Day 1 - Arrive in Bangkok
Welcome to the Kingdom of Thailand! Transfer directly to our hotel in Bangkok. (US flights usually arrive late at night.)
Day 2 - Bangkok
After a leisurely breakfast, we will visit MR Kukrit Pramoj’s house. Kukrit would be considered a Renaissance man today, because his reputation lies in his mastery in many forms of arts, including politics and journalism. A few decades ago during Kukrit’s life he was not always seen in such a charitable light, but the wide variety of his accomplishments greatly influenced modern Thai political history and even pop-culture. Kukrit was first a journalist, who founded the famous Thai Rath newspaper. He was also many things: a Thai classical dance expert (he was named National Artist in 1985) and was an author whose work encompassed many subjects from humor to drama. Honored with myriad literary and arts prizes, Kukrit was a close adviser to His Majesty the King, and was also Prime Minister. His traditional Thai house houses a lovely collection of antiques, artifacts and items used in the classical Thai arts, which he gathered during his life. His unique sense of humor offers a satirical view of his age and he was often arrested for offending the powerful.
Continue to the Grand Palace, arguably the most important cultural icon in the land. Probably the most important center of Thai culture, the palace was once the royal abode (from 1782 to 1946), but today is used mainly for ceremonial functions. Tourists are allowed inside to see the Emerald Buddha, the displays of royal artifacts and memorabilia, and wall decorations. Continue on foot to the Royal Navy Club for a simple Thai lunch. Board our boat nearby, and cross the river to visit Wangderm Palace and Fort Wichai. King Taksin (1768-1782) built this palace when he moved his capital from Ayutthaya to Thonburi. King Rama V donated the palace to be used as the Royal Thai Naval Academy (1898)
Next we board our boat to briefly visit the Royal Barge Museum. The grand procession of Royal barges is seen only once a year during His Majesty the King’s birthday celebrations (early December). See the actual boats in their dry docks.
Now relax and experience life on the river with a soda or a beer for a trip along Bangkok’s old klongs (canals) and waterways on the Thonburi side of the river. Water is an essential and prevalent theme in Thailand. Today most of Bangkok hustles and bustles like any other modern metropolis. But not many decades ago huge areas of the city were still accessed primarily by these kinds of canals. Vendors sell spiced and grilled chicken from boats, bank boats with ATMs aboard can sometimes be seen. Here we will feel an older city. Return to our hotel and relax before going to a local restaurant for a Welcome Dinner.
Day 3 - Bangkok: Full day ORIGIN ARTS - Understanding Thai Culture through practice in Classical Arts
After breakfast drive to a group of old wooden traditional Lanna Thai-style house in the university, and spend the day immersed in Thai culture; ‘learning-by-doing’ essential as well as the finer points of Thai culture with ORIGIN ARTS. The common threads of Thai style and culture surround us from the moment we enter the Kingdom, but usually, visitors to Thailand can only ‘see’ the culture through temples and museum visits maybe a festival if one is lucky. There are of course the ubiquitous "tourist shows" which often degrade the spiritual values of the arts being presented. While one can find excellent "demonstrations" of certain arts or dance, too often they lack a context or explanation to make them truly understandable (so similarities or differences are lost to the untrained eye and therefore remain unappreciated). ORIGIN ARTS is a hands-on opportunity not just to see, but to do and experience traditional arts and culture. Beginning in the morning and into the afternoon, masters in each of the following arts will be instructing us:
Thai Etiquette: Learn how to sit, walk, give and receive, and wai (pay respect by raising the hands with palms together). Unlike the now quaint Western notion of “etiquette”, Marayaat in Thailand is a crucial part of peoples’ daily interactions. After doing this class, you will suddenly begin the notice the depth to which these graceful forms of social intercourse permeate the lives of the Thais.
Thai Dance: Learn how to pay respect to Ganesh. The portly elephant-headed god is patron of the arts in Thailand, and flowers and incense are always offered before beginning the Khon dance class. This program focuses on the classic arts of the Thai court, and these are epitomized in the refined movement and ornate elegance of this dance form. Learn how to gracefully flex one’s fingers into the two basic positions of Wong and a jeep.
Traditional Flower Arrangement: This is the art of creating traditional flower offerings from banana leaves and jasmine. These offerings, known as bay ski, can be seen in a myriad of sizes and styles in Buddhist and Hindu ceremonies throughout Thailand. After learning the meaning of the shape and elements of these arrangements, you will make your own bay ski from scratch, starting with the folding and assembling of pliant banana leaves.
