Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!
Travel to Thailand—once called Siam—where independence, hospitality, and the traditional philosophy that "life is pleasure" weave a spell over every visitor. Visit Bangkok with a small group, have personal encounters, and make unique cultural discoveries on an Asian adventure. Exploring Thailand from the cosmopolitan south to the remote northern hill tribes, you'll witness Buddhist monks receiving alms at a dawn ceremony ... ride an elephant through the jungle ... maybe even buy some fresh lemongrass in Bangkok's floating market. And get an insider's perspective into Thai culture as you take part in a cooking class, dine in a local home, and ride on a traditional bamboo raft. Discover what captivates so many visitors in this tropical nation.
We depart on an overnight flight across the Pacific and cross the International Date Line.
Your hotel room in Bangkok is reserved so that you can check in immediately upon arrival, very late in the evening today. An OAT representative greets you at the airport and assists with transfer to the hotel, where you'll meet the travelers who joined the pre-trip extension to Burma & the Irrawaddy River.
After breakfast this morning, your Trip Leader, who will be with you throughout your trip, will give you a briefing on Bangkok at our hotel. Then you’ll have the chance to see the floral market, Pakklong Talad. Next, we board a motorboat to cross the Chao Phraya River and visit Wat Arun, a tiered monument whose name translates to Temple of the Dawn.
After lunch at a local restaurant, we'll go to the Royal Barge Museum, where we'll see colorful and ornately carved vessels that once ferried kings and queens along the city's klongs, or canals. To get there, we sail aboard motorboats down the river and along one of the remaining klongs, which takes us through residential areas on the outskirts of town. We become part of Bangkok’s lifeblood as we cruise its network of waterways—a part of Bangkok many travelers never see—passing small, sampan-style boats used by local people as their families’ transportation, water taxis, small wooden homes, and luxurious teak houses on stilts.
A motorcoach will then bring us to our hotel, where we'll take a brief orientation walk. Tonight, enjoy a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.
Following breakfast at our hotel, enjoy a tour of Bangkok. Step into the Old Kingdom of Siam at the Grand Palace of Thailand, a sprawling compound of ceremonial halls, gilded spires, and ornate buildings. The ancient city’s defining landmark since 1782, the palace became the centerpiece of a new Thai capital called Krung Thep (City of Angels), known outside of Thailand as Bangkok. It was King Mongkut (or Rama IV) who ruled from this palace, expanded trade with the West, and was romanticized in the musical The King and I.
The focal point of the palace is the Emerald Buddha. Carved out of jade and adorned with gold, the Emerald Buddha made a dramatic appearance in 1434, when it was found hidden in a temple stupa. Since 1785, the Emerald Buddha—the most highly revered image of the Buddha—has resided in the Royal Chapel of the Grand Palace.
You can spend the afternoon at leisure making your own discoveries in Bangkok, with lunch and dinner on your own.
Or, this evening, you can join an optional excursion to see the beautifully painted murals at the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, watch an epic Thai musical production, and have dinner at a local restaurant.
This morning, we have breakfast and then depart Bangkok, stopping to see the Floating Market of Damnern Saduak. Then we arrive in Kanchanaburi Province, a green region where the riverside scenery belies its 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.
Following lunch at a local restaurant, we visit Kanchanaburi’s War Cemetery and have a chance to walk on the original bridge on the River Kwai. We continue to our lodge by motorcoach, and settle down for dinner upon arrival.
We start with breakfast at our hotel and then drive to Hellfire Pass for a 45-minute 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 an hour-long cruise on the River Kwai, disembarking at Paksaeng Pier. After our cruise, we enjoy lunch together at a local restaurant before returning to our lodge for some time at leisure.
Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant.
We set out for Phitsanulok early this morning after breakfast. Driving through rice-growing country to Uthaithani, we stop to visit a town market, where local farmers sell live fish and fresh vegetables.
We then board the Khiri Nava, a large traditional wooden rice barge, and cruise past peaceful scenes of river life. Many local people live on the raft houses that line both sides of the Sakae Krang River, and you might see farmers tending their small fish farms. We enjoy lunch as we cruise on the river for about an hour and a half. We then continue to Phitsanulok. Late in the evening, we check into our hotel and have dinner at a local restaurant.
After breakfast this morning, we head for Sukhothai, Thailand’s largest collection of historic ruins. This is the place where the Thai nation was born, the kingdom’s magical and spiritual center. With its cache of remarkably preserved columns, shrines, temples, and palaces, it epitomizes old Siam. We ride a tram through the well-kept grounds of this historical park to see the monuments, and learn about its most famous king, Ramkamhaeng. Not only did this legendary ruler leave a great legacy of art and architecture, he left stones inscribed with a chronicle of his achievement. King Ramkamhaeng is credited with inventing Thai script, as well as with amazing skill at hand-to-hand combat on elephantback, the spread of Theravada Buddhism, and developing relations with China. But even his colorful legend pales in comparison to the evocative palette of Sukhothai, “Dawn of Happiness.” Then we enjoy lunch together at a local restaurant.
