Those not flying with the group will need to meet us at our hotel, please check for a message from your guide at reception/on the hotel notice board. *Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok or similar, Comfortable Hotel*
This morning we take a short walk to the Chao Praya river where we board a long tail boat for a tour of the local canals. Please be advised there may be a possibility of larger groups being accommodated in a bigger boat. Bangkok was once known as the Venice of the East because of its intricate canal network. We get a glimpse of daily life as we pass locals selling their wares by the river. We will visit what to this day remains the home of the Thai Royal family at the Royal Palace complex followed by Wat Phra Kaew, home to the Emerald Buddha, one of Thailand's most venerated images. Another highlight is Wat Po, the largest temple in Bangkok, housing a 46m long, 15m high gold-plated reclining Buddha. After lunch we transfer to Kanchanaburi, an area made famous by the movie 'Bridge on the River Kwai'. The film is fictional but uses the construction of the Burma Railway in 1942–43 for its historical setting. The Japanese used Allied POW's to build a railway from Thailand to Burma so they could supply their army without the dangers of sending supplies by sea. Thousands of POW's died under appalling conditions during its construction, and the line became known as the 'Death Railway'. Jumping in Samlaws (Rickshaws) we will visit the war museum, which is more a memorial to the thousands who were killed whilst constructing the 'death railway', and have a chance to pay our respects at the War Cemetery in town. After this we travel to the bridge itself, before returning to our resort on the banks of the river. *Felix River Kwai Resort Kanchanaburi or similar, Comfortable Hotel*
Today we take a full day tour to the picturesque Erawan Waterfalls and to Hellfire Pass, so called because POW's were forced to chisel through solid rock, working by firelight on a particularly difficult section of the line resulting in a heavy loss of life. The afternoon is free to enjoy the falls area and there is a chance to enjoy some swimming or to walk to the top of the falls (approx 2 hours return trip). *Felix River Kwai Resort Kanchanaburi or similar, Comfortable Hotel*
After breakfast we head to Ayutthaya, the 2nd royal capital of the Kingdom of Siam (approx 4 hours). At its peak the Kingdom encompassed large parts of present day Laos, Cambodia and Burma. Diplomatic and international trade missions found their way to Ayuthaya from countries as far away as Europe. It was not long before Ayuthaya became one of the most important trading centres of the region. The population grew to over 1 million people by the 17th Century, more than any European capital at the same time. Following decades of wars and then a siege that lasted nearly 2 years, Ayuthaya was invaded and destroyed by the Burmese army. Temples were ransacked and statues of gold stolen and carried off to Burma. Following this devastating defeat the Siamese Kingdom relocated its capital to Bangkok. After lunch we transfer to a hotel were we have day rooms to freshen up in before boarding our overnight sleeper train bound for Chiang Mai. *Overnight train*
In the early morning the train pulls into Chiang Mai, 'The Rose of the North', known for its temples, markets and the many colourful hilltribes that live in the area. The morning is free to relax. A walking tour through the old quarter of the city after lunch is followed by a visit to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep the most revered Buddhist shrine in the Chiang Mai region. Perched on the hill overlooking Chiang Mai, it provides us with a fantastic view of the area. Back in Chiang Mai people are working feverishly away to set up the famous 'Chiang Mai Night Bazaar' which is nothing short of a shoppers' paradise. For those not into shopping there are plenty of atmospheric restaurants lined along the Ping River. *Imperial Maeping Hotel or similar, Comfortable Hotel*
Today is a free day for private exploration or relaxation in this historical city. Chiang Mai is a former religious and cultural centre, twice coming under the control of the Burmese, so there is a strong Burmese influence reflected in the architecture of the city which one can explore. One popular option is a half day at a highly commended Thai Cooking School, where adults and children alike can learn the intricacies of Thai cooking. Under the supervision of an English-speaking Thai chef you have the opportunity to create your own 'gaeng keow wahn' or green coconut curry. You don't need to be a proficient cook to enjoy this activity but, be warned, you get to eat your creations at the end of the day! You may instead wish to visit the Elephant Nature Park which is based just outside of the city. In the past elephants have been used in the logging industry but over a decade ago the Thai government banned logging leaving the elephants and their mahouts out of work. This is a centre set up for the long term care of these graceful animals and on a day visit to the centre you will be able to feed, and even bathe the elephants, as well as watching them roam in acres of lush parkland. We have chosen this option as we believe it to be the only responsible option available to see elephants in the area. *Imperial Maeping Hotel or similar, Comfortable Hotel*
This morning we start our two-day adventure into the Chiang Dao region, an 80 km drive north of Chiang Mai. This is an area that has spectacular scenery and is home to many of the minority groups that have migrated into Thailand from Burma, Tibet and Southern China. The highlight of our trek is meeting the local people in the various villages, each with their own unique language, customs and dress. Our exact itinerary will vary during the year as we take into account the weather and local conditions, but the terrain is more rural than jungle. Various hilltribes grow rice and other vegetables on the slopes we walk past. A reasonable level of fitness is required, as we expect to be walking about 3-4 hours each day at a leisurely pace taking in the scenery. The ground may be muddy and slippery during the rainy season (around July to October), though the scenery is at its most lush and spectacular to compensate. At night, we sleep in villagers' huts, where we will be sleeping communally on fold-out mattresses on the floors of the wooden/bamboo huts typical of the villages. There are shared squat toilets and basic washing facilities in most villages (i.e. a hose or water pipe). Warmer clothing and a 4 season sleeping bag are needed from November to February as the nights are usually quite cold during this period. You only need to carry a day pack while on trek, whatever you need for the evening will be transported to the village for you. We return to Chiang Mai on our second evening, and a hotel bed.
An early morning flight takes us back to Bangkok. Upon arrival we are transferred to the island of Koh Samet, approximately 3 hours by minivan and then a short 30-minute ferry ride. *Samed Cabana Resort or similar, Comfortable Hotel*
Two days are ours to relax and unwind in tropical Koh Samet; designated a National Marine Park in 1981 Koh Samet is the perfect place to do just this. Due to its size and a ban on the construction of new properties, Koh Samet has been protected from the developers, providing the ideal end to a holiday. Watersports, snorkelling and island visits (all optional) can all be arranged locally with the help of your tour leader. Please be aware that Christmas and New Year periods as well as Thai holidays can see an increase in visitors, resulting in a busier atmosphere. *Samed Cabana Resort or similar, Comfortable Hotel*
The morning is free on the beach. In the afternoon, we drag ourselves from the sand and take the journey back to Bangkok. *Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok or similar, Comfortable Hotel*
Today is free to further explore this frenetic capital, do some last minute shopping or simply relax by the pool. **
* 10 nights hotels, all en-suite, 1 night village house, 1 night sleeper train * Travel by private minibus, boat, train and 1 internal flight * Flights usually via Mumbai with Jet Airways * Group normally 4 to 18 plus leader
11 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 1 dinner included. The food on the trip is all of a good to high standard, breakfasts are usually buffet style and there is plenty to chose from, fruit, bread, cereal/yoghurt (sometimes) and cooked breakfasts. You should allow at least £10-£20/$17-28 pp per day for lunch and dinner. You can eat out very cheaply in Thailand, but if you go to the more expensive restaurants most of the time, you will spend more than the suggested amount. Vegetarians are well catered for but please inform us before departure of any special dietary requests. Please note that in Thailand the availability of certain products is minimal or non-existent, for example, wheat or dairy-free, please be prepared for this and you may need to bring these from home. Food is cheap in Thailand and you can generally avoid the spicier food if you wish. Western food is readily available almost everywhere, with the exception of the hilltribe villages of course.
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