This 11-day journey highlights Thailand's history, culture, and natural beauty. It starts with a bang as you tour the temples and palaces of Bangkok before heading west to visit national parks, waterfalls, and the infamous Death Railway. Continue north to Chiang Mai and the famous temple ruins of Ayutthaya, then fly south to relax on the beaches of Krabi and take long-tail boat tours to remote islands.


  • Tour the palaces and temples of Bangkok
  • See the real-life "Bridge on the River Kwai"
  • Visit elephant sanctuaries and ancient Ayutthaya
  • Relax on southern beaches in exotic Koh Lanta

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Bangkok, Optional Activities Bangkok
Day 2 Bangkok Canal & Temple Tour Bangkok
Day 3 Transfer to Kanchanaburi, Erawan & Death Railway Kanchanaburi
Day 4 Visit Ayutthaya, Train to Chiang Mai Chiang Mai
Day 5 Free Day in Chiang Mai Chiang Mai
Day 6 Visit an Elephant Sanctuary  Chiang Mai
Day 7 Fly to Krabi, Transfer to Ko Lanta Ko Lanta
Day 8 Four Islands Boat Tour Ko Lanta
Day 9 Day Trip to Hong Island Ko Lanta
Day 10 Ko Lanta Beach Day Ko Lanta
Day 11 Transfer to Phuket, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Bangkok, Optional Activities

Welcome to Bangkok 

Welcome to Thailand! While this nation's official history begins in the 13th century with the arrival of the Tai ethnic group, the region has been inhabited far longer—about half a million years, to be precise. You'll arrive in Bangkok, a dynamic capital city that merges the old and the new and where culture, religion, and nightlife exist on almost every corner. Here, you'll find grand palaces, ornate temples, and iconic landmarks like the majestic Chao Phraya River. Not incidentally, this is one of the best places to come if you want to dive right into Thailand's famous street-food scene. 

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 on a self-guided tour. Perhaps visit the famous Chinatown—a city within a city—the best place to begin a street-food tour. For souvenir shopping, head to Siam Paragon, one of Bangkok's most popular shopping malls. 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 take in an evening kickboxing match, which is Thailand's national sport. 

Day 2: Bangkok Canal & Temple Tour

Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Bangkok

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 Chao Phraya River. After cruising the main waterway and enjoying spectacular views of Bangkok's skyline, 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 such statue in the city. From here, travel back to the Chao Phraya River and return to the pier, where you'll 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: Transfer to Kanchanaburi, Erawan & Death Railway

The waterfalls at Erawan National Park

Your driver will pick you up early for the three-hour ride west toward the border with Myanmar and the town of Kanchanaburi. This is the hub for visits to the Death Railway, the infamous train line built between 1942 and 1943 at the expense of the over 100,000 laborers who died during its construction. Upon arrival in town, you'll check into your hotel and will have some time to relax.

Don't get too comfortable because soon after arriving, you'll continue the journey with a visit to Erawan National Park. This is the perfect place to enjoy the region's spectacular natural beauty, particularly the famous seven-tiered waterfall. These falls are considered the most beautiful in the country, with glacial blue waters rushing through the forest into bamboo-shaded pools perfect for a refreshing dip.

After lunch, travel back to Kanchanaburi and visit the Hellfire Pass Memorial. This combined museum and gallery was built to commemorate the thousands of Allied POWs and Asian conscripts who died while constructing the Thai-Burma Railway, known forever after as the Death Railway. The route is incredibly scenic, as you'll discover on a ride along its historic tracks. A highlight of the trip is passing through Tham Krasae Station, which offers some of the most beautiful views of the Kwai Noi River. After arriving at Tha Kilen Train Station, you'll return to your hotel. 

Day 4: Visit Ayutthaya, Train to Chiang Mai

Travel From Kanchanaburi To Chiang Mai With Ayutthaya Visit
The temples of Ayutthaya

Get ready for a full-day tour of the most historical sites in Thailand. In the morning, you'll hop in the car for the 2.5-hour ride east to the historic city of Ayutthaya. The former royal capital of the Siam Kingdom, Ayutthaya, was founded in 1350 but was sacked by the Burmese in the 18th century. However, many structures like reliquary towers and monasteries remain to this day. You'll get to see those and various temples on a walking tour of the Historical Park, which covers all the ruins of this ancient city.

After walking amid the former glory of the Siamese Empire, you'll leave the car behind and head to the train station. Here, you'll board an overnight train north to Chiang Mai. Upon arrival in the morning, your driver will take you to a local restaurant for breakfast, followed by your hotel.

Day 5: Free Day in Chiang Mai

The golden pagoda at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Chiang Mai 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 its ancient walls, moats, and Buddhist temples. In recent times Chiang Mai has become wildly popular with visitors not only for its historical sites but also for its night markets, incredible street-food scene, and nearby elephant sanctuaries. You'll have the entire day free to explore all this and more.

