Sa-wat dee! Welcome to Thailand. Thailand's bustling capital is famous for its tuk tuks, khlong boats and street vendors serving up delicious Thai food. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm on Day 1. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place, and have your insurance details and next of kin information ready for collection. Bangkok has so much to offer those with time to explore, so perhaps arrive a day or so early and take a riverboat to Chinatown and explore the crowded streets, wander down the tourist mecca of Khao San Road, or indulge in some Thai massage. After the meeting tonight perhaps gather your fellow travellers together and tuck into some world famous street food. Notes: The arrival transfer is only valid if arriving on Day 1 or if you have booked pre-trip accommodation through Intrepid. Please provide your flight details at the time of booking, or at a minimum 15 days prior to travel, as we may not be able confirm a request made within 15 days of travel.
Begin the day with a river cruise down the Chao Phraya River to explore the famous ‘khlongs’ (canals) (approximately 1 hour). Life along these canals seems a world away from the chaotic streets of the capital. Pay a visit to the magnificent Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The sprawling royal complex houses numerous ornate structures that highlight the grand architectural traditions of Thailand. The rest of the afternoon is free for you to enjoy many optional activities or grab a Thai massage and simply relax. This evening you’ll head north to Chiang Mai on an overnight train journey, accommodated in air-conditioned sleeping berths (approximately 13 hours). Multi share compartments are air-conditioned, with bunk beds; sheets and pillow provided. Your baggage travels in the carriage with you. There is a food and drink service available on board. Please note the air conditioning can sometimes make the carriage quite cold overnight so we recommend you bring a warm layer of clothing. Please see important information in the "What to Take"' section of the trip notes regarding strict dress code for the Grand Palace visit.
The most vibrant city in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai has many famous temples and an interesting old city area. Renowned for dazzling beauty and extremely welcoming locals, the ‘Rose of the North’ will leave you spellbound. Chances are, you won’t want to leave. Embark on a scenic, winding drive up a mountain (approximately 45 minutes) to one of the country's most stunning temple complexes, Doi Suthep. A 300-step naga-guarded stairway leads you to the temples, and the climb is well worth the effort. The hypnotic atmosphere of chanting Buddhist monks and sweeping views of the city make this a most memorable experience. Your leader can help you to arrange optional activities for your free time today and tomorrow – you can get active with a bicycle tour to discover the city and surrounding countryside from a different perspective, indulge in a Thai massage or a spa treatment, or just read a book by the pool. This evening you’ll enjoy a traditional khantohk dinner while being entertained by Akha, Yao, Lahu, H'mong, Lisu and Karen tribal dances. The term Khantohk comes from many small dishes (khan) served on a small or low table (tohk) that evolved from communal meals with honoured guests.
Discover some of the secrets of Thai cuisine by joining a cookery course. Learn about the main ingredients of Thai cuisine, how they are used and stored and what alternatives you can substitute if you can't get them at home. Questions are welcome and you are provided with a comprehensive book of recipes and ingredient details. For lunch, sit down and feast on the delicious results of your tuition. The meal is usually rounded off with a tasting of seasonal Thai fruit. In the evening you might want to continue today’s food theme with a wander through the enormous, colourful Night Bazaar or a relax at a fine restaurant along the riverfront. Make sure to sample some delicious traditional northern Thai food – the signature dish is kao soy, yellow wheat noodles in a curry broth, traditionally served with chicken or beef.
Board a minivan for the drive north to the H'mong Hilltribe Lodge, set in picturesque hilly countryside (approximately 1.5 hours). Set in a peaceful valley of a scenic mountain range and surrounded by stunning natural landscapes of jungle with misty mountain views, the H'mong lodge offers a unique and tranquil experience. It's a great escape from the hustle and bustle of busy tourist spots. The rooms are simple and rustic, fitting perfectly with the natural environment. Be sure to pack a warm jumper as the weather will be mild and cool year-round due to the lofty mountain locale. The Hmong are an ethnic minority in Thailand who originated in the south of China. Today they comprise the second largest hilltribe group in Thailand. After a barbeque dinner in the lodge's open-air dining area, the day concludes with a cultural performance by the Hmong people. You'll gain an insight into the traditional lifestyle of the tribe, with a wedding ceremony enactment, shamanic ritual and makong (cotton ball) throwing.
