Find a mix of thrills, beauty, and relaxation on this 15-day itinerary across several regions of Thailand. Start in the capital, Bangkok, for a taste of contemporary Thai culture before visiting ancient temples in Ayutthaya and learning about the infamous Death Railway near Kanchanaburi. Meet elephants, monks, and plenty of temples in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, and spend a few days relaxing and snorkeling off the white beaches of Phuket.


  • Tour the vibrant night markets and ornate temples of Bangkok
  • Learn about Thailand's history at Hellfire Pass Memorial and the Hall of Opium
  • Explore Erawan National Park and admire its seven-tiered waterfall
  • Spend the day feeding, walking, and bathing elephants in a sanctuary
  • Snorkel in the crystal clear waters of the Similan Islands

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Bangkok, Guided Tour Bangkok
Day 2 Discover Bangkok Like a Local Bangkok
Day 3 Transfer to Kanchanaburi via Ayutthaya Kanchanaburi
Day 4 Explore Erawan National Park & Death Railway Kanchanaburi
Day 5 Kanchanaburi Historical Tour, Transfer to Bangkok Bangkok
Day 6 Transfer to Chiang Rai, Explore Chiang Rai
Day 7 Visit the Golden Triangle & the Hall of Opium Chiang Rai
Day 8 Transfer to Chiang Mai, Explore Chiang Mai
Day 9 Meet Elephants at Elephant Discovery Chiang Mai Chiang Mai
Day 10 Tour Chiang Mai's Temples Chiang Mai
Day 11 Transfer to Phuket, Explore Phuket
Day 12 Swim & Snorkel the Phi Phi Islands Phuket
Day 13 Cruise the Similan Islands by Speedboat Phuket
Day 14 Beach Day in Phuket Phuket
Day 15 Depart Phuket  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Bangkok, Guided Tour

Aerial view of Bangkok at sunset with the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew
The Grand Palace (center) and Wat Phra Kaew (left) at sunset

Welcome to Thailand! Touch down in Bangkok, the capital, where your driver will be waiting to take you to your hotel.

Once you're settled in, join a tour to get to know the city. Start at the Grand Palace, a complex of intricate palaces and temples built in 1782, which served as the royal family's home for 150 years. Check out the reception palace, coronation hall, and Wat Phra Kaew, which houses the sacred Emerald Buddha statue. Then visit one of Bangkok's oldest temples, Wat Pho, known for its 150-foot (46 m) reclining Buddha and Thai massage school. This short tour will give you a taste of what's to come tomorrow!

Day 2: Discover Bangkok Like a Local

Photo of the BTS Skytrain approaching on an elevated track in Bangkok
The BTS Skytrain helps locals and visitors bypass Bangkok's traffic
Bangkok's streets are famous for their traffic, but you'll zip around the city today on the BTS Skytrain, MRT (the transit system), public boats, and buses. In the morning, you'll hit iconic sites like the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. After lunch, hop on a tuk-tuk to the Rattanakosin Exhibition Hall to check out exhibits about the Rattanakosin era. Later, hop on a boat for a ride along a canal to Hua Chang Pier, where you can scratch your shopping itch at a nearby mall. When the day is over, head back to the hotel via BTS.

Day 3: Transfer to Kanchanaburi via Ayutthaya

Photo of a sandstone Buddha head statue entangled in tree roots
The iconic Buddha head statue covered by Banyan tree roots

Hop on a historic bus ride from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi. First, stop at Bang Pa-In Royal Palace, a colorful complex once the summer palace of Thai kings. Then visit Ayutthaya, a World Heritage Site home to many ancient palaces and temples, like Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, a working temple and monastery, and Wat Phanan Choeng, famous for its towering seated Buddha statue. After lunch, visit Wat Phra Mahathat to see the iconic scene of a Buddha head statue surrounded by Banyan tree roots. 

Day 4: Explore Erawan National Park & the Death Railway

Photo of Erawan Falls in Erawan National Park with a turquoise pool on the left and the falls on the right
Erawan Waterfall

Today, explore the natural beauty and tragic history of Kanchanaburi province. First, visit Erawan National Park, famous for its seven-tiered Erawan Falls. After lunch, head to the Hellfire Pass Memorial. The museum and art gallery commemorates the tens of thousands of forced laborers who died while building the Thai-Burma Railway during World War II, earning it the name the "Death Railway." Take a ride on the remaining tracks from Tham Krasae Station to Tha Kilen Station, passing by the Khwae Noi River.

