With three weeks to spare, you can take a deep dive into the treasures of Thailand and Cambodia. Tour the palaces and temples of Bangkok, head to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai for a meet and greet with local hill tribes and a visit to Doi Inthanon National Park, then jet off to Ko Samui for kayaking and beach time. Continue into Cambodia for more Southeast Asian adventures as you explore Angkor Wat, cycle around the sacred mountains and caves of Battambang, and browse the museums of Phnom Penh.


  • Cruise the canals of Bangkok's Chao Phraya River via long-tail boat
  • Walk the ancient paths and temples of Ayutthaya Historical Park
  • Snorkel and kayak around the island paradise of Ko Samui
  • Catch a ride on the bamboo train to see Battambang like a local
  • Visit the temples and markets of Phnom Penh by cyclo

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Bangkok (Thailand), Self-Guided City Tour Bangkok
Day 2 Guided Excursion to Bangkok Palaces & Temples Bangkok
Day 3 Bang Pa-In Summer Palace, Visit Ancient Ayutthaya Bangkok
Day 4 Fly to Chiang Rai, Discover Temples, Museums & Night Bazaar Chiang Rai
Day 5 Rural Chiang Rai: Hill Tribes, Golden Triangle & Baan Dam Museum Chiang Rai
Day 6 Visit the Blue Temple, Transfer to Chiang Mai Chiang Mai
Day 7 Doi Inthanon National Park, Hiking on Mae Klang Luang Nature Trail Chiang Mai
Day 8 Kanta Elephant Sanctuary, Visit Bua Tong Waterfall Chiang Mai
Day 9 Fly to Ko Samui, Beach Day & Night Market Ko Samui
Day 10 Ang Thong National Marine Park Snorkel & Kayak Tour Ko Samui
Days 11-12 Beaches & Sightseeing Around Ko Samui Ko Samui
Day 13 Fly to Siem Reap (Cambodia), Evening Foodie Tour via Tuk-Tuk Siem Reap
Day 14 Discover the Realm of Angkor Wat Siem Reap
Day 15 Guided Exploration of Angkor Temples  Siem Reap
Day 16 Day Trip to Phnom Kulen National Park Siem Reap
Day 17 Transfer to Battambang, Guided City Walk & Ride the Bamboo Train Battambang
Day 18 Battambang by Bike: Markets, Mountains & Caves Battambang
Day 19 Transfer to Phnom Penh via Silversmith Visit, Cyclo City Tour Phnom Penh
Day 20 Guided Tour of Phnom Penh's Museums & Markets Phnom Penh
Day 21 Depart Phnom Penh  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Bangkok (Thailand), Self-Guided City Tour

Explore the sights, sounds, and tastes of Bangkok's Chinatown

Welcome to Thailand! Your flight lands in the capital city of Bangkok, where you'll find a perfect blend of culture, commerce, and history. Upon your arrival, you'll be met by your private driver and transferred to your hotel. Once you've checked in and had a chance to regroup, it's time to head out for a self-guided exploration of this vibrant metropolis! 

If you're hungry, start in the district of Chinatown, a famous destination for foodies from around the world. Walk down the main street of Yaowarat Road and try some delicious options from the many food stalls that line the street. Enjoy some kai-satay (barbecued chicken) or ba-mee-mhoo-daeng (dried noodles with red pork), or satisfy your sweet tooth with Chinese doughnuts, which are fried and then grilled and often served with sweetened condensed milk.

Hop on the Sky Train for a birds-eye view of the city, shop at Siam Paragon if you're a fan of high-end fashion, or take a tranquil stroll through Lumpini Park, a quiet haven of greenery that offers a nice respite from the busy city. For an immersion into local culture, see a traditional show at the Joe Louis Theatre, or head for Warehouse 30 to experience Bangkok's contemporary art scene. And tonight, head to Channel 7 or Rajadamnern Boxing Stadiums for a kickboxing match—Thailand's signature sport! 

Day 2: Guided Excursion to Bangkok Palaces & Temples

See the incredible opulence of the Grand Palace and its Temple of the Emerald Buddha

This morning, meet your guide at your hotel and set out on a tour of some of Bangkok's most remarkable sites. You'll start at Wat Traimit, home to the famed 700-year-old Golden Buddha statue. Then, head to Rattanakosin Island and the rambling temple complex of Wat Pho, where you'll find incredible architecture and a giant reclining Buddha.

