaps choosing to purchase some – spending your money on community enterprises directly can help support community development. Begin your trek around 9 am, with a distance of around 5-6 kilometres covered today. For the next 1.5 hours you'll walk up a hill though scenic bamboo forest, then descent down to a stream where you can break and splash on some refreshingly cool water. Relax and refuel with your snacks, then continue uphill to the main trail. Here you can see a Buddha image above a well of clean holy spring water that the locals drink from. Nearby is the Lisu village, with a beautiful view across the countryside to the village you’ll stay in. Pass some tea plantations, then an hour later reach Huay Kaew Waterfall. This last section can get quite hot in the dry season, so the waterfall is perfect for cooling off, so why not tackle a quick climb uphill and laze in the refreshing waters. Close by is the Akha village of Baan Khum Akha, where you’ll stay tonight. The village overlooks a majestic valley surrounded by native jungle, tea plantations and lychee farms. You’ll arrive around 2 pm and, after a walk around the village, have time to relax – maybe even with a recuperating massage. Flex your cooking skills as you help the guide with dinner tonight.
Hilltribe Villages trek - Chiang Rai
Another 9 am trek start takes you uphill though lychee fields, then downhill on a hike that’s easier going than yesterday. Take it easy for the next 1.5 hours or so as you walk through scenery of rice fields and bamboo jungle, stopping in the village of Baan Ja-Jor to take a look around and maybe say hi to the local school kids. Then it’s not too far to the end of the trek at Pha Sert Hot Springs in Mae Kok National Park. You walk for a total of around 3 hours today. Here you’ll have lunch and can relax, swim and reward you muscles in the springs. Transfer back to Chiang Rai (approximately 40 minutes), arriving around 1 pm.