Explore the lush, temple-strewn hills of northern Thailand, home to some of Southeast Asia's most colorful and fascinating cultures. In Chiang Rai, you'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:
- Roundtrip airfare between Bangkok and Chiang Rai, and Chiang Mai to Bangkok
- Accommodations: for 2 nights in Chiang Rai at The Imperial River House Resort or similar, 3 nights in Chiang Mai at The Empress Hotel Chiang Mai or similar, and 1 night in Bangkok at the Superior First-Class Montien Riverside Hotel or similar
- 13 meals: 6 breakfasts, 3 lunches, and 4 dinners
- Included tours: Mae Salong hill tribe village, Wat Rong Kun & night market, Elephant trek & bamboo rafting, Chiang Mai
- Exclusive services of a Grand Circle Program Director
- All transfers
- Now included for 2015:
- Gratuities for local guides and motorcoach drivers on your extension and all optional tours
You’ll fly from Bangkok to Chiang Rai in northern Thailand today, arriving in Chiang Rai in the morning. After stopping by the hotel, enjoy lunch at a local restaurant.
After lunch, you’ll begin your tour of the mountain villages of local Long Neck 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. You’ll ride to the small village of Mae Chan and climb a narrow road by open songtaew truck to Mae Salong, a rural town situated high in the mountains. Here, we will visit hill tribes known as “Long Neck” and admire their compact huts, see their traditional clothing, and glimpse a way of life that has changed little in centuries. You’ll also visit the Akha, who wear elaborate headdresses known for their vivid colors.
You’ll check into your hotel this evening, followed by dinner at a local restaurant.
Your day is at leisure to explore more of Chiang Rai on your own.
Or, join us for an optional tour to Doi Tung and the Golden Triangle. You’ll arrive in Doi Tung, also known as “Flag Mountain,” which offers picturesque views of Burma and Thailand from the top. You’ll first head high up the hill to visit the Doi Tung royal villa, former home of the Late Princess mother Somdej Phra Sringagarindra, and its museum. The Princess mother played a large role in working to rid the country of the opium trade, helping to encourage the local hill tribes to begin growing crops other than poppies. This residence is now home to a museum—which shows the history of the Princess mother’s work against the opium trade. After visiting the museum, you’ll also stop at the Mae Fah Luang Gardens, located near the royal villa. Built in the early 1990s, this botanical garden features more than 70 species of flowers and plants from around the world, meandering around streams and fountains. At the center of the park, there’s a sculpture displaying a group of children standing on one another. This sculpture received the Pacific Tourist Association’s (PATA) Gold Award in 1993. After your explorations of the museum and gardens, you’ll enjoy a taste of the local coffee.
You’ll then transfer to the Golden Triangle. En route, you stop for lunch at a local restaurant. The Golden Triangle is known as the region where Thailand, Burma (Myanmar), and Laos meet. Due to its sheltering hills, navigable rivers, and fiercely independent tribal cultures, the region was once infamous as a center for renegades and drug smuggling. There are many legends and stories about the opium warlords who once held sway here. During your visit, you’ll board a boat and enjoy a cruise along the Mekong River, witnessing the junction of these three distinct regions.
You’ll return to your hotel this evening and enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.
Relax and enjoy the passing landscapes as you 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 36 temples, and the metropolitan region boasts some 80 official religious sites.
Along the way, you’ll visit Wat Rong Khun, a temple whose mosaics make it look like a palace of crystal, created by Thailand’s national artist. You’ll then head towards Wiang Papao, the southernmost district in Chiang Rai, where you’ll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant, followed by a stop at a small village known for its handcraft shops.
Upon arrival in Chiang Mai, you’ll check into your hotel and then enjoy some time at leisure. Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant.
Afterwards, explore the well-known Chiang Mai 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, you’ll visit a local elephant camp for an elephant show, and then you’ll embark on a forest trek on elephantback. You ride for about an hour on the backs of these gentle giants, enjoying a grand view of the forest. You’ll return to camp by elephant and then board small bamboo rafts and float downstream. After you ride, you’ll have lunch at the camp, followed by a roundtable discussion with a mahout—an individual who rides elephants. Traditionally, a boy begins his time riding an elephant at a young age, when he is assigned a particular elephant, and remains with this elephant throughout both of their lives.
After learning about the lives of the mahouts, you’ll return to your hotel. Your afternoon and evening are at leisure and dinner is on your own tonight.
Before breakfast this morning, you have the option of visiting a local temple to witness traditional Buddhist alms giving. After breakfast, you’ll visit the temple and have a discussion with its Buddhist monks. Then you’ll see the most magnificent of the city’s temples, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, which you’ll reach by riding up its mountain slope and negotiating hairpin turns until you 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.
After your visit to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, your afternoon is free to explore Chiang Mai on your own.
This evening, enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.
After breakfast this morning, you’ll check out of your hotel and head to the airport to board your flight for Bangkok. Then after checking in to your hotel in Bangkok, spend your afternoon and evening at leisure making your own discoveries in the city.
You are free to choose a local restaurant for dinner on your own this evening.