Get to the heart of Thailand on this 12-day tour, from urban neighborhoods to age-old traditions tucked away in the jungles and mountains. The adventure starts in the exotic capital, where your private guide will show you the best Buddhist sites and local eats. You'll visit the country's most unique markets before continuing west to the River Kwai and then north to Chiang Mai. Finish the trip in Phuket for some of the world's best beaches and island scenery.


  • Eat like a local while traveling by Tuk Tuk (after tourists are in bed)
  • Observe the floating market up close as you glide the canals by rowboat
  • Learn a bit of World War II history along the River Kwai
  • Bathe with elephants and go zip lining while staying in Chiang Mai
  • Relax in Phuket with your pick of white sand beaches and gorgeous islands

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Bangkok Bangkok
Day 2 Explore Bangkok & Midnight Food Tour by Tuk-Tuk Bangkok
Day 3 Bangkok City Tour Bangkok
Day 4 Maeklong Railway & Floating Market Experience, Transfer to Kanchanaburi Kanchanaburi
Day 5 River Kwai Free Day River Kwai
Day 6 Return to Bangkok - Fly to Chiang Mai Chiang Mai
Day 7 Patara Elephant Farm Excursion Chiang Mai
Day 8 Eagle Track Zipline Adventure Chiang Mai
Day 9 Fly to Phuket Phuket
Day 10 Free Morning, Afternoon Kayak Excursion of Phang Nga Bay Phuket
Day 11 Phuket Beach Free Day Phuket
Day 12 Depart Phuket  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Bangkok

Wat Arun Temple
Wat Arun Temple

Welcome to Thailand! Get ready for a smooth and easy arrival at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport with VIP Meet and Greet and Fast Track Service. This special process starts at the airport's air bridge where you'll be met by a representative who will personally escort you to the immigration counter without a queue. You'll then be introduced to your private driver for transportation to the hotel.

The rest of the day is free time to either rest and acclimate to your surroundings at the hotel, or get out and explore the city on your own. Bangkok will certainly jolt your senses: It's a steamy, exotic, and chaotic capital of eight million residents, which melds a bit of old and new, east and west, so get out and poke around the nearby streets if you're feeling up for an adventure.

Day 2: Explore Bangkok & Midnight Food Tour by Tuk-Tuk

Tuk-tuk, eat, repeat!

Today is your first full day in the city, and you'll have plenty of free time to explore independently. Make sure to save some energy because, in the early evening, your guide will pick you up at the hotel for an exciting food tour. Bangkok is said to be the city that never stops eating, and rightfully so! Bangkokians usually find themselves chowing down throughout the day and evening, lasting all the way until midnight. So, what would be better than exploring the best local eateries after sunset while on an exhilarating method of transportation?

You'll cruise along Bangkok's streets via the iconic three-wheeled tuk-tuk to taste various savory dishes along the way, including the local favorite Northeastern Thai cuisine (Esan food), the city's best pad thai, and popular home-style Thai snacks. Between bites, check out the city's old-town landmarks and temples for a unique late-night perspective compared to the congested daytime scenes—a side of Bangkok usually not seen by tourists. After midnight, you'll return to your hotel for a good night's rest.

Please note: this tour is not suitable for vegetarians.

Day 3: Bangkok City Tour

One of the city's Buddhist must-sees: Wat Po

This morning, after breakfast at your hotel, your guide will pick you up and take you to Wat Po in time to experience the monks' early morning chanting ritual, which starts at 9 am. One of the oldest temples in Bangkok, Wat Po is home to the famous 147-foot (45 m) reclining Buddha and the original school of traditional Thai massage.

Continue to the enormous Grand Palace, the most important and impressive royal palace in Thailand. Your guide will show you the palaces used for different occasions, including the Funeral Palace, the Reception Palace, the Throne Hall, the Coronation Hall, the Royal Guest House, and, of course, the mysterious Emerald Buddha, the most revered Buddha image in Thailand. Appropriate dress is required (or can be rented on-site).