In the afternoon, we travel approximately five hours to Phrae, where we visit a cloth-dyeing workshop and end the day with dinner at our hotel.
Today, we have a special treat: A Day in the Life of a northern Thai community. First we explore the stalls of a local market, seeing fresh produce and the popular snacks of the region. Next we have a chance to meet the children of a village school (when in session, May-Sep and Nov-Feb), sponsored in part by Grand Circle Foundation, and enjoy a student performance. We continue on a walking tour to the senior center, and learn how to make local crafts in a nearby workshop. Later, we join in a roundtable discussion with the women of the village, and stop by a house that provides traditional medical treatment. Finally, we enjoy a Home-Hosted Lunch with a local family.
Saying goodbye to the village, you can rest on a two-hour ride as we travel to Chiang Rai. We arrive at our hotel in time to take an orientation walk of the neighborhood before dinner at a restaurant in town.
Please note: Grand Circle Foundation supports four schools in Thailand. Depending on the day of the week and the pacing of our itinerary, our school visit may occur instead on Day 6. Your Trip Leader will advise you of exact scheduling.
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 tribe known as “Long Neck” for the golden rings the women wear to push down their collar bones. Take 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.
For lunch, we’ll drive to a local restaurant. Afterwards, we visit the House of Opium Museum and hear stories about the opium warlords who once held sway in in this region, formerly known as the Golden Triangle. At one time, the hill tribes in this region relied on the cultivation of opium for survival—including several bands of Chinese nationalist followers of Chiang Kai Shek, who have been living here (somewhat in hiding and in dwindling numbers) since the Revolution. But times have changed. The government has established many programs to introduce more viable crops, and most of the people are law-abiding farmers. Today, tourism has become a preferable alternative to drug smuggling, and the hill tribes are more concerned about preserving their old traditions.
We 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 more than 30 active Buddhist temples, and the metropolitan region boasts another 80 religious sites.
Lunch will be in Chiang Mai at a local restaurant. This afternoon, join your Trip Leader on a visit to a gem gallery. Chiang Mai holds some of the leading miners of sapphires, and it's the world's largest cutter of colored stones.
Dinner tonight is on our own. Later, explore the well-known Night Bazaar on foot to experience a cavalcade of sights and sounds. You’ll find costumed dolls, carved teakwood artwork, and hill tribe crafts, as well as modern items from DVDs to lamps. Chiang Mai is the nation’s premier crafts center, and you'll have an opportunity to learn how local craftsmen created their products throughout your stay here.
This morning we visit the Mae Taman Elephant Camp for show of trained elephants, and then we embark on a forest trek by 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'll enjoy lunch at the camp.
Because so many of our travelers have fallen in love with Thai cuisine, we’ve arranged a cooking class for you at a local Thai home later this evening. Upon arrival, we meet our instructor. For one hour, she shows us how to prepare delicious Thai food, which we then enjoy for dinner.
Before breakfast this morning, you have the option of visiting a local temple to witness traditional Buddhist alms giving. After breakfast, we’ll visit the temple of Wat Chedi Luang and have a discussion with its Buddhist monks. Then we’ll see the most magnificent of the city’s temples, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, which we reach by riding up its mountain slope and negotiating hairpin turns until we come to a flight of 306 stairs, flanked by snarling naga serpents whose tails coil up to the temple. From this vantage point, Chiang Mai seems minute below. We'll have the option to walk up the stairs or take a funicular.
You’ll have the afternoon to explore Chiang Mai on your own, perhaps sampling the renowned northern dish, khao soi (yellow noodles and meat in a spicy, coconut-curry broth) for lunch. In the evening, we enjoy making personal connections with the Thai people as we have a special dinner in the home of local residents.
This morning, we head to the airport to board our flight for Bangkok.
After checking in to our hotel in Bangkok, spend an afternoon at leisure making your own discoveries in the city. You are free to choose a local restaurant for dinner on your own this evening.
Today, we explore the city of Bangkok. We begin with a walk through a traditional market in Chinatown, filled with colorful shops selling fruit, snacks, incense, and items used in local rituals. Then we pay a visit to Wat Trimitr and its Golden Buddha, the largest Buddha made of pure gold in the world.
Continue your explorations with a visit to Bangkok’s oldest temple, Wat Po, where you’ll see the colossal statue of the reclining Buddha.
After lunch on your own, we arrive at the Jim Thompson House, former home of a mysterious American turned silk merchant, for a tour of the traditional teak houses whose pieces were moved here from various parts of the country. Jim Thompson is credited with revitalizing Thailand’s silk industry and expanding its international markets. We’ll return to our hotel by public transportation in late afternoon.
Tonight, we gather for a Farewell Dinner cruise on a river rice barge, and return to our hotel for the evening.
Very early this morning, we accompany you to the airport. If you’re taking our post-trip extension in Phnom Penh & Angkor Wat, Cambodia, you’ll fly to Phnom Penh; otherwise, you’ll fly home. You cross the International Date Line, arriving in the U.S. on the same day, in time to make connecting flights home.