- Tour the famous temples and palaces in Bangkok
- Sample Thai street food and take a cooking class
- Visit an elephant rescue sanctuary near Chiang Mai
- Relax on the most beautiful beaches in Phuket and Phi Phi
|Day 1||Arrive in Bangkok, Optional Activities||Bangkok|
|Day 2||Bangkok Canals & Temples Tour||Bangkok|
|Day 3||Night Cycling Tour of Bangkok||Bangkok|
|Day 4||Fly to Chiang Mai, Optional Activities||Chiang Mai|
|Day 5||Visit an Elephant Sanctuary||Chiang Mai|
|Day 6||Thai Cooking Class in Chiang Mai||Chiang Mai|
|Day 7||Fly to Phuket, Optional Activities||Phuket|
|Day 8||Phuket Sightseeing Tour||Phuket|
|Day 9||Day Trip to Phi Phi Islands||Phuket|
|Day 10||Beach Day in Phuket||Phuket|
|Day 11||Depart Thailand|
Day 1: Arrive in Bangkok, Optional Activities
Welcome to Bangkok! Thailand's massive capital has humble roots dating back to the 15th century when it was a lonely trading outpost in the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Over the centuries, it has grown into a major metropolis of over 10 million people. Yet despite being a modern city, Bangkok retains its cultural heritage from centuries ago, which you can see in its ancient temples, palaces, and statues. Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will pick you up for the 40-minute ride to your hotel in the city. After checking in, you can head out and explore.
Perhaps start in Chinatown—a city within a city—the best place to begin a street-food tour. For souvenir shopping, head to the Siam Paragon shopping mall. And if you're visiting during the weekend, don't miss Chatuchak Market. With over 15,000 stalls, it's one of the world's largest outdoor markets. Sports lovers can join the audience at an evening kickboxing match, Thailand's national sport. You might also want to take the edge off the long flight with a traditional Thai massage.
Day 2: Bangkok Canals & Temples Tour
In the morning, meet your personal guide for a full-day tour of Bangkok. First, head to a nearby pier and board a long-tail boat for a scenic ride down the scenic Chao Phraya River. After cruising this arterial waterway, you'll turn off into the maze of klongs—narrow canals running through residential neighborhoods. Witness candid scenes of local life as you pass wooden stilt houses strewn with clotheslines; wave to friendly locals relaxing on their porches as traditional music emanates from indoors. Also, watch for waterbirds like herons, pelicans, and egrets.
The first stop on this boat tour will be at the waterfront temple of Wat Khun Chan. You can't miss the giant, colorful statues of Buddha, deities, and animals. Then visit Wat Paknam, a royal temple dating to the 17th century. You'll tour the museum here, which showcases artifacts from throughout the history of Bangkok and Thailand. This temple complex is also famous for its 226-foot (69 m) statue of a seated golden Buddha—the largest one in the city. From here, travel back to the Chao Phraya River and return to the pier to disembark and have lunch nearby.
In the afternoon, you'll visit Bangkok's most famous landmarks: the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The former has been the royal residence since the days of the Siam Kingdom in 1782, and even today, it's used for official ceremonies. The latter is perhaps the most iconic Buddhist temple in the country, but the real treasure is inside: a 26-inch (66 cm) jade statue of a meditating Buddha. At the end of the day, you'll return to your hotel.
Day 3: Night Cycling Tour of Bangkok
You'll have the first part of the day free before meeting up with your guide later in the afternoon. Then begin a half-day cycling tour to explore the hidden gems of Bangkok. Head off down the eastern bank of the Chao Phraya River and the pier at Bang Rak, where you'll board a ferry to Thonburi. This historic neighborhood was actually the third capital of Siam (Thailand) in 1768. Today it's a dynamic local community filled with traditional wooden homes and landmark temples.
Once here, your guide will lead you down secret paths to Wat Prayoon. This 19th-century Buddhist temple complex is situated around a turtle-filled pond; you can even feed the animals. Interestingly, this area is home to descendants of Portuguese settlers who first arrived in the country in the 16th century. Even today, Thonburi is home to elegant Sino-Portuguese architecture evidenced in historic buildings like the 18th-century Santa Cruz Church. Stop in at a museum café to learn about this rich history and sample local pastries whose recipes have been passed down through generations.
At sunset, you'll visit one of Bangkok's most iconic landmarks: Wat Arun. This Buddhist temple dates to the late 18th century and was named after Arun, the Hindu god of dawn. It's famous for its towering central prang (spire), which looks particularly beautiful at twilight. Afterward, hop a ferry back to the city and stop for a refreshing drink before continuing to Wat Pho Temple. The evening is the perfect time to visit this 13th-century temple complex, as it's free of daytime tourist hordes. On returning to your hotel, stop at the famous Flower Market and enjoy a dinner of authentic Thai street food.
Day 4: Fly to Chiang Mai, Optional Activities
In the morning, your driver will pick you up for the ride to the airport, where you'll catch a 1.5-hour flight north to Chiang Mai. This city boasts a unique cultural heritage, as it was the capital of the independent Lanna Kingdom from 1296 to 1558. Many vestiges of this history remain, like ancient walls, moats, and Buddhist temples. In recent times, Chiang Mai has become popular with visitors not only for its historical sites but also for the night markets, incredible street food, and nearby elephant sanctuaries. Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will pick you up and transfer you to your hotel.
