Work up an appetite with a leisurely cycle through the ancient Buddhas and ruined temples of Heritage-listed Sukothai Park, then feast on a home-cooked picnic lunch. Experience daily rural life firsthand when staying with long-time Intrepid friends in a small Thai village. Support an important animal welfare initiative and get close to incredible creatures at the Hospital of the Friends of the Asian Elephant. Go beach-hopping through sunny Phuket, often regarded as one of the best seaside locations in Thailand (if not the world!)
Northern Thailand is a treasure-trove filled with glittering temples, ancient ruins, exotic markets and sumptuous foods. Explore the capital of Siam’s golden age at Sukhothai, visit the bustling markets of Chiang Mai, stay at a special homestay with local friends and enjoy a traditional khantohk dinner. From the pearly white shorelines of Phuket’s Patong and Nai Harn beaches to the lost islands of Koh Gum, Koh Kangkaw and Koh Yeepoon, Southern Thailand offers a splendid balance between resort-like charm and hidden excitement. Plunge headfirst on an adventure to soak up both sun and culture, spending time relaxing on the ambient shores of Khao Lak or bumping arms with the locals in the markets at Ramong. Lose yourself in the jungle or find tropical fish in the ocean. There’s so much to discover on this tour from Thailand’s north to south.
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 6pm on Day 1. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place, and have your insurance details and next of kin information ready for collection. Bangkok has so much to offer those with time to explore, so perhaps arrive a day or so early. You could 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, perhaps gather your fellow travellers together and tuck into some into world famous street food.
This morning, leave the current capital of Thailand and head north by local bus to one of the first ancient capitals of Siam, Sukhothai (approximately 6 hours). You’ll make a short stop midway through for a chance to stretch the legs and buy some lunch. Located on a fertile plain, Sukhothai was established in the 13th century, and the name means the 'Dawn of Happiness'. It’s now famous for its World Heritage-listed historic park that celebrates the Golden Age of Thai civilisation. Tonight, be sure to head to the fascinating local night market and try the local dishes, like Sukhothai noodles.
Head out to the historical ruins of Old Sukhothai, set amid beautiful lakes and gardens. The religious art and architecture of the Sukhothai era are considered to be the most classic of Thai styles, and the Sukhothai Historical Park contains the remains of 21 historic sites, with awe-inspiring Buddha images and four large ponds often filled with stunning lotus flowers in full bloom. Upon arrival at the park, hire bicycles and enjoy a few leisurely hours feeling the breeze in your hair and learning about the history of this fascinating place. Enjoy a home-cooked picnic lunch somewhere along the way, and if you have enough free time, visit a local ceramics factory.
Travel by private minivan from Sukothai to your overnight homestay (approximately 4-5 hours). On the way, stop off at the Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital located in Lampang. This is the first elephant hospital in the world established to care for sick and abused elephants, with the aim of preserving the animals' natural habitat and lifestyle. You’ll learn more about this important initiative and perhaps become acquainted with some of its resident pachyderm patients. Continue 1.5 hours to the warm and welcoming home of Intrepid's long-time friends in a small Thai village. Accommodation is multishare and basic (there will be fold-out mattresses on the floor and shared bathrooms), but there is no better way to better understand a country and its people. In the evening, you’ll be treated to a traditional northern Thai khantohk dinner, accompanied by live music and dancing.
In the morning, jump on some bikes and cruise around the homestay village. This is a great opportunity to see how the locals live, and you’ll make a few stops along the way to see small country industries in the area. Cycling past the rice fields and breathing in the fresh country air, with beautiful mountains in the distance, makes this morning a picture-postcard experience. Say goodbye to your new friends and travel on to Chiang Mai (approximately 45 minutes). The most vibrant city in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai has many famous 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 won’t want to leave. Your accommodation has both ensuite bathrooms and air conditioning, and is perfectly located right by the famous vibrant night markets.
Today you have the choice of doing a half day Thai cooking class or a half day cycling tour around Chiang Mai. If you're a foodie, then you’ll discover some of the secrets of Thai cuisine, learn the key ingredients, how to use them, and what to use in their place if you can’t get them at home. As well as taking your own comprehensive recipe book with you after the class, you'll feast on the fruits of your labour for lunch. If you’re feeling more active then you might want to saddle up for a half day cycling trip. After a short safety briefing and bicycle fitting, navigate the light downtown traffic as you cycle south, a pleasant ride along the green banks of the Ping River. Make a stop at a former leper colony turned rehabilitation centre, where you’ll get to know some of the daily life of the missionaries who worked here over a hundred years ago. The trip continues along various fruit orchards, cycling down small country roads and meandering around the villages on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. Here you’ll discover the real rural Thailand and encounter the Thai way of life. Explore the temple ruins of Wiang Kum Kam, the former capital of Lanna, before you cycle back to Chiang Mai.