Depart the hilltribe village this morning and head on to Lampang (approximately 2 hours). Lampang, also known locally as 'mueang rot ma' meaning Horse Carriage City, is considered by some Thais as the last paradise in Thailand. Here you’ll pay a visit to the Friends of the Asian Elephant Centre, the first elephant hospital in the world established to care for sick and abused elephants. They aim to protect and conserve the welfare of elephants both domesticated and wild, and preserve the animals' natural habitat and lifestyle. You’ll learn more about this important initiative and become acquainted with some of its resident patients. After spending time with the elephants, farewell your new pachyderm pals and head to Sukhothai (approximately 3.5 hours) for the night.
Located on a fertile plain, Sukhothai was established in the 13th century as one of the first ancient capitals of Siam, and the name means the 'Dawn of Happiness'. It’s now famous for its World Heritage-listed historic park that celebrates the Golden Age of Thai civilisation. Head out to the historical ruins of Old Sukhothai, set amid beautiful lakes and gardens. The religious art and architecture of the Sukhothai era are considered to be the most classic of Thai styles, and the Sukhothai Historical Park contains the remains of 21 historic sites, with awe-inspiring Buddha images and four large ponds often filled with stunning lotus flowers in full bloom. Upon arrival at the park, hire bicycles and enjoy a few leisurely hours feeling the breeze in your hair and learning about the history of this fascinating place. Enjoy a home-cooked lunch at the end of your ride.
Travel south by private minibus to Kanchanaburi (approximately 6 hours). There will be plenty of stops along the way to stretch your legs and you will take a break for lunch in a local resaurant. Located where the confluence of the Khwae Noi and Khwae Yai rivers, Kanchanaburi is home to the infamous 'Bridge on the River Kwai'.
This morning you’ll get an insight into the darker side of Kanchanaburi’s history with a moving visit to the Hellfire Pass Memorial, built to honour the Allied POWs and Asian conscripts who died while constructing some of the most difficult stretches of the Thai-Burma Death Railway. You can head out to a teak observation deck and look across to Myanmar just 25 miles away. You’ll also see the eponymous pass, cut through rock 18 metres deep, that got its name from the hellish fires used to light the work at night. Boarding at Nam Tok station, the main terminal of the Death Railway, take a ride along the historic tracks along the Kwai Noi River and travel over the original wooden viaduct (the Bridge on the River Kwai) constructed by the allied POWs. Pass through magnificent scenery and spend a moment reflecting on those who were forced to give their lives in the process of bending this environment to man’s will. Tonight you can explore the rows of street vendors in town and grab a drink overlooking the River Kwai.
Return to the bustling capital Bangkok by private minivan today approximately 3 hours). The rest of the day (until the evening) is free for you to enjoy all that Bangkok has to offer, and for anything that you might not have got around to at the start of the trip. Maybe uncover the magnificent Wat Po one of the ‘trinity’ of Bangkok temples, with a 46-metre long gold plated Buddha reclining inside. Even the feet of this statue are incredible, three metres long and intricately decorated with mother of pearl. The temple grounds are equally fascinating, filled with beautifully decorated stupas, halls, and shrines. In the evening, enjoy an included dinner at Cabbages & Condom, a highly original restaurant initiative that raises money and awareness for sexual health and family planning. Enjoy great food while supporting a great cause on your final night's dinner in Bangkok.
Today you will be picked up from your hotel and transferred to the airport for your flight from Bangkok to Phnom Penh, flight time is approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes. Upon arrival you will be picked up from the airport and transferred to your hotel in Phnom Penh. Please note you may be unaccompanied on this flight. As this is a combination trip, your group leader and the composition of your group may change at this location. There will be a group meeting to discuss the next stage of your itinerary and you're welcome to attend, as this is a great chance to meet your new fellow travellers. Dinner tonight will be at the restaurant run by the Friends organisation, a group which offers food, shelter, medical care, training and educational facilities for homeless, vulnerable or abandoned children. It's a great restaurant to support and the food is delicious – the Western and Asian fusion tapas dishes has put this restaurant on the must visit list.
