Discover the World War II legacy of the infamous Bridge on the River Kwai before exploring the lush, temple-strewn hills of northern Thailand, home to some of Southeast Asia’s most colorful and fascinating cultures. In Chiang Rai, we’ll set out into the mountains and meet local hill tribes that have called the forests home for generations. In canal-laced Chiang Mai, explore temples as old as the city itself and venture outside the city on unforgettable elephant and raft excursions.
- It's Included:
- Airfare between Bangkok and Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai to Bangkok
- Accommodations for 2 nights in Kanchanaburi, 2 nights in Chiang Rai, 2 nights in Chiang Mai, and 1 night in Bangkok
- 18 meals—7 breakfasts, 5 lunches, and 6 dinners
- 12 small group activities
- Services of a resident, English-speaking OAT Trip Leader
- NEW for 2015: Gratuities for local guides, drivers, and luggage porters
- All transfers
This morning, we have breakfast and then depart Bangkok, stopping to see the Floating Market of Damnern Saduak. Then we arrive at Kanchanaburi for lunch. Kanchanaburi Province is a green region where the river and the countryside may bring to mind the dramatic history portrayed in the film The Bridge on the River Kwai. It was here that Allied POWs and Asian conscripts were forced to build the infamous World War II railway.
In the summer of 1942, World War II was raging across Europe and Asia. The Allies were rapidly capturing the sea routes to Burma, forcing the Japanese to develop an overland supply route from the east to support their troops. The Japanese decided that the most viable option was a railway that followed the River Kwai through the dense jungle on either side. About 200,000 Asian laborers and 61,000 Allied prisoners of war built this 260-mile stretch of rail in abominable conditions—for every half-mile of track laid, 38 POWs perished.
After lunch at a local restaurant, we will take a tram ride and walk on the original Bridge on the River Kwai, and then visit Kanchanaburi’s War Cemetery, where you will have a chance to learn more about World War II history in this area. We’ll continue on to our lodge by bus, and settle down for dinner upon arrival.
We start with breakfast at our hotel and then we drive to Hellfire Pass and walk on a woodland trail. (The trail has many stairs, but you can avoid them by turning back after walking through Hellfire Pass.) The area is now peaceful, but many lives were lost during the World War II construction of one of the most difficult sections of the River Kwai Railway: To lay track here, Allied POWs and Asian conscripts carved through solid rock—almost entirely by hand. We visit the sobering Hellfire Pass Museum. Then, we board our longtail speedboat for a 45-minute cruise on the River Kwai, disembarking at Paksaeng Pier. After our cruise, we enjoy lunch together at a local restaurant. Then we visit famous Tiger Temple, a Buddhist temple founded in 1994 as a sanctuary for wild animals, including several tigers who roam the forested grounds freely.
Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant.
This morning we visit Phra Pathom Chedi, a temple that soars to more than 400 feet in the air. It is recognized as the tallest stupa in the world. We'll also stop for a visit to a local market, before arriving at the Bangkok airport for our flight to Chiang Rai in northern Thailand's Golden Triangle region, where Thailand, Burma (Myanmar), and Laos meet. Due to its sheltering hills, navigable rivers, and fiercely independent tribal cultures, the Golden Triangle was once infamous as a center for renegades and drug smuggling.
Upon arrival, we’ll check into our hotel, where we'll have dinner this evening.
Today we tour the mountain villages of local hill tribes. More than 20 distinct, semi-nomadic tribes inhabit northern Thailand and the borderlands of Burma and Laos. Some have obscure origins; most have their own language; and all have unique customs. We ride to the small village of Mae Chan and switch to open songtaew taxi trucks to climb a narrow road to Mae Salong, a rural town situated high in the mountains. Here we will visit hill tribes known as “Long Neck” and “Long Ear,” taking note of their compact huts, their traditional clothing, and a way of life that has changed little in centuries. We also visit the Akha, who wear elaborate headdresses accented with vivid colors. At each stop, we’ll meet with craftspeople and have a chance to browse their products and ask them questions about their ways of life and beliefs.
In mid-afternoon, we’ll hike to a viewpoint to take in the miles of green, rolling hills surrounding Chiang Rai. On our way, we’ll stop to visit the House of Opium Museum and hear stories about the opium warlords who once held sway in the Golden Triangle.
We’ll dine at a local restaurant tonight.
Relax and enjoy the passing landscapes as we travel most of the morning to Chiang Mai—the principal city of the north, a major cultural center, and a favorite with visitors. The city’s medieval walls encircle an amazing 36 temples, and the metropolitan region boasts some 80 official religious sites.
Along the way, we’ll visit Wat Rong Kun, whose mosaics, by Thailand's national artist, that make it look like a palace of crystal. We arrive in Chiang Mai in time for lunch at a local restaurant. After lunch, we tour the city, with visits to Doi Suthep Temple and a jade workshop.
Dinner tonight is at a Chiang Mai restaurant. Afterwards, explore the well-known night bazaar on foot to experience a cavalcade of sights, sounds, and smells. You’ll find costumed dolls, beautiful cotton garments, and hill tribe crafts—all things Thai converge in Chiang Mai’s bustling night market.
This morning, we visit a local elephant camp for an elephant show, and then we embark on a forest trek on elephantback. We ride for about an hour on the backs of these gentle giants, enjoying a grand view of the forest. We return to camp by elephant and then board small bamboo rafts and float downstream. We have lunch at the camp before a visit to the Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens. Here, we'll view a stunning display of Thailand's flowers, trees, plants and herbs in their natural habitat. Then spend the rest of the afternoon at leisure. Perhaps you’ll visit Chiang Mai’s Handcrafts Street and do some shopping on your own. Your evening is free to spend as you wish.
After breakfast this morning, we check out of our hotel, transfer to the airport, and fly back to Bangkok. We check in to our hotel and you can explore the vicinity on an orientation walk. This evening, toast your discoveries with your fellow travelers at a Farewell Dinner.
We rise before daybreak for our early morning flight back to the U.S. You’ll cross the International Date Line en route, regaining the day you lost at the beginning of your trip.