Today is free for you to explore, but there are also a few optional activities you can join if you want. Perhaps explore the famous temple complex of Doi Suthep. Drive along a scenic, winding mountain road that ends at an impressive 300-step naga-guarded stairway (approximately 45 mins). The rewards justify the climb with one of the most beautiful temples in Thailand on display, not to mention fantastic panoramic views of the city and the opportunity to listen to hypnotic evening chanting by resident Buddhist monks. You could also join an Urban Adventure and allow yourself to be spirited away on an early morning Chiang Mai tour that puts you at the epicentre of Buddhist rituals. Learn to meditate, offer alms to monks, and make an offering at a temple. Or maybe wander markets, meet monks, cruise the river, and slurp noodles on a Mae Ping River Experience. Tonight you’ll board an overnight train for Bangkok, accommodated in air-conditioned sleeping berths (approximately 13 hours). Multi share compartments are air-conditioned, with bunk beds; sheets and pillow provided. Your baggage travels in the carriage with you. There is a food and drink service available on board.
Arrive in Bangkok early this morning and transfer to the airport. The flight from Bangkok to Phuket is included but is unescorted. As this is a combination trip, your leader as well as the group composition may change today. Meet your new group tonight and attend the welcome meeting to find out more about the next part of your trip. Spend your first night in the south at a great resort.
Go beach-hopping with a local guide while exploring some of the finest sights Phuket has to offer. Start off at Phuket’s Big Buddha, one of the island’s most important and revered landmarks. The huge 45 metre tall (147 feet) statue sits atop the Nakkerd Hills like a beacon in the distance – enjoy stunning 360-degree views and a few cheeky photos once you arrive at the base of the statue itself. Travel onwards to Nai Harn Beach, arguably one of the prettiest in the area thanks to undeveloped tree-covered mountains clasping the shores on each side and clean, clear waters. While the secret about Nai Harn is out, it’s still less crowded than other beaches and remains a favourite for people in the know. Next stop – Kata Noi Beach. The pristine sands, turquoise waters and unhindered view of the Andaman Sea have earned this beach a reputation among locals as an excellent place to kick back and relax, made even better by the less-developed feel it offers in contrast to neighbouring Kata Yai Beach. Swimming is a fairly popular activity here, as is chucking the frisbee or grabbing a massage – dabble in any of these at your own leisure after a restaurant lunch with the group.
Continue travelling towards Khao Lak in a private minivan on a 2-hour drive. Spend a bit of time appreciating the natural splendour of the region with a stop-off at the Ton Chong Fa waterfall, located in the Khao Lak-Lam Ru National Park. Soak your feet in the pool at the base of the timid falls, possibly catching a glimpse of the sun peeking through the canopy as it casts an illuminated view of the waters, rocks and surrounding forest. After jumping back in the minivan and pushing on to Khao Lak, drop off all your luggage at the resort. Perhaps head down to the beach afterwards, located an easy 3-minute walk away from your accommodation.
From the tiny sandy beaches with their awning mangroves to the isolated lighthouses sitting perched on rocky outcrops, the Khao Lak shoreline offers a serene ambience that softly washes over you like an inviting tide of its own. Sink into its mellow groove with a free day to stroll along the beach or bask by the pool. Alternatively, if you’re feeling more adventurous then there’s plenty to do. Consider taking an optional snorkelling day trip to Koh Ra and Koh Khai, travelling out to the Similan Island for a tour or take part in a Thai cooking class set by a tropical fruit plantation. Just speak with your leader and they’ll be able to arrange the rest.
Wrap up a relaxing stay at Khao Lak by jumping on a public bus for Ranong – a realm of unspoiled mangrove forests and hot springs. (bus journey approx 4 hours) Formerly known as a gritty backwater, the town has since evolved into a more upbeat location for divers and hikers. Bald Hill, Ranong Canyon and the nearby waterfalls are great locations to wander out to if there’s time, but failing that, consider hunting down a local durian vendor for a taste of this divisive fruit or travelling to some of the crumbling historic buildings.