Transfer back to your hotel and spend the rest of the evening however you wish. Relax and recharge at the hotel or head out to Kanchanaburi's night markets to sample delectable Western Thai dishes.

Day 5: Kanchanaburi Historical Tour & Transfer to Bangkok

The Bridge over River Khwae receding into the distance on a calm evening
The River Khwae Bridge inspired "The Bridge on the River Kwai"

After breakfast, tour Kanchanaburi's history by visiting local landmarks via a traditional samlaw (tricycle). Visit the World War II Museum and Gallery and the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, where prisoners of war who died constructing the Thai-Burma Railway are buried. Then visit the River Khwae Bridge, the part of the infamous railway that inspired the film "The Bridge on the River Kwai." Reflect on western Thailand's beautiful scenery and dark history, and then return to Bangkok.

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Day 6: Fly to Chiang Rai, Explore

View of a gold and blue building in Wat Rong Suea Ten (Blue Temple) in Chiang Rai
Wat Rong Suea Ten (The Blue Temple)

Today, you'll fly north from Bangkok to Chiang Rai, Thailand's northernmost city. After the afternoon flight, you'll have time to check into your hotel and explore the city at your own pace.

Stroll down Chiang Rai's colorful streets and admire its intricate architecture, like its most famous temple, Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple). The newest temple, Wat Rong Suea Ten (The Blue Temple), with vibrant blue walls and gold accents, is as stunning as its more established neighbors. Learn about the six major tribal groups of Northern Thailand at the Hilltribe Museum. In the evening, visit the Night Bazaar, full of delicious, authentic street food and artisanal souvenirs. 

Day 7: Visit the Golden Triangle & the Hall of Opium

The Golden Triangle and Opium Museum
Visit the Golden Triangle and nearby Hall of Opium

After breakfast, you'll head out from the hotel for a two-hour ride north to the Golden Triangle. Explore the area where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet and walk along the Mekong River. Around 11 am, visit the Hall of Opium, reputably one of the best museums in Thailand, to learn about the complex history of opium in the area. After decades as the largest producer of opium in the world, production has started to decline, and now tourism is one of the more prominent industries in the Golden Triangle.

Around noon, have lunch at a local restaurant before returning to Chiang Rai, where you'll have a free afternoon to spend as you wish. Consider a visit to the Baan Dam, or "Black House," a complex of 15 buildings designed by artist Thawan Duchanee. The intricate architecture holds an extensive taxidermy collection, including furniture made from animal bones and horns. For a more relaxing option, visit the Chiang Rai River Beach to swim or lie on the beach.

Day 8: Transfer to Chiang Mai via the White Temple, Explore

View of Wat Rong Khun across the water in the evening
Visit Wat Rong Khun on your way out of Chiang Rai

Get an early start and check out of the hotel around 8 am for a morning tour of Wat Rong Khun, the "White Temple." Conceived and built by artist Chalermchai Kositpipa in 1997, the gleaming white Buddhist temple combines classic Thai architecture with twists like a lake full of outreaching hands and vibrant murals mixing pop culture icons with apocalyptic images. Then, settle in for the three-hour ride to Chiang Mai with a stop for lunch.

Chiang Mai is the perfect place to explore at your leisure. Check out the Old City's famous landmarks, like Wat Phra Singh, an opulent 14th-century temple complex. For shopping, don't miss the San Kamphaeng Road, an 11-mile (18-km) long "Handicraft Highway" full of artisanal crafts like pottery and silverwork. As the sun sets, take in the golden glow of the 19th-century Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. After dark, Chang Klan Road is the place to be, as it comes alive with street-food vendors and stalls.

If time permits, you can visit San Kamphaeng Hot Springs, a 90-minute drive from the city. Soak in this open-air spa's mineral baths and watch hot-water geysers shooting 65 feet (20 m) into the air. For a more active excursion, travel a couple of hours from Chiang Mai to Bua Tong National Park for a jungle hike to the famous Sticky Waterfall. The white stones that comprise this cascade have a sponge-like surface, giving them grip underfoot.

