Maximise your holiday by flying through the night to Bangkok, Thailand’s bright-lights, fast-paced metropolis.
The choice is yours on your first full day in Thailand. Opt for a relaxing start lounging next to the COMO Metropolitan Bangkok’s 25-metre outdoor swimming pool. Or hit the city streets to discover markets, golden temples and riverside parks. Head to Rattanakosin, Bangkok’s old town which straddles the Chao Phraya River. Here, the Grand Palace, built in 1782, is home to the Thai King. Another must-see is Wat Pho, the temple of the reclining Buddha – the golden statue is a staggering 46m long.
Time for the lowdown on Bangkok’s famous street food scene. You’ll be guided by a local insider who knows exactly where to find the tastiest and most authentic bites to eat. Up to 16 dishes are included on today’s tour, so be sure to bring an appetite. Sample succulent grilled chicken skewers, rich peanut satay and gloriously wicked deep-fried doughnuts. The culinary adventure continues in Chinatown where families have been serving juicy shrimp dumplings, mango sticky rice and pork noodle batter for generations.
Set sail northwards on the Chao Phraya river – the main thoroughfare in this area until recent times. Go with the flow and play eye-spy as you float along in this refurbished rice barge. Dock at the local market in Bangkok’s neighbour Pathumthani to explore and shop. Stop at Wat Kai Tia – a rural Buddhist temple, a beloved place of prayer for the locals.
Accommodation: Mekhala Cruise
First, a stop at a Mon village. Next port of call is Bang Pa In Palace, once the summer home of kings. Bangkok will feel lightyears away upon arrival at the ancient Siamese capital of Ayutthaya. This 4km-island is located at the confluence of three rivers. Now a World Heritage Site, Ayutthaya was founded in 1350. It flourished, exchanging ambassadors with Versailles and the Mughal court in Delhi, until it was sacked in 1767. Glimpses of its grandeur can be clearly seen in the ruined temples.
Accommodation: Mekhala Cruise
Voyage along the serene river as you cruise back to Bangkok. Dock at Koh Kret. This artificial island was made when a canal was dug nearly 300 years ago. Koh Kret is one of Thailand’s oldest Mon settlements. Explore the village’s narrow lanes, the island’s temple, pottery museum and the 200-year-old leaning stupa. Reboard your river cruiser for the final stage of your return trip to Bangkok – you’ll be back in the city by late afternoon.
Today, we’ll take you north to Chiang Mai. The former capital of the Lanna kingdom is nestled in forested hills. It’s real, unspoilt and deliciously authentic. The perfect place to become a momentary local. Check into your hotel and start to check out Chiang Mai. The city’s Night Market is great for shopping and for dipping into the street-food delights.
The fertile valleys and misty mountains of Sankampaeng beg exploration by bike. On a 34km ride today you’ll pass rice paddies and village temples, fruit markets and natural hot springs. Along the way, stop to meet members of the community from monks, to carpenters carving hard mango wood. Say hello to construction workers hammering tin and aluminium, as well as children on the way home from school. Lunch is served in a local restaurant, spicy curry or noodle soup.
Venture further afield today to engage with northern Thailand’s rich tribal culture. An hour’s drive will bring you to an eco-lodge surrounded by lush, green mountains. Here a community-based project aims to conserve the heritage of Chiang Mai’s ethnic minority groups. Afterwards explore the hill tribe village on foot, visiting a shaman who uses herbal medicine and rites to tend to the sick. Next stop is a nearby tea plantation where you can join in the harvest. Sip Assam tea over lunch in the garden.
Swap Chiang Mai for the beaches of southern Thailand. Home for the next two nights is the Anantara Rasananda Koh Phangan Villas on a small island in the Gulf of Thailand. With mountains and towering palm trees in the background, the villas offer private pools and views of jungle garden, the lagoon or the beach. Treat yourself to a traditional Thai massage in the resort spa or take to the sea to swim, snorkel or kayak.
Downsize to the smaller island of Koh Tao today. This is a diver’s paradise, and some of Thailand’s most beautiful beaches can be found here. Your accommodation is The Haad Tien Beach Resort, a lush 18-hectare resort that has a deep respect for its environment. Perched on the edge of a lagoon, this is a beautiful spot for scuba diving whether you’re a beginner or more experienced. Angelfish, butterflyfish, bannerfish and stingrays are in abundance, and it’s also possible to see whale sharks, green turtles and barracuda.
All good things must come to an end, and it’s time to leave Thailand. Transfer back to Koh Samui before flying home to the UK.