Lai Thai (Thai Design): This is the art of creating the graceful, flame-like patterns that are found here in everything from fabric prints to temple eaves, and from Khan masks to corporate logos (to say nothing of Thai money.) These patterns, so recognizably Thai, are basically fractal in nature, reflecting the same repetition on different scales that determines the forms of plant leaves and flames. During the class you will be shown how to draw several basic designs in pencil. You will recreate these patterns with a fine brush and glue, and lay gold leaf over the surface. After brushing the excess away, you will be left with their patterns etched in gold.
These four diverse arts are connected in many subtle ways. Participants will see how the same spiritual principles run through everything they study. ORIGIN ARTS will richly inform the way we experience this journey.
Return to hotel for dinner on our own as there are many excellent restaurants nearby our hotels. Ask our guide for suggestions.
Day 4 - Bangkok - Bang Pa in Summer Palace - Ayutthaya Temples - Lunch on Riverboat - Khan Yak Park (A UNESCO World Heritage site) - Dusk Wild Elephant Watching - Khan Yak Park
Depart Bangkok by bus to visit Bang Pa on the Summer Palace, and then continue to Ayutthaya to visit the primary temple of the ancient capital. The 3 surviving chides (bell-shaped towers) here are surrounded by the foundations of the sprawling and extensive ancient palace. We will also visit the Historical Studies Center to give us perspective on how the city would have looked in its heyday.
Enjoy a Thai lunch on a local riverboat on the river at Ayutthaya, and continue to Khan Yak National Park for check in at our hotel.
Khan Yak is Thailand's oldest national park and has set the standard for conservation and protection in Southeast Asia. However, this was not always the case. Efforts from many organizations, including WWF, have changed hunting and poaching into conservation and ecotourism. It is a wonderful case study of how ecotourism can assist in conservation and protection efforts. Spanning four provinces, this 2,000-square-kilometer biological wonderland contains more than 70 mammal species, including tigers and elephants, as well as 320 varieties of birds. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Like most of Asia's wildlife sanctuaries, Khan Yak is still under threat from poachers and therefore still requires our attention and efforts.
Relax until we drive to meet up with local rangers who have been tracking wild elephants prior to our arrival. It is likely but not guaranteed that we will catch a glimpse of some wild elephants in the dusk.
Day 5 - Khan Yak National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Nature Site) - Early Morning Nature Walk and Life of the Strangling Fig Tree: Hornbills and Gibbons - Camp Lunch - Salt Lick - Park Headquarters - Waterfall - BBQ Dinner - Khan Yak Park
Rise before the sun and drive into the park for dawn birding and to see the Macaques who come to the roadside to check us out. We will spend about a half hour on the roadside identifying local wildlife and birds, before trekking into the jungle to find a couple of Strangling Fig trees, around which functions a unique and beautiful ecosystem. It is almost guaranteed that we will see Hornbills, who make a great racket when they take off. We will hear the raucous Gibbons before seeing their seemingly mad antics as they routinely take 50 foot drops from branches, and then casually latch onto passing branch just feet above the ground. Find a spot, get comfortable, and enjoy the show! Continue walking over gently rolling inclines in the jungle, and about noon our staff will cook a camp lunch.
After lunch continue walking to a salt lick where our vehicle will be waiting. From here will visit the park headquarters beside the dramatic waterfall there, used in the filming of The Beach a few years ago. Bring flip flops and shorts as we can get wet! We will return to our resort for barbeque dinner.
Note: Walking distance today will be under two miles and is an easy walk.
Day 6 - Khan Yak Park - Bangkok Airport - Chiang Mai - Doe Soothe Mountain Temple - Chiang Mai
After a leisurely breakfast drive back to Bangkok (about 2.5 hours) to the domestic airport for the flight to Chiang Mai. Lunch is on our own at the airport.
Arrive in Chiang Mai, meet our guide and visit Doe Soothe Mountain and Temple, arguably the most important cultural monument in the North. 1600 meters high, the peak is visible from miles away. It was named after the hermit Sieve who lived on the mountain's slopes for many years. Near the top is the 600 year old temple of Watt Para Doe Soothe. According to local legend a relic of the Lord Buddha was mounted on the back of a white elephant which was allowed to wander until it stopped and apparently died at this spot – hence the location of the temple! After a drive up the mountain's winding road, the final climb to the site is via a Naga (dragon-headed serpent) staircase of 306 steps (a funicular is available). On a clear day, there are incomparable views over the city of Chiang Mai from the grounds of the temple. For those who want, our guide will invite and teach us how to perform a Buddhist Merit Making (or to ask a favor of the Buddha) using flowers, gold leaves and incense.
