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Hidden Thailand

Travel by road, rail and river to some of the most picturesque, yet remote and rarely visited parts of far northern Thailand

Off the beaten track Thailand tour: Bangkok to the far north

Our 2-week road, rail and river journey – Hidden Thailand – will take you through some of the country’s most spectacular, yet least-visited, regions.

From the back-streets and local markets of Bangkok and the glorious temples of World Heritage Sukhothai, we’ll travel to historic Lampang; picturesque, lakeside Phayao; the remote Phu Chee Fah Mountain Range and across the far northern border region formerly known as the Golden Triangle.

This fascinating and varied Thai tour includes an unusual, behind the scenes view of Bangkok; sunset at the ruins of the UNESCO-listed, ancient capital Sukhothai; the unique Lampang Elephant Hospital; dawn at the ‘Gates of Siam’ – overlooking Laos and the Mekong River from Phu Chee Fah Mountain;  the old river-side, fortified town of Chiang Saen; mountain-top Mae Salong Town – originally settled by fleeing Kuomintang forces after the Chinese civil war; Mae Fah Luang Botanical Gardens and much, much more.

Spectacular and contrasting landscapes; off the beaten track destinations, traditional villages and local markets, plus of course, some of the nation’s friendliest people and, last but not least, tastiest regional cuisine, make for a wonderful tour combining visits to a selection of the country’s famous sites with the chance to discover many of its lesser-known, hidden, secrets.

For those with a few more days to spare a variety of island extensions are on offer including the Gulf of Thailand’s Koh Mak and Koh Chang or Koh Libong on the Andaman Sea Coast. Note also that Chiang Mai international airport has a wide range of direct connections including Luang Prabang, Hanoi and Kuala lumpur.

Thailand

Itinerary

Here's an idea of what you can expect to do and see day-to-day.

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Day 1 - Bangkok - arrival and time to explore the area

Morning start in Bangkok with a check-in to a boutique-style, downtown hotel close to the City’s famous Banglamphu district. Time to relax; explore the area or check out some local markets before a welcome local-style, Thai dinner.

Overnight: Bangkok Transport: Walk,  Meals: D, 

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Day 2 - Bangkok - city tour with a difference

Tour of some of the sights of Thailand’s vast and bustling capital, including famous Wat Po, the Royal Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). We also include behind the scenes views, street-life and local markets as we travel around Bangkok by public transport alone; Skytrain, Chao Phraya River express, canal boats and of course tuk-tuks.

Overnight: Bangkok Transport: Train, Boat, Walk, Tuk Tuk,  Meals: B, L, 

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Day 3 - Sukhothai - up country by train

Leave the capital by train, travel through the myriad paddy-fields of the Chao Phraya Valley, to the centrally located, historic town of Phitsanolok. After a visit to the unusual Rural Life Museum, we’ll complete our journey to nearby Sukhothai – World Heritage Site and former capital of Siam.

Overnight: Sukhothai Transport: Minibus, Train,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 4 - Sukhothai - the World Heritage ancient city

Visit the atmospheric ruins of UNESCO-listed Sukhothai. Explore it’s crumbling but picturesque ancient temples and lotus ponds on foot or by bicycle; visit the well-laid out museum and experience sunset at one of the temple before checking out the local delicacies in the town’s lively night market.

Overnight: Sukhothai Transport: Minibus, Bike, Walk,  Meals: B, L, 

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Day 5 - Lampang - the old town and elephant hospital

Head north to Lampang, an ancient Mon settlement and more recently important as the centre for the 19th-century centre teak industry.  Detour to the famous Elephant Hospital before a late afternoon walking tour of the old town and market with its historic Buddhist temples and well-preserved old teak baron and merchants’ villas.

Overnight: Lampang Transport: Minibus, Walk,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 6 - Phayao - mountain-top temple and lakeside Phayao

Continuing north, we’ll stop at the truly spectacular Wat Chalerm Phrakiet, where shrines and pagodas perch atop a jagged limestone outcrop, before arriving in the attractive, yet rarely visited, lakeside town of Phayao. Stroll along the waterfront with perhaps time for a boat trip before settling into a lakeside cafe for sundowners.

Overnight: Phayao Transport: Minibus, Walk,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 7 - Phu Chee Fa - up the mountain

Into one of the remotest reaches of the Kingdom, with a picturesque drive to the dramatic Phu Chee Fah mountain range overlooking the Mekong River and Laos. Stops at villages, local markets and viewpoints, as well as the highly unusual hot waterfall, Nam Tok Phu Saung.

Overnight: Phu Chee Fa Transport: Minibus, Walk,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 8 - Chiang Saen - dawn at the 'Gates of Siam' and the Mekong port of Chiang Saen

Early morning start for a cliff-top sunrise over the river and distant Lao mountains from the curious rock formation known to locals as the ‘Gates of Siam’. From here we’ll wind our way down the mountains and follow the picturesque banks of the Mekong via Chiang Khong to the small riverside port and historic town of Chiang Saen.