Next up is the Grand Palace, Bangkok's largest and best-known landmark. Built in the late 1700s as the residence of the kings of Siam, the monumental royal complex is an impressive sight with ornate, colorful rooflines and shiny spires at every turn. As you explore the vast grounds with your guide, you'll see the Coronation Hall, Funeral Hall, and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha—a 15th-century figurine made from a solid piece of green jade decorated with diamonds and gold.

In the afternoon, board one of Thailand's quintessential long-tail boats and cruise across the Chao Phraya River to the canals of Thonburi. See local homes built on stilts, temples, and markets geared toward life along the water. End the day with a visit to Wat Arun, or the Temple of Dawn. Built during the Ayutthaya period, the structure sits high above the banks of the river, with a statuesque tower of nearly 270 feet (82 m) and steep stairs that offer panoramic views of the countryside. 

Day 3: Bang Pa-In Summer Palace, Visit Ancient Ayutthaya

Take in the beauty of ancient Ayutthaya

The day starts early as you depart with your guides for a visit to the Summer Palace, commonly known as Bang Pa-In. Built by King Rama IV at a time of growing European architectural influence in Thailand, the palace is an impressive architectural blend of East and West.

From here, you'll board a long-tail boat for a scenic ride to the ancient city of Ayutthaya. Thailand's old capital, this historic city was an important trading hub from the 14th to 18th centuries when the Burmese invasion destroyed it. The ruins now form the site of Ayutthaya Historical Park, where you can visit the palaces, temples, and monasteries of this bygone era. See Wat Phra Si Sanphet in the Grand Palace compound, Wat Phanacheong, and Wat Maha, or the Monastery of the Great Relic, an impressive temple that features the famous Buddha's stone head entwined within the roots of a tree. 

Have lunch at a traditional Thai restaurant, then continue your tour via tuk-tuk, stopping at Wat Prasri Sanphet, Wat Yai Chaimongkol, and other temples around the park. Return to Bangkok in time for dinner at your hotel, or head out to explore more of the city on your own.

Day 4: Fly to Chiang Rai, Discover Temples, Museums & Night Bazaar

Purchase souvenirs and grab dinner at Chiang Rai Night Bazaar

Your next destination is Chiang Rai, Thailand's northernmost city, known for it's Lanna architecture and historic temples, all surrounded by the backdrop of lush greenery and imposing mountains. You'll take a private transfer from your hotel to the airport, where you'll catch a quick 1.5-hour flight. After arrival and check-in at your Chiang Rai hotel, the rest of your day is free to see some sights around the city.

Begin with a leisurely stroll to the city center, where you can see the intricate architecture of the clock tower that dominates the area. Then, visit the showstopping Wat Rong Khun temple, otherwise known as the White Temple. Designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat, a famous Thai visual artist, the white color symbolizes the purity of Buddha, and each statue represents the teachings of Buddhist philosophy. Walk around the peaceful grounds here and learn about the construction of the temple and the role it plays in Thai culture. 

To learn more about the culture and history of northern Thailand's tribal groups, visit the Hilltribe Museum, which has exhibits that showcase the costumes, tools, and artifacts of the region's six major tribes. Later this evening, peruse the many food stalls at Chiang Rai's lively Night Bazaar, try out some local flavors, and enjoy the hustle and bustle of this busy market. 

Day 5: Rural Chiang Rai: Hill Tribes, Golden Triangle & Baan Dam Museum

Meet the people of Chiang Rai's Long Neck hill tribe

Today's excursion takes you on a deep dive into Chiang Rai's culture and traditions as you venture into the nearby mountains for a visit with a local hill tribe. Your guides will pick you up from your hotel in the morning, and you'll drive to the Long Neck Hill Tribe Village. The women from this Karen tribe are known for wearing rings around their necks to elongate them—once intended as a protection against tiger attacks, but now considered a symbol of modern beauty. Meet the villagers and see their daily lives while your guides share insight into the history of the region and its people. 