Once you've had lunch at a riverside restaurant, you'll board a private long-tail boat passing shophouses, local temples, and food vendors on a famous waterway once used as a major trading route. Your guide will point out local landmarks and cultural idiosyncrasies of the area. En route back to the hotel, you'll stop at Wat Arun ("Temple of Dawn") on the banks of the Chao Phraya River—easily one of the most stunning temples in Bangkok. From here, you'll have the rest of the evening to explore and have dinner on your own.  

Day 4: Maeklong Railway & Floating Market Experience, Transfer to Kanchanaburi

Siang Tai Market's unusual location

After an early breakfast at your hotel, your guide will take you to the local Maeklong Railway Market (Rom Hup Market) in Samut Songkhram Province, located 52 miles (85 km) outside of Bangkok. This site is commonly called Siang Tai ("life-risking") Market, where the stalls and parasols are attached to the railway. When each signal of the arriving train rings, chaos happens: vendors rush to close their parasols and canvas while clearing any goods that will obstruct the oncoming train. Once the train passes, parasols and canvas reopen as goods are put back into their usual displays next to the railroad. 

From here, head to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market—another vibrant local market with numerous small boats laden with colorful fruits and vegetables paddled by Thai women wearing bamboo hats. Almost always crowded with hundreds of vendors, purchasers, and tourists, the best way to experience the atmosphere of the market is to board a rowing boat yourself and make your way through the small canals to buy fresh produce from the vendors. This is the only place to see the traditional way of selling and buying goods in Thailand.

Next, you'll continue the drive west toward Kanchanaburi, stopping and enjoying lunch at a local restaurant. Then take a short drive to what is nicknamed "Hellfire Pass," where World War II POWs dug through a mountain using little other than their bare hands. Check out the fascinating museum at the site's entrance, which details the region's history. To finish the day, you'll transfer to your hotel in Kanchanaburi for check-in. If feeling energized, take a scenic riverside stroll before dinner in town.

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Day 5: River Kwai Free Day

River Kwai
Relax alongside the historic River Kwai

Today, you'll have a free day to spend in this beautiful, lesser-visited area of Thailand while staying at a resort along the historic River Kwai. Lunch and dinner are served at the resort, and in the afternoon, you're free to sign up for a range of excursions offered by the property, like bamboo rafting, canoeing, or boating to a nearby waterfall.

If interested in experiencing more World War II sites, you can also explore the Bridge on the River Kwai, the Death Railway, and the Allied War Cemetery.

Day 6: Return to Bangkok, Fly to Chiang Mai

Wat Phra GoldenTemple in Chiang Mai's Old City

Today, you'll make your way with your private driver and guide from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok's airport (about four hours) for your flight to Chiang Mai. Lunch will be served at a local restaurant. After arriving in Chiang Mai, your guide will escort you to your hotel for check-in. Thailand's fourth-largest city has a distinct culture steeped in history and thrives as a cosmopolitan city. Despite the city's modern growth, the historic center of Chiang Mai still feels quaint—more like a rural town than a bustling city, evidenced by its strict conservation efforts. 

Once you're settled at the hotel, put on some walking shoes and get ready to explore independently. First-timers will definitely want to head for the Old City and its narrow streets, which are lined with historic buildings, beautiful temples, and old shops. All you have to do is walk around and enjoy the area's relaxed atmosphere while visiting the city's finest monuments, including Wat Phra SinghWat Chedi Luang, and Wat Phan Tao—all within walking distance of each other.

If you're in town on a Sunday, check out the Sunday Walking Street Market. This is when the Old City's main road gives way to thousands of pedestrians who come for street stalls selling a range of local goods and unique gifts. You can enjoy an inexpensive and delicious dinner at one of the many street stalls found all over the city, including the North and South Gates of the Old City. 

Day 7: Patara Elephant Farm Excursion

Join the bathing process at Patara Elephant Farm

After an early breakfast this morning, you'll get picked up from the hotel for the transfer to Patara Elephant Farm. Once you've arrived, there will be a registration process where you'll get a briefing on the history of domestic elephants in Thailand. Staff will also provide you training clothes to wear while on the farm. 