Before heading back down the mountain, we will have time to browse the nearby jade factory shop, just to show you what is available. We then will return down the mountain, and go directly to our hotel. There will be time to freshen up before our dinner at The Gallery Restaurant, which has an eclectic collection of art from around the Chiang Mai.
“Built in 1892 and one of the oldest original wooden structures in Chiang Mai, The Gallery is the most tranquil and romantic of the choice riverside restaurants on the eastern bank of the Mae Ping river.” Former’s review.
After dinner enjoy an opportunity to visit the Chiang Mai night bazaar for shopping before returning to the hotel.
Day 7- Chiang Mai - Lana Temple - Studio Marana and Patricia Cheesman Traditional Lana Weaving - John Shaw Ceramic Collection - Chiang Mai
After breakfast, visit an old Lana-style Temple in town. Then drive to Studio Nana to learn about traditional Lana style textile weaving. Meet Ms. Pat Cheesman who has played an important role in preserving and revitalizing traditional weaving methods and media. Pat is an expert in antique, Lao and Thai textiles, and lecturer in Tai textiles, ceramics and contemporary design at Chiang Mai University. Besides meeting local weavers who have come to work with Pat, we will also participate in the dying processes leading up to and preparing for the actual work. This visit will help us appreciate the complexity and subtleties of Lanna weaving. We will have lunch at a local restaurant, then stop at the house of author and ceramics expert John Shaw. Some 30 years ago when John was still British Consul to Chiang Mai, he began what today is an outstanding private collection of ceramics built over decades. Chiang Mai was once a much smaller town back then, most of which fit neatly inside the moat, which today is in the innermost part of the city. Where humans have lived for millennia, artifacts are always in evidence. John would take his daughter on picnics on old escarpments and areas that looked like they had been man-made. In such places, John found so much pottery and ceramic that he has become one of the leading local experts and is revered for his knowledge. Enjoy tea and refreshments.
Return to the hotel and enjoy the rest of the day at leisure or explore on your own.
Dinner is on our own. Our guide will give us a local map with suggestions of many restaurants in the area.
Day 8 - Day-long Volunteering Tourism / Assistance options: learning about Elephants with Richard Lair/ Forestry in Paang Soong District Community-based Development project - or Teaching English in Paang Soong - Chiang Mai
After breakfast we will have an opportunity to ‘give back’ in a variety of ways to the community. These activities are somewhat flexible, but we ask you to inform our guide at the beginning of the trip which options you would like to do, as some preparation is required in each case.
OPTION #1 - ELEPHANTS: Half Day at Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC) Food and Medical or Elephant Breeding Program: TECC Briefing - See bathing the Elephants (0935hrs) - Elephant Show - Elephant Ride - Elephant Hospital - Lunch - Chiang Mai
Elephants are a powerful symbol in Thai culture, and today we will experience their whole story. We will meet their mahouts (or driver) and see the elephants up close as they bathe; enjoy an exciting ride on one (if you would like); and even visit the elephant hospital. To help the TECC continue their good work, your donation for food and medicine of 50 USD per person is already built into our tour costs and will be recorded in the Center’s public record as such.
Our guide and driver will pick us up at our hotel at 0800hrs, then brief us during the hour-long drive south to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang. Here we will not only enjoy a marvelous opportunity to learn about the contemporary problems facing the great beasts in Thailand, but will connect with the giant pachyderms themselves.
Upon arrival, staff from the center will join us and our guide for a 10 minute briefing. This is a great time for Q & A. Then, as we walk to watch the elephants bathing we can consider the words of TECC’s Foreign Relations Officer Richard Lair, who maintains: “although domesticated, these are still wild animals, and must be treated accordingly with a great deal of respect.” Here we will be first be briefed on practical safety issues so that we will be confident as we watch – up close– the mahouts bathing their elephants. Then check out the elephant show arranged for tourists; we will see demonstrations of traditional roles of logging in the forest, plus a few more modern pastimes such as elephant painting and music. Now we have a chance to ride through the jungle on one of the elephants (about 30-40 minutes, depending on local conditions, decided by our mahout). We may find that keeping our balance while we ride on these gentle beasts is a little tougher than we originally thought! Enjoy lunch with Richard at the small restaurant, where we will have another chance to learn how our donation is helping the Center. Before returning to Chiang Mai we will visit the Elephant hospital and the little shop, where we can purchase autographed paintings, elephants’ dung paper products and other items of interest. All the revenues go to the Center. Return to Chiang Mai in the afternoon, and spend the rest of the day at leisure or exploring on your own.