Drive up nearby Doi Tung Mountain and visit the Doi Tung Mae Fah Luang Gardens, where you'll see exotic flowers at every turn, as well as fountains, rock art, and a small maze. Stop in the Golden Triangle area and see where the Ruak River meets the mighty Mekong, and take a scenic boat ride around the area. You'll have a traditional Thai lunch at a local restaurant, then finish the day with a visit to the Baan Dam (Black House) Museum. Designed by national artist Achan Thawan Duchanee, it consists of more than 25 buildings, all showcasing northern Thai architecture and houses work created by local artisans. 

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Day 6: Visit the Blue Temple, Transfer to Chiang Mai

Tour the brilliantly colored Blue Temple in Chiang Rai

Make the most of your last morning in Chiang Rai with a visit to Rong Suea Ten, better known as the Blue Temple, whose name translates to the "Temple of the Dancing Tiger." Long ago, tigers in the area used a nearby waterway as a trail, and the villagers would see them jump across it, hence the name. Its modern design and striking blue color alone make it worth visiting, and the huge porcelain Buddha that dominates the interior is truly spectacular.

If you didn't get to visit the White Temple earlier, today is the day to explore this impressive structure, then have lunch in town before you pack up and take your three-hour private transfer to Chiang Mai, northern Thailand's largest city and the country's fourth-largest. Chiang Mai has a distinct culture and history that thrives alongside a modern, urban vibe. Your driver will drop you off at your accommodations, where you can relax for the evening or explore some of the city on your own. 

Day 7: Doi Inthanon National Park, Hiking on Mae Klang Luang Nature Trail

Enjoy the natural beauty of Doi Inthanon National Park

Experience the incredible nature around Chiang Mai with a tour that takes you into the mountains of Doi Inthanon National Park, part of the Thanon Thong Chai range. In the morning, you'll meet your guide and make the two-hour drive, which takes you along country roads, past villages and rice fields, slowly ascending to the country's highest point. Take in the mountaintop views from 7,041 feet (2,146 m) and see the two large pagodas that mark this viewpoint. 

Then, head to a Karen village to observe the local way of life and browse their colorful craft market. On the return trip, you'll stop at the 262-foot (80 m) Wachirathan Waterfall to marvel as its vapor lingers above the jungle canopy. Hike along the Ban Mae Klang Luang nature trail, which will take you away from the main tourist track on a forested route that runs downhill to meet a river. You'll eventually reach Pa Dok Siew Waterfall, where you can cool off with a swim.

The tour concludes at the Karen village of Mae Klang Luang. Here, coffee is the most important crop—you'll have a chance to visit the coffee house where they roast, hand-grind, and prepare coffee. Try a cup on-site, and if you like it, buy a bag of ground coffee to take home.

Day 8: Kanta Elephant Sanctuary, Visit Bua Tong Waterfall

Do a meet and greet with elephants at Kanta Elephant Sanctuary

Embrace the opportunity to meet elephants in a sustainable way and see how they live in natural conditions with a visit to the Kanta Elephant Sanctuary. You'll depart early in the morning for the one-hour drive, heading through rolling hills and forested areas. Arrive at the sanctuary, where you'll learn more about the elephants and their behaviors from their caretakers and have a chance to interact with the elephants directly by feeding and helping bathe them.

From here, you'll stop for lunch at a nearby restaurant, then continue to Bua Tong Waterfall, locally known as "the Sticky Waterfall." The waterfall flows over limestone, which isn't slippery and actually provides a solid grip for bare feet (hence the "sticky" nickname!). It's easy to walk across the steep rocks and climb around, and this is a great spot for photo ops. The waterfall also sits in the middle of a dense rainforest, which offers a refreshing break from that Thailand heat. Spend some time enjoying the falls, then return to Chiang Mai late this afternoon.

Day 9: Fly to Ko Samui, Beach Day & Night Market

Relax on the pristine beaches of Ko Samui, Thailand's second-largest island

You're off to Ko Samui, Thailand's second-largest island, known for its white-sand beaches, coconut groves, and dense rainforests. You'll take a private transfer to the airport in the morning for your flight, and your driver will be waiting at Ko Samui Airport to take you to your hotel. After you've gotten settled, hop in a tuk-tuk or on a scooter and check out some of the sights that make this island so popular. 

