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'Sawadee ka' and welcome to Thailand! Your trip will kick off in buzzy Bangkok, a cosmopolitan delight boasting all the mod cons and glistening malls of any capital city, but with a distinctly exotic Thai flourish. Here, golden temples and neon clad nightclubs co-exist peacefully side by side, whilst monks stroll the streets with smart phones in hand. After transferring to your hotel you'll meet up with your Travel Director to learn the lay of the land, then dinner tonight will see you sample some of Thailand's amazing cuisine whilst getting to know the rest of your group.
Today's sightseeing will reveal Bangkok's finest cultural and spiritual delights. Starting off at Bangkok's most ancient temple, Wat Pho, you'll visit the hugely impressive Reclining Buddha, the largest in Thailand, before continuing on to the Grand Palace. A former royal residence, the dazzling, vibrant and intricate architecture of this sprawling complex never ceases to amaze, the centre piece of which is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Stopping for lunch at a local restaurant to re-fuel, this afternoon you'll then take to the maze of canals, known locally as klongs, that zig zag across the city on a private boat, enjoying the ride as you pass by traditional family homes on stilts. Take in the simple river lifestyle of those who work and live on the water. Later today, you'll also have the chance to join our optional visit to Jim Thompson's House, which houses an astounding collection of Asian art and is also an exquisite example of traditional Thai residential architecture.
Bangkok, your exploring options today are enticingly limitless and this is your free day to tailor your way. If its markets you're seeking, the exotic and colourful Pak Kong Talad (Bangkok flower market) will offer up flower species of every shape, colour and origin, whilst the tiny lanes of Chinatown are the perfect place to nibble street food and shop for jade in Bangkok's busiest neighbourhood. Architecture aficionados will probably choose to join our trip to the ancient city of Ayutthaya, Thailand's former capital city. Stopping on the way at the gorgeous Bang Pa Summer Palace, Ayutthaya is an archeological hotbed of temples, monasteries and statues that offer a glimpse into the former glory of this ancient land. Heading back to Bangkok on a cruise, enjoy a buffet lunch as you take in local life along the banks of the Chao Phraya River.
Enjoy a late start this morning before you head to Bangkok Airport to catch a flight bound for the diverse, delightful city of Chiang Rai. Despite its small size Chiang Rai is rich in historical and spiritual offerings, whilst its relaxed atmosphere and eclectic foodie scene both ensure this little city is a big crowd pleaser. Your city tour later today will tick off the headliners including Wat Phra Kaew temple, the original home of the famous Emerald Buddha now residing in Bangkok's Royal Palace, plus the golden and glistening clock tower, an icon of Chiang Rai that was designed by a local Thai artist and unveiled in 2008 to honour his Majesty the King. Dinner tonight will offer a chance to sample Chiang Rai's culinary delights at a local restaurant.
Venturing into the heart of the Golden Triangle this morning, your first stop will be the fascinating and self-proclaimed 'edutainment' Hall of Opium. Spanning an astounding 5000 years of history, the museum boasts state of the art exhibitions, harrowing stories and even a tiny opium plantation that paint a vivid picture of the conflicts, rituals and abuse that have all stemmed from opium, a trade that has been prevalent in the Golden Triangle in the past century. Stopping for lunch at a local restaurant, you'll then hop on board a boat that will take you along the mighty Mekong River to the exact spot where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos collide. Stepping onto dry land in Laos you'll have time to peruse the handicrafts on offer at the Don Sao Island Markets, the only part of Laos that can be visited without a visa, before heading back to your hotel in Chiang Rai.
Heading out of Chiang Mai this morning, your first stop for the day will be Wat Kong Khun, or the 'White Temple'. Instantly recognisable, you'll likely be amazed that unlike many of Thailand's other temples that date back centuries, Wat Kong Khun is just over 20 years old, constructed by a notable Thai painter turned architect in 1997. Take your time exploring here before heading on for a quick refresher at the Mae Kajaen Hot Springs, dipping your toes in the warm mineral waters as is local tradition. Lunch will be another local affair at a nearby restaurant, then this afternoon you'll put your bartering skills to the test with a visit to San Kamphaeng Road. Shop for traditional local handicrafts before making the short drive to laid back, low key Chiang Mai. This evening head out with the rest of your group to explore the legendary Chiang Mai Night Market. A regular crowd pleaser for visitors and locals alike, here you can pick up souvenirs and local knick knacks, dine on delicious street food and soak up the energy of this lively city coming to life by night.
Take advantage of the later start this morning, then hop on board a samlor (rickshaw) to explore the bustling centre of Chiang Mai. Stopping by the city's most revered temple, Wat Phra Singh, take in the lavish buildings and immaculate grounds before heading to the main attraction here, the famous Buddha known as Phra Singh. Housed in the ornate Gilded Assembly Hall, the building itself is remarkable as a shining example of Northern Thai architecture that boasts restored murals depicted local Lanna life throughout the 19th Century. Lunch today will be a local treat of Chiang Mai khao soi, a delicious, fragrant and spicy rice noodle soup. This afternoon enjoy some down time before heading to Wat Doi Suthep, which is tucked away in the mountains. Dating back to 1383, it's here that legend states a piece of bone from the shoulder of Lord Buddha is enshrined. Staying until sunset to watch as the monks chant and offers prayers, you'll then head back to your hotel after another no doubt magical day.
Your day your way is what today is all about, and with today being your last day, be sure to make the most of it. For those looking to get out of the city and into the tropical lush greenery that surrounds Chiang Mai on all sides, opt to join our visit to Baan Tong Luang Village, located north of the city in a beautiful valley. This ecological Paguang village is home to the Long Neck Karen hill tribe of Myanmar, so you'll have the chance to learn about the costumes, traditions and rituals of this ancient community. Foodies, we've got a real treat for you in the form of an optional Thai cooking class. Set within a beautiful garden on an organic farm, you'll learn from the masters the secrets to perfecting Thai cookery by preparing your very own feast using fresh, local ingredients, which you'll shop for yourself accompanied by your instructor at a local market.
And just like that, your Thailand adventure will come to an end. You've explored countless temples, tasted all manner of Thai cuisine and experienced the joys of Thai hospitality, so we hope you're leaving with a big Thailand induced smile on your face! Transferring to Chiang Mai International Airport, you'll catch your onward flight.
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