OPTION #2 – TEACHING ENGLISH: Full- or Half-Day Teaching English / Chiang Mai - Mae On School district - Orientation - Teaching - Chiang Mai
When we work – even for a morning – with 25 local children, we’ll likely fall in love 25 times. Village leaders here elected to work with us and Voluntourists Without Borders (VWB) to allow visitors to help the local children gain skills to independently manage their village’s tourism services. Regardless of whether students skilled in English stay in the village, they will be equipped at least to navigate the modern world, and develop useful leadership skills.
This work takes place in the Huai Kaew district and is arguably the only sustainable English-teaching project in which westerners can actually make a visible difference in just one day. The project is facilitated by VWB.
If this is your option choice, you will be briefed beforehand on what the children are currently learning. Our English-speaking guide will pick us up at 0700 hrs at our hotel. During the ride to the Huay Kaew area of Mae On district, you will be briefed with details of the particular school you will visit, and the curriculum from which you will teach. This information will have been given to you 2 weeks beforehand, along with suggestions for any supplemental teaching aids you may like to purchase. Arrive at the village, and by 0800hrs meet the headmaster or the senior English teacher, and take a short tour of school facilities. At 0830hrs you will meet the class teacher who will assist you for your first lesson. Review the lesson plan with him or her if need be. You will actually conduct the class yourself, but under the guidance of the children’s regular Thai teacher. At 1130hrs join the Thai teachers and children for a lunch of local food and chit chat. After lunch resume your teaching role, (or return to Chiang Mai whenever you would like with our guide and driver.) until 1430hrs when it is time to say your goodbyes, take a few photos with your class and their teacher, and then return to the city of Chiang Mai and our hotel.
OPTION #3 - FORESTRY: Full- or Half-Day Forestry / Chiang Mai - Huai Kaew District - Trail Repair Work / NTFP Farming / Scientific Data Collection - Village Visit to Ban Pang Mano with Village Chief - Chiang Mai
Roll up our sleeves, because your chance is now to give back in a meaningful way to this lovely land and her people. You will work with villagers to maintain multi purpose hiking trails. These trails are for simply hiking through pristine nature, birding (bird watching), adventure racing (running and mountain bike), and occasionally even for corporate training. Your work might include: fixing handrails along trails; repairing sections of path; moss and lichen collection for scientific record and analysis; work in the Non-Timber Forest Products area. This work is important for alleviating poverty by building villagers’ capacity to self manage their tourism and natural resources; something rather unusual anywhere in the world today. Note that we include a donation of 50 USD per person already built into our tour costs for the project.
Depart our hotel early (0700hrs) to ensure timely arrival at school. During the ride to Pang Soong, you will be briefed with details of the particular project on which you will work. This information will have been given to you 2 weeks beforehand, along with suggestions for any supplemental equipment or items to bring along. Arrive at the village 1,000m above sea level in the primary forest that covers the mountains separating Chiang Mai and Lampang valleys.
Arriving on site, meet your coordinator and the villagers with whom you will work for a briefing on the day’s activities and underlying mission. They will provide you with gloves, tools and drinking water. Led by one of the community’s local forest guide you will set out along one of the hiking trails and get started on accomplishing the day’s mission.
Break for lunch at 1130 hrs, and then at 1230 hrs return to where you started this morning to wash up, change clothes and return work tools. Your village co-workers, who have been paid for the day, will continue working until late afternoon. Before returning to Chiang Mai, enjoy refreshment while you decide if you would like to visit the nearby village of Ban Pang Mano – as guests of the village chief – to experience life in a traditional ‘Lanna’ village. Leave for Chiang Mai in the afternoon, and return to our hotel. Spend the rest of the day at leisure or exploring on your own.
Day 9 - Design Our Day in Chiang Mai! Spa Treatment / Thai Cooking Class / Fly through rain forest canopy/ Shopping - Chiang Mai
After breakfast choose one of the following:
Spa Treatment: enjoy a 2 hour spa treatment. Ask our guide for a menu of Spa options.
Thai Cooking Class: Begin by visiting a local fresh market, where with your guide you will purchase ingredients for a 4 course Thai meal. Then return to the kitchen where you will work, and get cooking! At the end of the class enjoy your delicious handiwork. You will have menus and recipes to bring home.