If you've got beach time on your agenda, there are about 30 different beaches on the island to explore. You can start at the popular Chaweng Beach, which has white sand, clear blue water, plenty of restaurants, and a lively nightlife scene. For something quieter, head to Lamai or Maenam Beach, both of which have the same gorgeous white sands and turquoise waters but are less developed. 

You can take a trek through the jungle to see Hin Lad Waterfall and the temple that sits near it, cooling off after your hike with a swim in the falls, or visit Lamai Viewpoint, where you'll find panoramic views of the island—you can even take a zipline ride from here for an adrenaline rush! Tonight, visit the Lamai Night Market for authentic Thai snacks, or take in a cabaret show and be amazed by the live music and the beautiful hand-sewn dresses of the performers.

Day 10: Ang Thong National Marine Park Snorkel & Kayak Tour

Swim, snorkel, and kayak in Angthong Marine National Park

It's all about the outdoors today with a full-day excursion to Ang Thong National Marine Park. Located in the Gulf of Thailand, the park encompasses nearly 40 square miles (102 sq km) and includes more than 40 islands. This expanse of blue waters and lush greenery makes for endless activities, whether you want to swim and snorkel, hike, or cruise around on a sea kayak. 

Your driver will collect you from your hotel early in the morning, and you'll drive to the main office for check-in and a light breakfast. You'll then board a speedboat for the 45-minute ride into the park. Your first stop will be Ko Wua, the main island and park headquarters. You'll have time for snorkeling here, and you can also hike up to the Wua Ta Lap Viewpoint, a fairly steep climb that rewards you with a vista that encompasses the whole archipelago. 

Have lunch on Ko Wua, then hop in a sea kayak and tour some of the other islands. See waterfalls, caves, limestone cliffs, and marine lakes, all while keeping an eye out for soaring birds and the plentiful marine life that calls this region home. Return to Ko Samui pier via speedboat later today and enjoy a final snack of fruit and cookies before being transferred back to your hotel.

Days 11-12: Beaches & Sightseeing Around Ko Samui

See Ko Samui's impressive Big Buddha Temple

Take these next two days to discover more of Ko Samui with your interests in mind, creating your own unique island experience. For more beach time, visit Bophut Beach, which sits on the island's northern end and has a quiet, peaceful atmosphere. The beach also sits right at the end of Fisherman's Village, which holds a fantastic night market on Mondays and Fridays. This is a nice spot to grab a bite, purchase some souvenirs, and take a dip in the cool ocean waters.

There's also plenty of sightseeing to be had around town, starting at the Big Buddha Temple, easily the most famous place to visit here. A giant statue of Buddha dominates the hilltop of a small rocky island off Ko Samui's northeastern corner. It's an easy walk up to the wat (temple), which includes grounds with several outbuildings, areas for contemplation, and souvenir shops. You can also see the strange and interesting Grandfather and Grandmother rock formations on Lamai Beach—famous for their resemblance to male and female genitalia. 

Adrenaline junkies can get their fix with an exciting off-road ATV tour of the forests and jungles around the island. Alongside professional guides, you'll traverse sandy and muddy roads that take you deep into the jungle. Ride along remote mountain trails and pass shady coconut palms, sparkling rivers, and crashing waterfalls. Summit a tall hill where you'll see incredible views that stretch across the sea, then ride back down to where your drivers will be waiting to transfer you back to your hotel. 

Day 13: Fly to Siem Reap (Cambodia), Evening Foodie Tour via Tuk-Tuk

Eat your way through Siem Reap on an evening foodie tour

Say farewell to Thailand as you depart for northern Cambodia and the city of Siem Reap. After a short flight, your driver will meet you upon arrival and take you to your hotel for check-in and some time to relax. 

This evening, take a fun street food tour by tuk-tuk, following your guides to some of the top spots around the city. Sample authentic Khmer dishes in off-the-beaten-tourist-path settings while learning more about Cambodian life and culture. Taste nom krok (coconut pancakes), bahn chokl (soft noodles with vegetables), or boiled snails with spicy sauce. End the tour with cocktails at the popular Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, an intimate lounge located near the Siem Reap River.