Your exciting morning continues with a hike through the bush to find the elephants, where you'll learn about animal management and the farm's specific breeding program. You'll also learn how to act near the elephants, as well as how to observe and recognize their specific temperament. When equipped with the basics, you'll be allowed to participate in the morning feeding and bathing process while learning more about the elephants' health and skincare regime. 

Then it's time for a bareback riding session. Learn how to properly get up on an elephant's neck and sit while practicing basic riding skills and spoken commands. Head uphill on your elephant to visit a waterfall for a picnic lunch and a refreshing dip in the water with your new friends. At the appropriate time, you'll ride your elephant back to the farm for its evening feed. It may be hard to say goodbye to these gentle giants, but in the mid-afternoon, you'll transfer back to your hotel for dinner on your own. 

Day 8: Eagle Track Zipline Adventure

Zipline through Thailand's northern jungle

Today, you'll be picked up for the ultimate zipline experience in Thailand's mountainous jungle. Your package in this massive playground includes a staggering array of 16 ziplines and 35 platforms, as well as a range of unique ladders, bridges, spiral staircases, zig-zag walkways, climbing nets, flying skateboards, and balance beams. 

For experienced zipliners, you'll want to try performing the 'Superman' move, with arms and legs spread wide as you shoot down the line, hooked from behind to keep your hands free. However you choose to travel, you'll get a number of bird's-eye views of the surrounding jungle and breathtaking scenery. After this exhilarating experience, you'll be transferred back to your hotel in time for dinner.  

Day 9: Fly to Phuket

Southern Thailand's scenery will not disappoint

Today, you'll have a free morning to spend in Chiang Mai however you see fit. At the designated time, a private driver will pick you up and transfer you to the airport for the flight to Phuket

Upon arrival in Phuket, you'll be picked up and transferred to your hotel. Enjoy an afternoon and evening exploring this beautiful area of the country on your own. Consistently voted one of the world's favorite tourist destinations, Phuket offers stunning turquoise and white sand beaches, as well as a staggering range of restaurants, hotels, activities, and nightlife to suit all budget levels, including backpackers and luxury travelers. There's plenty to see and do in town or find a stretch of sand and watch the sunset.

Day 10: Free Morning, Afternoon Kayak Excursion of Phang Nga Bay

Kayak through the limestone cliffs of Phang Nga Bay for dramatic views

Today is a free morning in Phuket to spend any way you'd like. Perhaps you'll choose a leisurely breakfast at the hotel and then hit the pool or beach with a good book. 

Save your energy because, in the afternoon, it's time to join a kayaking and island hopping tour off of the dramatic coast of the Andaman Sea—truly a remarkable experience you won't soon forget. Once you've worked up a nice appetite, you'll take part in a prepared Thai seafood buffet dinner while watching the sunset over Phang Nga Bay.

After dinner, you will be returned to your hotel by nightfall. 

Day 11: Phuket Beach Free Day

Escape the crowds at Freedom Beach

Finish up your Thailand experience with a free day to hit the beaches! Phuket and the surrounding area are known for their outstanding beaches, offering a wide variety of scenery, atmospheres, facilities, and even textures of sand. For instance, Kata Beach is always a reliable option with soft white sand, shady palm trees, water sports, and a laid-back atmosphere. You can easily spend the day with a handful of food and drink vendors. 

Another idea is Nai Harn Beach, located at the end of Phuket, which has grown in popularity over the years. However, thanks to the relatively small size of the bay and its large lake on the other side, the beach hasn't been developed like others nearby. That being said, nice hotels, shops, and restaurants are nearby for food and drink. 

If seeking a more isolated atmosphere, head to Freedom Beach, with possibly the best white sand in Phuket. Though it's more challenging to get to (you can either hike a steep path or take a long-tail boat to arrive), you'll escape the motorized water sports and beach vendors for truly peaceful environs. 

Day 12: Depart Phuket

Goodbye, Phuket!

It's time to say goodbye to Thailand! After breakfast at your hotel, enjoy any remaining free time in Phuket. At the designated time, you'll be escorted to the airport for your departure flight home. 

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Map of Thailand Authentic Grand Tour - 12 Days
Map of Thailand Authentic Grand Tour - 12 Days
Written by Ha Thu, updated Jan 20, 2023