There’s more to Thailand than just the beautiful beaches. If you head up to the Northern regions, you will discover a treasure-trove filled with glittering temples, ancient ruins, exotic markets and sumptuous foods. Our Travel Consultant Erin Rathbone shares her experience exploring Northern Thailand both independently and on a small group tour with Intrepid Travel, along with her tips for getting the most out of this part of Thailand.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit amazing Thailand and this country far exceeded my expectations. The people are warm and friendly, the food is AMAZING, and the temples are beautiful. I spent 3 days on my own exploring Bangkok, and then joined an 8-day tour up to Northern Thailand with Intrepid Travel. I am a huge fan of guided tours, but I find many travellers don`t see the benefits of tours and how much fun and educational they can be. I had the opportunity to do a local homestay in Northern Thailand and below is a run down of what to expect from this type of trip along with some tips and tricks on how to make your time in Thailand easy and fun!
In Bangkok, I recommend staying a day or two. You need a day to see the main sites and then another day to take in the atmosphere and enjoy the food, get a massage or simply go shopping! First, you must visit the Grand Palace. It is always busy with tourists, so go early if you can. Walking distance from the Palace is Wat Pho; a temple where you can see the gigantic reclining Buddha.
After marvelling at his beauty, you can walk across the street to catch a boat over to Wat Arun, a stunning temple decorated with colourful seashells and porcelain. But climb it if you dare…the steps are steep and scary!
Finish your afternoon with a ride in a tuk tuk – a motorized rickshaw. Be careful when arranging a price with the driver; they will want to take you to shops along the way; they get gas cards from the shop when they bring you there. Be firm with your price and insist there are no shop stops. But if you don`t mind a detour here and there, sometimes the driver will give you a free ride (just to go to a few shops and pretend you`re interested!).
Travel Tip: Bangkok is one of the hottest cities in the world, so bring your sunscreen and some type of hat or umbrella to protect yourself from heatstroke. Try as much food as you can, but be careful of the street vendors if you have a sensitive stomach. The Thai massages are amazing; I got a foot massage and back/shoulder massage- an hour and a half for the equivalent of around $12CAD.
After exploring Bangkok, it was time to start my tour with Intrepid Travel. The first day was a meeting day so you can meet your tour guide and your fellow travellers and get some important info on the days to come. The guides with Intrepid are all local, so they have much knowledge of history and tips on how to make the most of your time in Thailand. Usually the guide will arrange a dinner that evening, which is fun to attend to get to know your new travel buddies.
Most days of the tour have early starts that see you on the road by 8:00am to make the most of your days. Breakfast is included for most of the mornings. Travel consists of local modes of transport. Our second day consisted of a 6 hour (air conditioned) ride to the historic site of Sukhothai, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is ruins that have been excavated and partially restored. On the arrival day we relaxed by the fabulous pool for the afternoon. The hotel had these lovely cabins over a pond and the rooms were very spacious. The next morning we had a half day of biking around the ruins and a traditional lunch made for us by the woman who owns the bike shop.
The next 2 days were spent at the homestay in Northern Thailand, in a small village. Before we arrived we stopped at the Friends of the Asian Elephant hospital, the first of its kind in the world. They take care of injured elephants; the most famous being Motala. She is 50 yrs old now and was the first elephant to have a prosthetic leg made for her after she was injured by a landmine. We also bonded with a sweetheart named Boonmee, who was also injured by a landmine. It was such a moving experience – she was so curious and just wanted love and attention. Intrepid is also very concerned with elephant welfare and do their part raising money and awareness to help these amazing animals.
We were then welcomed at the homestay by Aoi, and her lovely hospitable family. Males and females sleep in separate houses, and your bed is a mattress on the floor with a mosquito net that comes down at night. We had a traditional northern Thai meal and the family played music for us while we ate. Afterwards we got a lesson on how to play their traditional instruments, and watched and participated in a traditional dance with the village children. To top off the night, we lit a wish lantern which we let go into the dark Thai night sky. The next day was a beautiful bike ride through the rice fields, followed by a 5 hour 5 course cooking class. I have never been so full in my entire life..no exaggeration. It was amazing! Spring rolls, curry, pad thai, sweet and sour chicken, mango sticky rice and more.
The last 2 days were spent in Chiang Mai, and it was a prime example of how flexible the tour itinerary is and how you can choose what you’d like to do. Some of our group went on a trek in the hills, some went white water rafting and the rest of us who were not so adventurous, explored the temples within the city walls, relaxed at the pool and got massages. There really is something for everyone! Make sure you check out Wat Chedi Luang; this was one of my favourite temples inside the city walls of Chiang Mai. It was damaged in an earthquake and has been partially restored so it was cool to see the mix of restoration and ruin.
The trip back to Bangkok was done in an overnight train that took around 14 hours. The trains have bench seats, which were very spacious and comfortable. Those seats fold down and there is a bunk style bed that comes down. I got stuck with the top bunk. Not gonna lie, it was not the most comfortable sleep I’ve ever had, but it was all about the experience.
I have travelled the world extensively on my own and on group tours, and I will say that Intrepid is an amazing company to travel with. The itinerary, the guides, the inclusions, their commitment to responsible travel…need I say more? I would recommend this company to my fellow travellers in a heartbeat! And the wondrous country of Thailand and the fabulous people I met along the way, will always hold special place in my heart.
Looking for more information on travelling to Thailand or with Intrepid Travel? Erin Rathbone is an International Travel Consultant at Flight Centre Granville and can be reached online or by calling 1-866-249-8408