Day 14: Discover the Realm of Angkor Wat

Get your first look at the wonders of UNESCO-listed Angkor Wat 

Visit one of Southeast Asia's most well-known and important archaeological sites, the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat. This temple complex, considered the largest religious structure in the world, encompasses more than 200 acres (81 ha), with scores of large and small temples, canals, hydraulic structures, and communication routes—a showcase of the architecture and engineering of its time. For several centuries, Angkor was the epicenter of the Khmer Empire, and it's still inhabited by villagers, some of whom have ancestry that dates back to the complex's origins. 

Your guides will take you past the distinctive five towers, which symbolize Meru's five peaks, while the surrounding walls and moat represent the mountains at the edge of the world and the ocean beyond. Visit the South Gate, with its huge statues depicting the churning of the ocean of milk, and the ancient capital of Angkor Thom, a 12th-century Bayon temple known for its 54 towers decorated with more than 200 smiling faces. See the Royal Enclosure, the Elephants Terrace, and the Terrace of the Leper King.

Your tour ends at Ta Prohm, one of the area's most beautiful temples. Ta Prohm has been relatively untouched since its discovery and retains much of its mystery. There are enormous fig trees and gigantic creepers that embrace the stone foundations of the structure, giving the impression of man's creation being reclaimed by the powerful forces of nature. Enjoy a peaceful sunset over Pre Rup, then transfer back to the hotel.

Day 15: Guided Exploration of Angkor Temples 

Visit Angkor's stepped "temple mountain" of Bakong on a guided tour

See more of ancient Angkor today, touring some of the region's historic temples. You'll start with your guides at Banteay Samré, a 12th-century Hindu temple built in the Angkor Wat style. Then, head to Banteay Srei, a 10th-century temple devoted to Shiva, one of the principal deities in Hinduism. Constructed out of red sandstone, Banteay Srei is famous for its intricate carvings covering nearly every surface, earning it the nickname "the jewel of Khmer art."

This afternoon, visit Roluos, an archaeological site that was once part of the ancient Khmer capital city, Hariharalaya. Here, you'll find three temples from the ninth century, the beginning of the Khmer Empire. Start at Preah Ko, the first temple built in the area by King Indravarman I in honor of his family. Next, visit Bakong, a stepped pyramid or "temple mountain," before wrapping up your visit at Lolei, a temple originally built on an island in a reservoir that has since dried up. Among the ancient temples in the area are two working Buddhist monasteries, symbolic of this site's lasting religious importance.

Day 16: Day Trip to Phnom Kulen National Park

See the incredible carvings in the sandstone riverbeds of Phnom Kulen National Park

Today you'll tour the holy mountain of Phnom Kulen, or "Lychee Mountain," located approximately 30 miles (48 km) from Siem Reap in the Svay Leu district. This isolated chain of small mountains is part of Phnom Kulen National Park, which is dedicated to preserving both the history and natural resources of the region. 

Considered one of Cambodia's most sacred mountains, this is a popular destination for religious pilgrimages. It was here that Khmer prince Jayavarman II proclaimed himself a devaraja (god-king), giving birth to the Khmer Empire. The shallow Chup Preah River flows through the area, with small pools and waterfalls. You'll visit the pagoda with its large Reclining Buddha and see the more than 1,000 carvings etched into the sandstone just under the surface of the water. Spend the afternoon taking in the sights and serenity, then head back to town with your driver.

Day 17: Transfer to Battambang, Guided City Walk & Ride the Bamboo Train

Catch a ride on the historic bamboo train in Battambang

The next leg of your journey takes you to the town of Battambang, located in northwestern Cambodia along the shores of the Sangkae River and known for its colonial architecture, museums, and temples. Your driver will collect you from your hotel after checkout, and you'll make the three-hour scenic drive. 

Upon arrival and check-in at your hotel, take a walk through town for views of the beautiful colonial buildings. Cambodia was a French colony from the mid-1800s to the mid-1950s, and the French influence is evident in the elegant balconies, pitched doors, and modernist touches. You'll also find that same French influence in Battambang's cuisine, so be sure to visit one of the many local restaurants. 