Today a full city tour introduces you to the sights of Phnom Penh, a city that lies near the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers. The private quarters of the Royal Palace are home to King Sihamoni and are closed to the public. You will, however, be able to visit the Silver Pagoda that lies in the palace complex, which is the most sacred temple in the country. Phnom Penh remains a living relic of the country’s past struggles and successes. Your included visits to the Tuol Sleng Prison Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek tell the story of the tragic legacy of the Khmer Rouge. Tuol Sleng is a former school that served as a Khmer Rouge torture centre, and it’s estimated that more than 20,000 people were held and tortured here. The Choeung Ek Memorial is home to stupa made up of some 8,000 human skulls, marking the site of the infamous Killing Fields. This was the execution ground for the torture victims of Tuol Sleng, and standing in this peaceful setting it's almost unthinkable to imagine that to date nearly 9,000 corpses have been exhumed from the area. There is an optional visit to Wat Phnom, the temple that gave rise to the foundation of the city in the 15th century. An ideal way to spend your second evening here is to relax in a cafe by the riverfront. Notes: The Tuol Sleng Prison Museum and Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are major parts of the experience here, but if you don't wish to visit them, please inform your tour leader.
Take a short flight to Siem Reap (approximately 1 hour). The small but expanding town of Siem Reap is the gateway to Angkor. This is the most popular destination for travellers in all of Cambodia, perhaps even in South East Asia. You'll probably notice a change of pace here, so take a walk and enjoy the atmosphere. A visit to the old market is a must, even if you're not looking for souvenirs; wandering through the stalls and surrounding shops the silks, cottons, sarongs, silver and statues are a riot of colour and a feast for the eyes; and there will be one for stomach too if you try some of the cheap, delicious street food. There's also a long tradition of shadow puppetry in the region, and if you're lucky you might catch a show at one of the local restaurants in the evening, perhaps while you're eating the specialty cuisine of Cambodia – amok, the name given to curry steam-cooked in banana leaves.
Spend a full day visiting the amazing temples of Angkor on a guided exploration. Angkor Wat is the largest and most complete structure, and the only one of Angkor's temples that has its entrance facing west – the others face east. Then there is Angkor Thom, the 'Great Royal City', a temple that is famous for its series of colossal human faces carved in stone. Of all the temples visited today, Bayon temple is the centrepiece, with over 200 smiling carved faces and more than 50 gothic towers. For lunch you'll visit the Sala Bai Hotel School where underprivileged local youths learn skills that enable them to find gainful employment in the hospitality industry. After lunch you will head to the Ta Prohm temple, where nature has taken over again, with large trees embedded in the stone foundations of the structure. End the day with a sunset view of the temples: an extraordinary way to see the sun go down. Notes: The Sala Bai Hotel School is closed on public and school holidays, so on these days an alternative restaurant will be used.
Embrace a very early start today if you wish to experience a sunrise visit to the Angkor complex (this is optional). Later in the morning, venture to the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB), a organisation that rehabilitates animals that have fallen victim to wildlife trafficking and provides a breeding facility for highly endangered animal species. From here, continue onto Banteay Srei. You'll see it's not a huge temple, but thanks to its intricate stone carvings it is sometimes referred to as ‘the jewel in the crown of Angkorian art’. At this point you can either head back to your hotel or carry on exploring more temples, such as Preah Khan. This temple contains a maze of vaulted corridors and is another complex that has been largely reclaimed by the jungle. Your ticket for the Angkor ruins also lets you spend more time exploring this site. Otherwise you might like to take a free afternoon to explore the town or visit Tonle Sap Lake and its floating villages. If you have time, perhaps indulge in a traditional Khmer massage or a Khmer cooking class.
There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time.