Day 9: Meet Elephants at Elephant Discovery Chiang Mai

Photo of a Thai tourist meeting a mother and baby elephant at a Thai sanctuary during the day
Learn how to take care of elephants at Elephant Discovery Chiang Mai

This morning, after breakfast, take a ride out to Elephant Discovery Chang Mai, a family-run elephant sanctuary. A mahout (elephant caretaker) will introduce you to the elephants and teach you about their daily lives. Best of all, you'll get to interact with the elephants, feed them, walk with them, and even bathe them in a pond. You'll learn various ways to communicate with the elephants and how the mahouts keep them healthy and happy. After lunch at the camp, you'll return to Chiang Mai.

Day 10: Tour Chiang Mai's Temples

Photo from the bottom of the 309 steps up to Wat Doi Suthep
The foot of the 309 steps up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Ride to the foot of Doi Suthep mountain to join the locals and give offerings to a procession of monks. Then, hike to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, one of Thailand's most sacred temples, and climb 309 steps to see beautiful pagodas, statues, and city views. On the way down, find Wat Palad, the "Temple Below the Temple," nestled in the forest. Visit Wat Umong, a temple with underground tunnels, the Three Kings Monument, honoring the city's founders, and the Chiang Mai City Arts and Culture Center.

Day 11: Fly to Phuket, Explore

view of Surin beach in Phuket
Surin Beach in Phuket

Say goodbye to Chiang Mai this morning. Your private driver will escort you to the airport for your flight south to Phuket, Thailand's largest island. Set on the Andaman Coast, Phuket is known for its powdery beaches, neon nightlife, and luxury resorts. The island is also home to diverse landscapes ranging from tropical rainforest to palm-fringed beaches and craggy limestone cliffs.

Spend the rest of the day exploring Phuket. Hit the beach to sunbathe and sit back with a cold drink, then wade into the warm water for a swim or some snorkeling. You can discover more about Phuket's underwater life at the aquarium in Cape Panwa. If you're feeling adventurous, visit Hanuman World Phuket to soar through the jungle on a series of adrenaline-pumping ziplines. In the evening, feast on seafood, browse the night market and have a drink on lively Bangla Road.

Day 12: Swim & Snorkel the Phi Phi Islands

Aerial view of Maya Bay, Phi Phi Ley, with a few boats in the water
Aerial view of Maya Bay, the shooting location of "The Beach"

Today, explore the famous Phi Phi Islands, an archipelago 25 miles (40 km) east of Phuket. Start with a speed boat trip to Phi Phi Ley to see Maya Bay, the setting for the Leonardo DiCaprio movie "The Beach." Moor at Pileh Lagoon and Viking Cave for swimming and snorkeling. Sail on to Phi Phi Don for more snorkeling, stopping at Monkey Beach, known for its cheeky macaques, along the way. Later, relax on the white sands or snorkel off the shores of Bamboo Island before transferring back to Phuket.

Day 13: Cruise the Similan Islands by Speedboat

View half in, half out of the water offshore of one of the Similan Islands with a green turtle swimming in the foreground
The Similan Islands are famous for their clear waters

Set off on a speedboat ride again today, this time heading northwest across the Andaman Sea to Similan Islands. This famous archipelago, classified as a national park, is known for its excellent conditions for diving and snorkeling. Its clear waters offer better visibility than almost anywhere else in Thailand, perfect for spotting the diverse array of colorful fish that call the area home. After snorkeling, relax on the chalk-white sand on the beach and enjoy lunch. Head back to Phuket in the late afternoon.

Day 14: Beach Day in Phuket

Crystal clear turquoise blue sea and traditional wooden fishing boat at Kata Beach, Phuket, Thailand
A clear sunny day on Kata Beach

Soak up the sun with a beach day in Phuket; the island offers plenty to choose from. Kata Beach is an excellent option with soft white sand, shady palm trees, food vendors, and a laid-back atmosphere. Meanwhile, Nai Harn Beach, located in a small bay, has remained relatively underdeveloped. For something quieter, head to Freedom Beach—it requires a steep hike or a boat ride to get there, so you'll escape the motorized watersports and beach vendors for a truly peaceful experience.

Day 15: Depart Phuket

Landscape of Phuket View Point at Nai Harn Beach at sunset
Phuket View Point at Nai Harn Beach
After two weeks of exploration, relaxation, and adventure in turns, your Thailand journey comes to an end. If time permits, take a last trip to the beach or grab last-minute souvenirs before heading to the airport. Safe travels!

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Map of Highlights of Thailand: From Chiang Rai to Phuket - 15 Days
Map of Highlights of Thailand: From Chiang Rai to Phuket - 15 Days
Written by Hien Do, updated Mar 7, 2023