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A Cultural Journey Through the North
A welcoming country with rich cultural and environmental aspects, Thailand is a delight for all kinds of travelers! Explore cultural and traditional life in rural hill tribe homestays, and venture into the jungle at an elephant nature preserve.
Visit temples, wander through markets, and experience the gorgeous natural environment of Thailand.
Arriving in Bangkok, you will be introduced to the culture and traditions of Thailand with temples, floating markets, and boat excursions. Visit the ancient city of Ayuthaya, once the golden kingdom capital of Siam, on a boat adventure along the Chao Praya River. Next, travel north by overnight train to explore the lush green city of Chiang Mai and spend time with rescued elephants as they roam free in a nature preserve. Finally, learn about traditional farming as well as the contemporary life of the hill tribes in a three-day homestay, finishing the trip in the ancient northern capital of Chiang Rai.
PROGRAM PRICE INCLUDES:
- All accommodation as described in itinerary (based on double sharing room)
- All transportation as described in itinerary
- English-speaking guides
- All activities and entrance fees as described in itinerary
- All meals as mentioned (B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner)
- 1st Class train ticket Bangkok – Chiang Mai
Program cost does not include domestic airfare, approximately $140 per person
Arrival in Bangkok, Thailand
Welcome to Thailand! Upon arrival at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, clear customs and immigration, then look for your guide bearing a signboard with your name on it in the pick-up area. You will then be transferred by private vehicle to the hotel. Get checked in, enjoy the pool and relax.
After breakfast at the hotel, you'll be picked up to experience Damnoen Saduak. Located 50 miles southwest of the city, this is the area’s largest floating market, and you'll be able to see the large pagoda of Nakorn Pathom en route.
Returning to the city, visit some of the city's most important and famous temples, including Wat Pho and Wat Arun. Enjoy free time back at the hotel and adjust to the jet lag. Dinner on your own; there's an abundance of amazing food on nearly every corner in Bangkok!
In the morning, take a tuk-tuk ride to the pier for a riverboat trip to the ancient city of Ayutthaya. The Chao Phraya River still serves as a vital artery through Bangkok and beyond into outlying areas. The cruise is a great way to view Thai river life, with the uninterrupted lines of buildings, markets, warehouses, shops, and magnificent temples, as well as the continuous flow of boats going about their daily routines.
After enjoying a sumptuous buffet lunch served onboard, you'll disembark at Nontaburi's Wat Chonglom and continue on to Ayuthaya, which was the capital of Siam from the 15th to the 18th centuries. When it was destroyed by the invading Burmese in the 1770’s, the Thai moved their capital to Bangkok (Krung Thep). Before reaching Ayuthaya, you'll visit Bang-Pa-In, the old royal summer residence. From here you'll take a long-tail boat to Ayuthaya where you can see Wat Phanachoeng, Wat Yai Chai Mongkol, and Wat Mahathat. In the afternoon, return to Bangkok via van to your hotel. Dinner on your own.
Bangkok - Chiang Mai
Today you'll have a free day to explore the markets and area around your hotel, or if you like we can set up a fun bike trip on an island in the Chao Phraya. You can check out but leave your bags for the day while you explore. In the evening, return to the hotel and pick up your bags - you'll be picked up and transferred to the train station for the overnight sleeper train to Chiang Mai.
Overnight onboard a 1st Class Air-conditioned Sleeper Train (if not available, 2nd class tickets will be booked instead)
Upon arrival at the station in the morning, meet your driver and transfer to your hotel. There you will have the chance to drop off your bags and enjoy a delicious breakfast.
Then it's off to explore the cultural riches of this 700-year-old city and its wonderful mix of modern conveniences and ancient temples. The original city still exists, surrounded by a moat, with its main gates offering access to the old town. Head up the hill to visit Wat Pra That Doi Suthep, the most sacred temple in Chiang Mai containing a holy relic of the Lord Buddha. The temple compound – accessible via a 300-step staircase – offers an exhilarating view of Chiang Mai and the surrounding countryside.
Back down in the city center, you'll visit some of the other impressive local temples, including Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Suan Dok, which houses one of the most famous monk schools in all of Chiang Mai, stopping for lunch along the way. Return to the hotel to relax, swim or have a spa treatment. Dinner will be on your own; why not check out the night market?