Overnight: Chiang Saen Transport: Minibus, Walk,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 9 - Golden Triangle - local markets and botanical gardens

After a walk around the 13th-century city walls, temples and ruins of Chiang Saen we’ll continue through the Golden Triangle to Mae Salong. In earlier times an infamous region, today we’ll come across local markets, an opium museum, Mae Fah Luang Botanical Gardens & bucolic landscapes, rather than warlords and drug caravans!

Overnight: Mae Salong Transport: Minibus, Walk,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 10 - Mae Salong - morning market and hike through the hills

Fascinating Mae Salong, dramatically perched atop a mountain ridge, was founded by fleeing Kuomintang (Nationalist) soldiers after the Chinese civil war.  Visit the hill-tribe market, participate in some tea tasting (the principal replacement crop for opium), and take a hike through the hills to a traditional village of the local Akha minority.

Overnight: Mae Salong Transport: Walk,  Meals: B, L, 

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Day 11 - Chiang Rai - boat down the Kok to Chiang Rai

Head west to the picturesque town of Tha Ton on the Burmese border, from where, after a visit to a spectacular mountain-top pagoda, we’ll travel by boat down the picturesque Kok River past forests, mountains and riverside villages to Chiang Rai. Evening tour of the town’s famous night bazaar.

Overnight: Chiang Rai Transport: Minibus, Boat, Walk,  Meals: B, L, 

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Day 12 - Chiang Rai - the Black House and the White Temple

We’ll take in a couple of Chiang Rai’s most famous sites – the celebrated Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) and the lesser known Ban Dam (Black House) open-air cultural centre and art gallery – before a scenic drive through the mountains to our final destination, Chiang Mai.

Overnight: Chiang Mai Transport: Minibus,  Meals: B, L, 

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Day 13 - Chiang Mai - walking tour of the old city

Morning walking tour of some of the sites of the Old Town with its narrow lanes, street markets, ornate old temples and cute coffee shops. Afternoon at leisure to relax by the pool, try out a traditional massage or perhaps check out the local handicrafts?

Overnight: Chiang Mai Transport: Walk,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 14 - Chiang Mai - morning at leisure and departure

Morning at leisure in Chiang Mai, end of tour and departure at your convenience.

Extra nights in Chiang Mai or Bangkok are available on request.

Airport transfers are included if you purchase the 'with flights' package, otherwise, airport transfers can be arranged.

Overnight: Departure Transport: Walk,  Meals: B, 

Print Itinerary

Details

The nitty-gritty, the things you need to know, the answers to your burning questions.

Thailand, Chiang Rai night bazaar

Just a few of the many highlights

Discover some of Thailand's most picturesque, yet little-known, regions on this rail, road and river journey from Bangkok's back streets, across the central plains, to the remote mountains of the far north

  • A unique tour of Bangkok by public transport taking in both famous sites and everyday life
  • Sunset at the World Heritage ancient city of Sukhothai with its atmospheric lotus pools and ruined temples
  • Scenic boat trip through the forests and mountains of the picturesque Kok River to Chiang Rai
  • The picturesque, historic and charming Mekong river ports of Chiang Khong and Chiang Saen
  • Visit the remote and awe-inspiring Phu Chee Fah mountain range with dawn at the 'Gates of Siam'
  • Local markets, street and village life, lashings of great food, including regional specialities and oodles of friendly locals

Air Departures (UK)

  • 21 November 19 1,950 GBP
  • 11 January 20 2,000 GBP
  • 15 February 20 2,000 GBP
  • 14 March 20 2,000 GBP
  • 11 April 20 2,000 GBP
  • 2 May 20 2,000 GBP
  • 20 June 20 2,000 GBP
  • 1 August 20 2,098 GBP
  • 3 October 20 2,000 GBP
  • 14 November 20 2,000 GBP
  • 27 December 20 2,200 GBP

Land Departures

  • 22 November 19 1,150 GBP
  • 12 January 20 1,200 GBP
  • 16 February 20 1,200 GBP
  • 15 March 20 1,200 GBP
  • 12 April 20 1,200 GBP
  • 3 May 20 1,200 GBP
  • 21 June 20 1,200 GBP
  • 2 August 20 1,200 GBP
  • 4 October 20 1,200 GBP
  • 15 November 20 1,200 GBP
  • 28 December 20 1,200 GBP

Guaranteed Places Left Special Price Solo Traveller Closed

*Air departures are from the UK. Land departures start from Bangkok

*Land departure dates correspond to the FIRST day of the itinerary.

We choose our hotels based on a combination of location, comfort and convenience. Here is a *selection of the types of hotel/rooms you can expect to stay at on this tour...