First, venture behind Chiang Mai's ancient walls for a walking tour of its Old City and famous landmarks like Wat Phra Singh, a 14th-century Buddhist temple. For shopping, don't miss the San Kamphaeng Road. Also known as "Handicraft Highway," it stretches for 11 miles (18 km) and is the place to buy artisanal crafts like pottery and silverwork. 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.

If time permits, you can visit San Kamphaeng Hot Springs, about a 1.5-hour drive from the city center. This open-air spa puts on quite the show in the form of a geyser of hot water that shoots 65 feet (20 m) into the air. It's a great place to soak in mineral baths while enjoying the beautiful scenery. For more adventure, travel a couple of hours from Chiang Mai to Bua Tong National Park for a jungle hike and to climb the famous "Sticky Waterfall." The white stones that comprise this cascade are hard and spongelike rather than slippery, making them easy to climb up.

Plan your trip to Thailand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 6: Visit an Elephant Sanctuary 

Make new friends at a rescue center

In the morning, you'll leave Chiang Mai 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 the provided 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, you'll 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 the 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 7: Fly to Krabi, Transfer to Ko Lanta

Relax in Ko Lanta

Your personal driver will pick you up this morning and transfer you to the airport in Chiang Mai. Here, you'll catch a two-hour flight south to Krabi, a resort town on the Andaman Coast. Upon arrival, you'll transfer to the pier for the one-hour ferry ride to Ko Lanta. While this idyllic tropical island does boast some fine beach resorts, it lies just south enough from tourist hotspots like Phi Phi and Phuket to retain its laid-back, secluded vibe. It's the perfect place for a romantic getaway or relaxing break.

Upon arrival, a driver will take you to your resort accommodation. Feel free to spend the rest of the afternoon lazing on Ko Lanta's wide and inviting beaches. Or, for something more active, head out on a scenic hike, take a cooking class, go scuba diving, or join a yoga session offered by your resort. Of course, one activity available day or night is a swim in the turquoise waters mere feet from your hotel. 

Day 8: Four Islands Boat Tour

Tour the islands in a traditional long-tail boat

In the morning, embark on a full-day tour of Ko Lanta's surrounding islands in a private long-tail boat. The first stop will be at the powdery white sands of Ko Mook. Here, you'll visit its famous Emerald Cave and swim in the jade waters of this 262-foot (80 m) sea cavern. Continue to Ko Ngai, a small islet famous for its crystalline waters home to tropical fish swimming around coral gardens.

After snorkeling, you'll sail to Ko Kradan for more swimming, then sit down to a delicious lunch of fresh Thai cuisine. Relax at the beach before heading to Ko Chuak, a charming island and another great snorkeling spot. Spend more time swimming with exotic marine animals before returning to Ko Lanta.

Day 9: Day Trip to Hong Island

Escape to Hong Island

At 8:30 am, you'll transfer from your hotel to the pier and board a long-tail boat for a cruise to Hong Island. This famous islet is known for its towering limestone rock formations hugging tranquil coves and lagoons. The boat will drop you at Hong Island Bay, where you can relax, sunbathe, swim, and snorkel amid countless tropical fish.

Later, get the blood pumping with a hike up a nature trail leading to a viewpoint offering a stunning 360-degree panorama of the island. Then enjoy the picnic lunch on the beach under the shade of native trees. If lucky, you may see water monitors or other large reptiles scurrying around this island. Take some more time to relax after lunch before heading back to your hotel. 

Day 10: Ko Lanta Beach Day

Phra Ae ("Long Beach"), in Ko Lanta
Today is yours to bum around the many beautiful beaches in Ko Lanta. This small island has plenty of idyllic stretches of sand, perfect for sunbathing and swimming in offshore crystalline waters. The most popular is Phra Ae (Long Beach). Despite the many hotels and resorts in the area, there's always an empty spot to enjoy relaxation.
Another postcard of a beach is Klong Jark. It's a bit remote, but if you try to get there, you'll be rewarded with a secluded paradise great for swimming and snorkeling. Also, a nature walk here leads through jungles to a waterfall and cave. There's also Ba Kan Tiang, a tree-shaded beach offering some of the best views on the island—particularly the golden sunsets.

Day 11: Transfer to Phuket, Depart

Farewell, Thailand

In the morning, you'll check out of your hotel and transfer to the pier, where you'll board a ferry for the 1.5-hour ride to Phuket. A driver will be waiting when you arrive to transfer you to the international airport, where you'll catch your flight home. Safe travels!

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Map of Ultimate Thailand: Bangkok to Koh Lanta - 11 Days
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Written by Hien Do, updated Feb 21, 2023