After breakfast at your hotel, you will head out for a full day experience with elephants. You'll be picked up and driven about an hour north of Chiang Mai, through rolling hills and forests and past local farms. The elephant sanctuary is an ethically-run facility where elephants who previously worked in logging or were used as entertainment are able to roam free, and are not trained or required to perform.
Upon arrival, you will be greeted with an introduction to the project and the work that is being done to protect the elephants and preserve the area. Most of the elephants that live here come from environments such as tourist zoos and private entertainment but are now able to roam free.
Your day at the sanctuary will be loose in order to allow for as much time with the elephants as possible. You can help prepare fruit and sticky rice for the elephants to eat, watch them roam, and accompany them to the river to bathe. Lunch will be on-site at the sanctuary.
In the early evening, you will head to back to your hotel in Chiang Mai for dinner on your own.
*Note: Elephant tourism (like all animal tourism) is a sensitive and complex subject, and it's one we do not take lightly. We only select animal preserves and sanctuaries that we have vetted carefully, and we constantly re-evaluate these options as well as our greater animal tourism approach. We invite all of our travelers to engage in the important dialogue around the benefits and downsides of this aspect of tourism, and to utilize a visit to an animal preserve as a wonderful opportunity for learning and perspective. Read more here.
Chiang Mai - Chiang Rai
In the morning, enjoy some free time to explore Chiang Mai on your own. In the afternoon, you will head northeast up into the mountains to the city of Chiang Rai. Upon arrival, get checked into your hotel. Your late afternoon and evening will be free to continue to explore Chiang Rai, including the city's contemporary and unusual white temple, Wat Rong Khun, and the botanical gardens of Wat Rong Khun, among many other places.
Hill tribe homestay
These three days will be spent with the locals, discovering more about the ethnic minorities in the north of Thailand and issues they face of marginalization and citizenship. Please note that the accommodations are rustic and the food is simple.
After breakfast at your hotel, you'll head into the mountains for your homestay experience.
Crooked Trails works with three different villages that encompass the hill tribespeople of Akha, Lah-fvu, Lisu, and Mien. When you arrive in the village, you will settle into your homestays and be shown around. Your guide will explain the issues the contemporary Hill Tribe people face regarding marginalization and citizenship. This is a big issue for the locals. The lack of Thai citizenship is a serious problem facing Thailand's hill tribe people. Without Thai citizenship an individual is effectively a non-person; they are unable to vote, buy land, seek legal employment or travel between provinces. They are also denied access to free government health care, and certain restrictions remain in education. Currently, about 50% of all hill tribe peoples who have a legitimate claim to Thai citizenship remain without it.
You will be welcomed with a traditional ceremony, performed by the spiritual leader of the village. The next couple days will be filled with activities and exploration. You'll learn about the endemic flora and fauna in the area, as well as the crops that are grown for export and for use in the home. You will learn about local musical instruments and hear the myths and songs that tell the story of the people and the area. You will stay with a host family in a traditional stilt house, listening to the sounds of the jungle around you.
Your specific activities will depend on the weather and what's happening with your host family, but could include pounding grain in the morning, going fishing together, learning how to cook traditional-style in bamboo, and helping to plant chrysanthemum tea in the communal farm.
On the last day, you will wake up early for a trek to a neighboring village and have a Yunnan-style lunch before heading back to your hotel in Chiang Rai for your final night in Thailand.
Chiang Rai - Bangkok - Departure
Wake up to your last morning and enjoy a final breakfast at your hotel. Then you will meet your teacher for a Thai cooking class. The class starts with a trip to the local market to pick out fresh ingredients and learn about the different types of Thai produce. This cooking school was established by a young woman who came from humble beginnings in a small Akha hill tribe village and sent herself to school to eventually launch her own business at a young age - inspiring! After the class, you'll have a wonderful meal to enjoy.
After your class and meal, you'll be transferred to the airport for an evening flight back to Bangkok.
$2,295 based on double occupancy (note that pricing varies seasonally)
11D / 10N
Available year-round; customizable!
Bangkok - Chiang Mai - Chiang Rai - Hill tribe village - Bangkok
Village Experience, Customizable, Great for Families
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