Sa-wat dee! Welcome to Thailand. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm. If you arrive early, there is plenty to see and do in this exciting city. Bangkok is famous for its tuk tuks, khlong boats and street vendors serving up delicious Thai food. Perhaps take a riverboat to Chinatown and explore the crowded streets, uncover the magnificent Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, wander down the tourist mecca of Khao San Road, or indulge in some Thai massage.
Today you will travel by longtail boat down the Chao Phraya River and explore the famous 'khlongs' (canals) of Bangkok (approximately 1 hour). Life along these canals seems a world away from the busy streets of the capital. After that you will pay a visit to Wat Pho, one of the six most important temples in the country. It's home to the country's largest reclining Buddha, which is a seriously impressive sight. This place is also the gatekeeper of the secrets of Thai medicine and massage. After exploring the site, you and the family will take a local bus to Kanchanaburi (approximately 2 hours) and check into your hotel. The hotel is situated where the Khwae Noi and Khwae Yai rivers converge. Kanchanaburi is home to the infamous 'Bridge on the River Kwai'.
Travel to Erawan National Park in the morning (approximately 1.5 hours each way). Located on West Thailand in the Tenasserim Hills of Kanchanaburi Province, this national park boasts the incredible Erawan Falls, a famous seven-level waterfall of luminous turquoise pools and exotic tropical fish. It's a great place to explore or simply swim and relax. If you do some exploring of the lush surrounds, keep your eyes peeled for eagles, pheasants or leafbirds among many others who might be soaring above or perched in the treetops. On your return journey, there's the possibility of a kayaking adventure down the River Kwai back towards town, during which you'll paddle under the bridge for a unique view. If kayaking isn't your thing, there are majestic Buddhist temples to explore.
Transfer by minibus to the nearby city of Ayuthaya (approximately 2.5 hours). Once the capital of ancient Siam, Ayutthaya offers a great opportunity to stroll the World Heritage-listed ruins of this once magnificent city. There's time for a guided tour of the picturesque ruins and temples spread across the town. The ruins at Wat Phra Mahathat provide many photo opportunities and the Buddha head surrounded by Banyan tree roots is perhaps the most photographed site in Ayutthaya. Afterwards, board an overnight train to Chiang Mai (approximately 11 hours). You will be travelling in soft sleeper class, as per Intrepid style. Multishare compartments, air-conditioning, bunk beds, sheets and a pillow are provided. There's also a food and drink service on board. Note that your baggage will travel in the carriage with you.
Wake up in Chiang Mai, the most vibrant city of Northern Thailand. As well as amazing temples and an interesting old town, the city is known for its friendly, smiling locals. Drive along a scenic, winding mountain road that ends at an impressive 300-step naga-guarded stairway (approximately 45 minutes). The rewards will justify the climb, as one of Thailand's most stunning temples reveals itself. This is Doi Suthep. You'll be treated to panoramic views of the city from up here. You might also be able to listen to the evening chants of the resident Buddhist monks while you're here. You'll also visit Bor Sang today, a traditional umbrella factory. With free time in the evening, perhaps wander through the colourful night bazaar or visit one of the quality restaurants along the riverfront. In any case, don't miss out on the signature northern dish kao soy – yellow wheat noodles in a curry broth with chicken or beef.
Set off early, around 8 am, through Mae Taeng Valley to Elephant Nature Park. The drive is about 60 kilometres (approximately 1.5 hours). This unique project provides a sanctuary and rescue centre for elephants. Greeted by an expert guide, learn about the problems these creatures face in South East Asia. You'll have the chance to see these amazing beasts from the viewing platform. Enjoy some lunch before elephant bathing time. Then, after a safety briefing, you can join in to scrub and bathe the elephants (be sure to brings swimmers and a change of clothing). Then set off to the warm and welcoming village of Ban Hua Tung (approximately 45 minutes). The community will invite you and your family into their village for the night for a truly unique experience. Be treated to a home-cooked dinner and a traditional Thai dancing performance.
Notes: The Chiang Mai and homestay days may be swapped or shuffled around, depending on the commitments and availability of the host family.
Bid farewell to your village hosts and head into the forest at the base of Chiang Dao mountain. Local guides will show you around the forest which the local Hua Tung people manage together as part of a new community initiative. The biodiversity of the forest is protected by a sacred 'forest ordination' by Buddhist monks whereby trees are ordained as monks – the people nurture the forest, and the forest nurtures the people in return. There's a yearly bamboo harvest which raises money for the village. The locals take great pride in showing you the development of their village and the many different herbal medicines and wild foods in the forest. Return to Chiang Mai and enjoy free time – perhaps a bicycle ride or cooking class.
Today is free for you to explore Chiang Mai before your 4 pm overnight train journey (which heads in the direction of Hua Hin, tomorrow's destination). Perhaps join your leader on a walk through the old city, or take up one of many optional activities. A unique and fun attraction for kids is the Northern Thai Doll museum at Baan Tawai wood handicraft village. Here you'll find a delightful collection of dolls decked out in the colourful costume of Northern Thailand's ethnic minorities. You can also stroll through the serene Queen Sirikit Gardens where the family can enjoy the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium.
Take a minivan south to the beach town of Hua Hin (approximately 3 hours). Spend your free time here exploring and swimming in the numerous white sandy beaches by day and indulging in amazing food by night. This beautiful coastal spot is located right by a sophisticated city that has everything you need. But its slickness takes nothing away from the gorgeous beach and blue-green waters, which are perfect to laze around in. Hua Hin was once a sleepy fishing village before Thai royalty made it their beachside getaway in the '20s. Hin Beach is the main strip – grab a coconut, settle in and be sure to sample the delicious thom kha (spicy seafood soup).
Today is free to spend as you please. A bicycle tour is always an excellent choice for the family, and there are many nearby vineyards and mountainous trails to explore, depending on how far you would like to venture. You might like to just stay at the beach and soak up the atmosphere of Thailand's original coastal resort. Perhaps stroll north on the main shore to check out some of the opulent Victorian-style garden estates. The day market, Chatchai, is well worth a visit, boasting fresh fruit, delicious donuts and traditional sweetened coffee. The real hit, however, is the night market, and your leader will be on hand to take you there if you wish.
Return by minivan to Bangkok and enjoy an afternoon of free time. The shopping is excellent in Bangkok, and the malls sometimes feel like their own kind of theme park. A great option for the family is to take a taxi over to Siam Ocean World to enjoy their interactive show and daily feedings. It has one of the largest aquariums in South East Asia, and its 'Weird and Wonderful' zone is sure to impress the young ones, with striped frogfish, garden eels and gigantic spider crabs peeking at you through the glass. Alternatively, visit the excellent Art in Paradise museum for some 3-D fun and quirky photo opportunities.
There are no activities planned for the final day, and you are free to depart the accommodation at any time.