After checking in, you'll have the rest of the day to explore Chiang Mai. First, embark on a self-guided walking tour of its Old City and landmarks like Wat Phra Singh, a 14th-century Buddhist temple. For shopping, don't miss "Handicraft Highway," which stretches 11 miles (18 km) and is the place to buy artisanal crafts like pottery. Just outside of town is the 19th-century temple Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, one of the most famous pilgrimage sites in Thailand. And when the sun goes down, Chang Klan Road is the place to be, as it comes alive with merchant stalls and street-food vendors.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 5: Visit an Elephant Sanctuary
Leave Chiang Mai this morning and transfer about one hour by vehicle to the Happy Elephant Home, a sanctuary for elephants rescued from the tourist trade. Enjoy a welcome drink on arrival, then change into mahout (elephant caretaker) clothes and let the fun begin. You'll get to spend the morning feeding, washing, and making friends with the elephants.
After a delicious Thai lunch, cool off in the on-site swimming pool and enjoy the mountain views. Later, join the elephants in a mud bath. Then walk with them to the Mae Taeng River, where you can wash, swim, and play with these animals for a while longer. Afterward, return to camp and enjoy an afternoon snack as the elephants roam free around you. At the end of the day, you'll say goodbye to your new friends and transfer back to Chiang Mai.
Day 6: Thai Cooking Class in Chiang Mai
Today, head over to the Love Cooking Chiang Mai School, a culinary workshop staffed by local chefs dedicated to teaching visitors the art of Thai cuisine. After meeting the expert instructors, you'll walk to a market and select the freshest produce and best ingredients. Then return to the school to choose even more ingredients from the on-site organic garden before beginning the meal preparation.
Throughout this half-day experience, your chef/instructor will take you on a culinary journey to the heart of Thai cuisine as you prepare a traditional meal. At the end of the class, everyone will sit down to enjoy the delicious lunch you've prepared and snap plenty of photos. Later, you'll return to your hotel.
Day 7: Fly to Phuket, Optional Activities
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast in Chiang Mai before your personal driver takes you to the airport for the two-hour flight south to Phuket. Capital of the largest island province in the country, this resort city is just as famous for its sun-kissed tropical beaches as it is for its raucous nightlife. Upon arrival at the airport, another driver will transport you to your hotel, and then you're free to discover the best of Phuket.
If you like, head to one of the area's famous stretches of sand, like Patong, Kata, and Freedom Beach to enjoy sunbathing and watersports like snorkeling and kayaking. However, the natural highlights of Phuket extend beyond the coast. The island has diverse landscapes including forested hills, mountains, limestone cliffs, lagoons, and tropical forests. Many of these offer great hiking, like the trail up to the Black Rock Viewpoint, which looks out over beautiful Cape Krathing.
You can also visit the aquarium in Cape Panwa to see a variety of marine species. These include sea turtles, sharks, mantas, eels, dolphins, and many others. For something more adventurous, try soaring over the jungle canopy on a zipline. In the evening, don't miss the famous night markets, and for a drink later try one of the countless bars and clubs along Bangla Road.
Day 8: Phuket Sightseeing Tour
Hop in a van for a half-day tour to see the highlights of Phuket. Go beyond the beautiful beaches and visit historic landmarks and incredible sites in the city and farther inland. Accompanied by an expert guide, you'll begin the tour with a scenic drive along golden bays, stopping to enjoy panoramic views of the famous Promthep Cape, which, incidentally, offers one of the best sunset views in the region.
Another highlight is a visit to the 19th-century Wat Chalong, the largest and most important of the 29 temples in Phuket. Within the temple is the statue of Luang Por Cham, a former abbot who helped quell an uprising and was also known for his healing powers. Wrap up your sightseeing with a visit to a cashew nut factory, where you'll sample at least 10 different types of cashews. Afterward, you'll return to your hotel and have the rest of the day free.
Day 9: Day Trip to Phi Phi Islands
Wake up early and embark on a full-day snorkeling/swimming excursion at the famous Phi Phi Islands. You'll transfer to the pier in Phuket around 7:30 am to board a speedboat for an hour's trip to Phi Phi Lee ("Maya Beach"). One of the most stunning destinations in Thailand, Maya Beach is a secluded bay hemmed in by towering limestone cliffs on a romantic isle. If it looks familiar, it was featured in the 2000 film "The Beach."
Once here, you'll take a dip in the water in designated swimming areas and snap photos at other nearby highlights like Pileh Lagoon and Viking Cave. On the way north to the larger island of Phi Phi Don, you'll pass Monkey Beach, so named for the community of crab-eating macaques that live here. Upon arrival, you'll have time for snorkeling, followed by a delicious lunch. Later in the afternoon, visit Bamboo Island for more swimming or sunbathing on the beach. From here, you'll return to Phuket by boat and transfer back to your hotel.
Day 10: Beach Day in Phuket
Phuket is known for its turquoise waters fronting wide and inviting beaches. Today is yours to spend relaxing on one of these pristine stretches of sand, and there are many to choose from. With its shady palm trees, watersports, and laid-back atmosphere, Kata Beach is always a reliable option. You can easily spend the day sunbathing here while taking advantage of the many food and drink vendors.
Another option is Nai Harn Beach. Located at the southern end of Phuket, this quiet seaside resort has grown in popularity over the years. However, thanks to the relatively small size of the bay, Nai Harn hasn't been overdeveloped like its competition. There are some great hotels, shops, and restaurants located nearby, and just behind the beach is an elegant Buddhist temple.
If you're seeking a more tranquil, isolated atmosphere, head to Freedom Beach, home to quite possibly the softest white sands 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), once there, you'll be far removed from the din of tourism and watersports. There, you can let the sounds of waves gently lapping at the shore lull you into a sense of peaceful tranquility.