Nanda Heritage Hotel, Bangkok view

  • Based around a beautifully restored 1920s teak family villa
  • The award winning design combines traditional and modern
  • Great central location for restaurants, cafes and shopping

Foresto Sukhothai view

  • Delightful, tropical garden setting with pool
  • Central yet quiet location in Sukhothai Town
  • Boutique style with a fusion of modern & traditional Lanna

20 Lodge, Chiang Mai view

  • Delightful lush garden setting & pool
  • Quiet location in the Old City
  • Small, friendly and a welcoming family style

Gin’s Maekhong View Resort, Chiang Saen view

  • Fantastic tropical garden and pool overlooking the Mekong
  • Low-key, friendly and well-appointed resort and spa
  • Bright, airy rooms with balconies and river views

Ban Hom Muen Lee Resort, Mae Salong view

  • Chinese-style decor in the old Kuomintang base of Mae Salong
  • All rooms with private balconies and stupendous views
  • Mountain-top location in this quaint and quirky town

Laluna Resort, Chiang Rai view

  • Comfortable individual chalets in a stunning tropical garden
  • 5 minute tuk-tuk ride from the town's lively night bazaar
  • Pool, spa, massage and excellent in-house restaurant

*This list should be considered a guide only, hotels/rooms may change (without notice) depending on availability.

Visa Info & Notes

Visas: While most nationalities receive an automatic 30-day stamp on arrival, so you can dispense with visa on arrivals, e-visas etc – in terms of the small print and variations to the rule Thailand has some complex regulations and there are still a few details to watch out for plus various bilateral arrangements between Thailand and other nations do throw up a lot of anomalies. Firstly, 6 months passport validity is required and while we can’t find any specifications regarding number of blank pages, as usual in these parts, you’re better off with at least 2 available.

The following nationalities benefit from a visa waiver or exemption scheme and passport holders will automatically receive 30-day stamps on arrival at any Thai international airport: Australia, Canada, UK, US, certain EU countries plus citizens of other Asean member states. Generally, citizens of western and central European EU countries are included while those of some newer, particularly eastern EU nations aren’t. Conversely, several South American nationalities receive 90-day visas so do check in advance. A full visa exemption list can be found here.  Note this is a visa waiver and not a tourist visa.

Importantly, and this can in theory go for airports too, you may be asked for proof of onward travel and proof you have sufficient funds for your stay. We reckon these are more aimed at long-stay visitors and though we haven’t come across either rule being applied to casual tourists they are specified on the Thai immigration site and they do have these rules in their armoury.

If you’re not covered by any of the above or have any doubts or if you intend to stay more than 30 days then you will need to apply in advance for a Thai tourist visa. The validity of single entry tourist visas is generally 60 days but again can vary depending upon nationality and you need to make an application at your nearest Thai embassy. (Cost is approximately $30 or equivalent in local currency.) If you are planning on exiting and re-entering Thailand more than once then you can also apply for a multiple entry tourist visa costing approximately $150. (Precise costs and waiting time vary from one embassy to another.)

Furthermore, citizens of states not covered by the visa waiver system can also apply for a visa on arrival at an international airport. This is a 30-day one costing 2,000 baht payable in Thai currency only. Again you may be asked for proof of onward travel and funds.

The above can be construed as unnecessarily complicated and furthermore regulations do change on a regular basis so again, please check beforehand if you’re not a passport holder from one of the usual suspects Canada, France, Germany, UK, et al. We have in the past come across smaller Thai embassies providing inaccurate or out of date information and anecdotal travellers’ tales are – well anecdotal – so the official Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs site should, in theory, be your best source. 

Tipping: we recommend a kitty system for smaller, daily tips such as hotel/restaurant staff and local drivers. Amounts inevitably vary with group size but would generally be in the region of 100 baht ($2-$3) per person per day. For your guide/tour-leader tip – who will accompany you for the duration of your tour – we’d recommend approximately $20-30 per person total for the former though of course, this is always discretionary and performance related. (Local currency or USD are fine.) 

Meals: Although Thailand’s world-renowned cuisine needs no introduction its highly varied regional cooking – firey southern-style, Chiang Mai and northern specialities, Bangkok and central Thai fare plus the ubiquitous I-san (northeastern) cuisine – is far less known. Also bear in mind that authentic local food in Thailand may be considerably different to your neighbourhood Thai restaurant at home. Our emphasis will be on local-style food – including market and streetfood – including aforementioned regional specialities while chilli tolerance levels will of course be taken into account by your tour-leader.

Breakfasts are either buffets or a la carte in smaller hotel; lunches on the road are typically simpler dishes such as variations on noodles or fried rice while your tour-leader will generally order more elaborate-style dinners consisting of a selection of local fare. Both vegetarians and vegans are very easily catered for. For any other likes and dislikes please remind your tour-leader at the start of the tour.  A number of meals are not included, which allows you to ‘do your own thing’ or take a break if you’re feeling ‘riced out’.

Accommodation: all choices fall into the comfortable 3* range, with an emphasis where possible on the smaller, ‘boutique-style’, and are en-suite and air-conditioned with, where possible, pools. We have posted a selection of sample accommodation on the lefthand hotel tab but please note that as we try and avoid the larger hotels, availability, in high season particularly, means we use several options in each destination. 

Activities: note that no activities are compulsory and that any offered, including trekking, can be tailored for any fitness level or alternatives suggested.

Further info: detailed descriptions and photos can be found on the corresponding page of our travel blog.. 

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