The lush jungles and misty mountains of Thailand lend an enchanting backdrop to cities where colonial architecture, serene temples, and chaotic open-air markets exist side by side. Delve into the colorful chaos of Bangkok while exploring jumbled streets and canals brimming with market vendors and tempting Thai concoctions, and duck into gilded temples with private guides for an insider’s take on Theravada Buddhism. In the province of Pran Buri, settle into a beachfront retreat, and head inland to discover forests where wild elephants roam. Then fly to Chiang Mai to celebrate centuries-old traditions in the heart of the country’s cultural epicenter.
Arrive in Bangkok and transfer to your boutique hotel, set along the banks of the Chao Phraya River in the city’s elegant Dusit neighborhood. Settle in and enjoy the rest of the day at leisure to soak in the splendor of your art deco accommodations. Indulge in a spa treatment or take advantage of the hotel’s complimentary private boat service and glide into the heart of downtown for your first glimpse at Bangkok’s more frenetic side.
Journey to Wat Arun, known for its soaring pagoda decorated with brightly colored ceramics, and then see the golden Buddha statues at Wat Champa. Meet a local matriarch and learn to make banana cakes using ingredients picked from her garden. Later, climb into a long boat for a private tour of the canals, or khlongs, that thread the city. Float along waterways lined with traditional teak houses and bobbing produce vendors en route to Baan Silapin. Once the home of a wealthy merchant family, this canal-side compound is now an artist residence, as well as a gallery and performance space for traditional Thai culture and arts.
Travel north of Bangkok for a private tour of the 17th-century Bang Pa-In Royal Palace, a summer residence once used by Thai kings. Examine the eclectic architecture in the palace complex, influenced by European and Western design, then board a long boat and cruise the Chao Phraya to ancient Ayutthaya—a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city was the royal capital of Siam for 400 years before being destroyed by ransacking Burmese in 1767. Explore the temple ruins and giant Buddha statues on a private tour, and step into stupas that are still being used today. Then return to Bangkok for an evening at leisure.
Take a private walking tour of Bangkok’s Rattanakosin neighborhood, exploring a mix of iconic sites and hidden treasures. Your first stop is Sao Chingcha—or the Giant Swing—a soaring gate once used for acrobatic Brahmanic rituals. Stroll Romaneenart Park to see locals engaged in morning exercises, step into Wat Suthat Thepwararam, and wander narrow alleyways harboring colorful artisan quarters and ornate spirit houses. Gaze up at the City Pillar Shrine, believed by locals to hold Bangkok’s guardian spirit, then visit the 17th-century Wat Pho, one of the city’s oldest temples. Later, discover the iconic Grand Palace, including Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. End your tour with a restorative foot massage.
Leave Bangkok for the nearby city of Nakhon Pathom, and meet a local chef for her daily boat trip to the floating markets of Don Wai. Glide between vendor stalls to purchase ingredients, and continue to her waterfront restaurant to learn how to prepare some of her favorite Thai dishes. After enjoying your meal in her garden oasis, continue south to the coastal district of Pran Buri. Settle into your beachfront villa and enjoy the rest of the day at leisure in this tropical paradise.
Visit Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, a dramatic landscape of soaring limestone peaks bordered by white-sand beaches. Opt to explore the park’s tropical coastlines or inland caves with a private guide. Travel by long-tail boat to a beach below Phraya Nakhon cave and hike up a forested hill to the cavern’s mouth to see a picturesque pavilion built by King Rama IV. Or walk along a boardwalk that winds through coastal mangroves to spot sea crabs, lizards, and colorful tropical birds. Continue inland to Kui Buri National Park, one of the best places in Thailand to spot elephants in the wild. Join a ranger to track these majestic pachyderms, as well as golden jackals, bantengs, and langur monkeys.
Spend a day at Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT), an organization working to rescue and rehabilitate wild animals that had been captured and placed in captivity, with the ultimate goal of reintroducing them into the wild. Take a private tour of the Wildlife Rescue Center to see each of its more than 350 animals, then lunch with the center’s staff and volunteers. This afternoon, visit WFFT’s Elephant Refuge and Education Center, where you’ll get a chance to meet and feed these majestic creatures. Then join volunteers in feeding other rescued animals like gibbons and Malayan sun bears. Enjoy an evening at leisure.
Return to Bangkok and fly to Chiang Mai, the cultural heart of Thailand. Settle into your colonial-style boutique hotel in the city’s leafy Wat Gate neighborhood. This afternoon, venture to a mountain village on the outskirts of town to visit with a hill tribe family that still practices centuries-old Thai traditions. Get a glimpse into daily life, watch a bamboo basket-weaving demonstration, and help cook a northern Thai meal in their teak home. Enjoy your culinary creations with the family before returning to the city center for an afternoon at leisure.
Enjoy a full-day private excursion to Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, named for two sacred peaks that punctuate the reserve’s forested landscapes. Walk to the golden Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, one of Thailand’s most sacred temples. Reached by a staircase flanked by an ornate balustrade, the monastery was founded in 1383 to house a relic of Buddha. Visit a tree nursery tended by the Forest Restoration Research Unit (FORRU) from Chiang Mai University. Hear from a representative of the organization about forest restoration projects before going on a guided interpretive walk to the Monthathan waterfall.
Rise early for a visit to Chiang Mai’s bustling Gate Market. Peruse colorful produce stalls and procure a donation for the monks who take their alms in the marketplace. Return to your hotel for breakfast, then climb into a songthaew truck for the ride to the riverfront Warorot Market. Browse the handicrafts here, and see Tha Pae Gate, one of the four original gates of the city. Climb aboard a rickshaw for a private tour of Chiang Mai’s old city, including Wat Chiang Man, Wat Chedi Luang, and Wat Phra Singh; and meet with an English-speaking monk. Later, travel to the ancient city of Wiang Kum Kam, considered the earliest settlement in the region. Explore by horse cart, and break for a picnic among the ruins. Return to Chiang Mai and enjoy an afternoon to explore the city on your own.
After breakfast, transfer to the airport and catch your flight home.