Thailand Top to Toe
Discover the best that Thailand has to offer, from elephant encounters in tented camps to pristine beaches and glittering temples
- Visiting hill tribe villages in the forested mountains of the Golden Triangle
- Bathing, feeding and walking with elephants at Four Seasons Tented Camp
- Sampling sizzling street food in the markets of Chiang Mai
- Kayaking around the giant limestone stacks of Phang Nga Bay
- Marvelling at the giant reclining Buddha in Bangkok’s Wat Pho
It’s no secret that Thailand has some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. But look beyond the palm tress and you’ll find gilded temples and the remains of ancient kingdoms, hill tribe villages in forested mountains, elephant encounters in misty jungles, fabulous food, heart-warming hospitality, and some of Asia’s most enticing hotels.
A 12-day journey from the forested mountains and hill tribe villages of Thailand’s far north to the pristine beaches and limestone towers of its tropical south, ending among the temples of bustling Bangkok.
People looking to see the many sides of Thailand: its contrasting scenery, abundant wildlife, culture, history and legendary hospitality.
When to go:
The cooler months from November to February are among the best to visit these parts of Thailand. June to October are best avoided as the south-west monsoon can bring rain to the Andaman coast.
Days 1-3: Golden Triangle
After arriving in Bangkok, fly north to Chiang Rai for three nights exploring the highlands of northern Thailand. The region is best known for its 800,000 or so minority peoples, known collectively as hill tribes, or Cha Khao in Thai, who farm the region where the borders of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand meet – a region referred to as the Golden Triangle.
While the tribes share some traits, each has its own distinctive dress, language and customs. Visiting their villages, trekking among rich mountain scenery, interacting with elephants in their natural habitat, and motoring down the Mekong on longtail boats are just a few of the activities on offer in the region.
Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle
Strung out along a hillside among thick bamboo forest, with views of Myanmar and the mountains of Laos, the 15 air-conditioned tents of the all-inclusive Four Seasons are imbued with the spirit of the 19th century. But it’s neither tents nor setting that are likely to leave the most lasting impression. That honour goes to the resident elephants that the hotel has rescued from Thailand’s crowded streets. There are several ways to interact responsibly with these gentle giants, including bathing them, feeding them and trekking beside them along verdant jungle pathways.
Days 4-5: Chiang Mai
Thailand’s laidback second city will be your next destination. Though a great base for trekking and rafting adventures, Chiang Mai has plenty to offer of its own, with upmarket bars and shopping outlets, top-notch restaurants and smart hotels, as well as peaceful wats (temples) and busy street markets, many within the boundaries of its 19th century moat.
The city’s annual flower festival, in February, is an excellent time to visit, with colourful displays of orchids and other regional flowers, together with street parades.
Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai
Dhara Dhevi is like a city in miniature, with 123 Lanna Kingdom-inspired suites and villas set in 60 acres of flower-filled gardens and rice paddies. Decor throughout is designed to make a statement, with gilded spires, ornately carved pagodas and quaint wooden bridges that veer across moats and lotus ponds. Villas are enormous, with separate living rooms, bedrooms and private terraces, and the spa is particularly lavish, where highly trained therapists offer a range of both Thai and other treatments.
Days 6-10: Andaman Coast
If by now you’re yearning for those beautiful Thai beaches, then the Andaman Coast will tick all your boxes. Imposing limestone stacks rise up from secluded bays fringed by fine-sand beaches, and coral-rich marine parks reveal some of the country’s best dive sites.
Phuket is the gateway to the region and where you’ll fly in to. Further south, Krabi’s craggy coastline attracts birders, climbers and kayakers alike, and serves as a jumping-off point for trips by longtail boat to popular Koh Phi Phi and quieter Koh Lanta. Perhaps our favourite spot, however, is Phang Nga Bay, home to the heavenly Six Senses Yao Noi.
Six Senses Yao Noi
Six Senses has set a high bar for resorts all across Asia, and its offering on Yao Noi, an island sheltered among the calm waters and jutting limestone pinnacles of Phnag Nga Bay, is no exception. True, its spacious villas – all with private infinity pools – are not technically on the beach, but that’s easily forgiven when you see the breathtaking views that their hillside position affords them. Add a sensational spa and a roster of excursions that includes Muay Thai boxing and kayaking to Scaramanga’s lair from The Man with the Golden Gun and you know you’re on to a winner.
Days 11-12: Bangkok
Complete your Thai adventure with two nights beside Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River. The Thai capital’s attractions are almost endless, but if this is your first visit then not-to-be-missed sites include the vast reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, the opulent Grand Palace, and a boat trip down the canals to see the city’s floating markets.
End by toasting your trip at one of the city’s excellent rooftop bars, like the Sky Bar at Lebua State Tower, one of the highest rooftop bars in the world.
This urban sanctuary is a Bangkok one-off, a welcome departure from the city’s many vast and corporate luxury hotels. In a way you’re going full circle, as design of The Siam – a fusion of Thai-colonial and Art Deco styles – was entrusted to Bill Bensley, the same avant-garde designer behind the Four Seasons Tented Camp in Chiang Rai. Swim laps in the river-view infinity pool, catch a movie at the private cinema, work on your wellbeing at the Opium Spa, or take the hotel’s private riverboat to visit sites on the Chao Phraya.
If you’ve more time
Thailand’s position, sandwiched between Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia, means it’s easy to combine with other South East Asian countries. From Chiang Rai, for example, there’s a wonderfully slow three-day river trip aboard the Mekong Gypsy to Luang Prabang in Laos, one of the prettiest towns in Asia. In Bangkok you could board the Eastern & Oriental Express, one of the world’s most glamorous trains, and ride all the way to Singapore, seeing the bridge on the River Kwai along the way. Or to really get off grid, travel from Bangkok to Wa Ale in Myanmar, which just may be the best sustainable beach resort you’ve never heard of.
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