Stop in at the central market of Psanat for artisan goods and souvenirs, then finish up the day with a ride on the popular bamboo train, or norry, as the locals call it. Originally designed as a way to transport goods to nearby villages, these wheeled bamboo platforms will take you on a wild ride along the rails, hitting speeds of nearly 25 mph (40 km/h) and offering a fun and exciting way to see the countryside.

Day 18: Battambang by Bike: Markets, Mountains & Caves

Experience the breathtaking natural spectacle of the "Bat Cave" of Phnom Sampeau

Meet your guide after breakfast and hop on a bike to ride along the picturesque Sangkae River to Wat Slaket, the residence of the provincial Buddhist patriarch. From here, you'll continue to Wat Ek Phnom, an Angkorian Hindu temple that dates back to the 11th century. Stop at a local market to see how prahok, a traditional Cambodian fish paste, is made, then trade your bike for a vehicle as you're driven to Phnom Sampeau or Sampeau Hill.

Steeped in legend, Phnom Sampeou is best known for its three large caves, which became infamously known as the "Killing Caves" after the Khmer Rouge regime used them to kill local people and dispose of their bodies. The bones of the victims are still displayed here, a chilling reminder of this dark time. You'll have a chance to walk through the caves, which also feature Buddhist shrines, statues, and carvings, and a large colony of bats that make a spectacular exit every evening.

The hill is topped by Wat Sampeau temple complex, reached by a 700-step staircase and offering endless views of the countryside. As the day dims, you'll get to witness the mass exodus of bats from the caves before returning to town for the evening. 

Day 19: Transfer to Phnom Penh via Silversmith Visit, Cyclo City Tour

Hop in a cyclo to tour the Cambodian capital like a local

It's time to hit the road for the scenic five-hour transfer south to the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. Along the way, you'll make a stop at a silversmith village, where generations of families create handcrafted, pure silver pieces. You'll also stop at Kompong Chhnang village, located just west of the Tonlé Sap River, where you can see pottery manufacturers at work.

Once you've arrived and checked in at your hotel in Phnom Penh, head out for a cyclo ride to see the capital like a local. First introduced in the 1930s, these three-wheeled transports are considered an integral part of the city and remain one of the best ways to get around. Visit Wat Phnom, a beautiful Buddhist temple built atop an artificial hill in 1373, and the Independence Monument, built to commemorate Cambodia's independence from France.

Continue to the Royal Palace, built in 1866 on the site of the Old Town, and the Silver Pagoda. Located on the palace grounds, this glittering marvel is named for its incredible floor, made up of 5,000 silver tiles. This evening, relax with a sunset walk along the Mekong River or enjoy dinner at one of the city's many fantastic restaurants. 

Day 20: Guided Tour of Phnom Penh's Museums & Markets

See more than 5,000 items on exhibit at the National Museum 

After breakfast at your hotel this morning, meet up with your guides for a tour of Phnom Penh's top sites. Start at the National Museum (or Musee des Beaux-Arts), designed by French archaeologist and painter Georges Groslier in 1917. The museum contains an impressive collection of Khmer art pieces, including Angkorian-era statues, lingas, and other artifacts. 

Continue to the somber Tuol Sleng Museum (S-21 Prison), a former school that was used as a prison by Pol Pot's security forces. More than 17,000 people held at S-21 were taken to the extermination camp at Choeng Ek to be executed. Walk through the cells and interrogation rooms and see the archives of documents and photographs that serve as reminders of this bleak time in Cambodia's history. 

End the day at Phnom Penh's Psar Toul Tom Pong, otherwise known as the Russian Market, a great place to hunt for last-minute gifts and souvenirs. The market has clothing, Buddha images, silk, jewelry, and more. 

Day 21: Depart Phnom Penh

Farewell to Thailand and Cambodia! 

Your travels through Thailand and Cambodia come to a close today. At the appropriate time, your driver will collect you from your hotel and transport you to Phnom Penh's airport for your flight home. Safe travels! 

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Map of Epic Highlights Tour of Thailand & Cambodia: Ancient Temples, Lively Markets & Pristine Beaches - 21 Days
Map of Epic Highlights Tour of Thailand & Cambodia: Ancient Temples, Lively Markets & Pristine Beaches - 21 Days