Fly through the rain forest canopy: Take an exhilarating zip line flight through a 1500 year-old rainforest high above the forest floor. Travel easily from tree to tree on a spectacular and gradual downhill course, taking time to linger in our favorite places, soaking up the fragrance, clean air and animal life. Your safety team accompanies you and teaches you how to move through the trees with the speed and grace of a Weng gibbon. Recognized as a hotspot of biodiversity, this old growth forest supports a huge range of plant, animal and bird life.
Shopping: Consult our guide for information relating to shops which sell things you wish to purchase. Or do our own research and our guide and driver will facilitate the day for you.
Return to our hotel to spend the rest of the day at leisure or exploring on your own.
Day 10: Chiang Mai – Chiang Dao Caves – Thaton – Local style River boat trip on Kok River with Village stops – Chiang Rai Golden Triangle
Check out of our hotel in Chiang Mai after breakfast and drive to Chiang Dao caves. Her you can explore many different levels of caverns. There is something for everyone. Those who wish may rent equipment to go deep into the caves, and others may prefer to stay close to the well-lit areas.
Continue to Thaton town on the Burma border for lunch in a local restaurant, and then board a local boat for the 4 hour boat ride into Chiang Rai town. There a will be stops along the way at local villages.
This area has had a turbulent history and changed hands numerous times (the latest change happening in the early 20th century). A number of ethnic groups including the Shan, Yao, Lisu, Karen and Akha inhabit the areas surrounding Thaton, and there are even a few villages of KMT Chinese nationalists who decades ago made this their home-in-exile.
After lunch we will board local boats for a relaxing ride along the Mae Kok River to Chiang Rai. Several stops will be made to explore villages of local hill tribes (Karen and Lahu) who live along the river.
The Karen’s ancestors supposedly originated from Tibet. Today there are several hundred thousand Karen estimated living in Thailand (especially on border areas) and they are by far the largest tribal group in the Golden Triangle. Since WWII the Karen have failed in attempts to build an autonomous state in Burma (where they number 7 million), hence they have experienced little peace. As with many widely-used ethnonyms, (Eskimo; Miao) Karen was originally applied pejoratively by enemies. However, the term has since been claimed by the Karen themselves as a badge of pride.
The Lahu (about 100,000 people) are about the 5th largest tribal ethnic group in Thailand. The Tai minorities (and Thai people) often refer to them by the ethnonym "Mussur", meaning hunter. The Lahu divide themselves into Red, Black, White, Yellow, referring to the traditional color of their dress. These groupings however do not function as tribes or clans, as there are no kin groups above that of the family. Lahu comes originally from the Tibeto-Burman family, and like most of its relatives, it is tonal (7 tones). Written Lahu uses the Latin alphabet and has been enriched significantly by loanwords from English. Lahu are traditionally Animist, but being a minority group in the midst of primarily Buddhist cultures, naturally Buddhism is also widespread among Lahu.
We won’t spend more than an hour in either village, but we will have a chance to greet the Village Headman and the village’s school teacher. If it is a school day, we may meet some of the students. We will learn about the village as well as the modern challenges faced by those who live there.
Then continue by boat to Chiang Rai, and transfer the remaining distance to the Golden Triangle and the resort over land. Dinner is on our own at our accommodation.
Day 11 - Golden Triangle - Chiang Saen - Doi Tung Royal Project - Golden Triangle - Farewell Dinner - Golden Triangle
After breakfast we will visit the infamous Golden Triangle renowned for centuries as the centre of the opium trade. From a hill top viewpoint, marvel at the splendor of the mighty Mekong joining with the Ruak river and forming the actual “Triangle” with Laos Burma and Thailand.
We then go to visit the Hall of Opium. The interactive center has excellent historical displays pertaining to the opium culture of this area. Exhibits include all the various implements used in the planting, harvest, use and trade of the Papaver somniferum resin, including pipes, weights, scales as well as photos and maps.
Next we drive to Chiang Saen to visit Chiang Saen National Museum. This small museum exhibits local objects dํ'art, including Chiang Saen-style Buddha images and Lanna Thai artifacts. Scattered throughout the town are the ruins of the Chiang Saen Kingdom, founded in 1325, including chedis, images of the Buddha, and earthen city ramparts.
We will have lunch in a local restaurant before driving to visit the Doi Tung Royal Development Project (“Doi” means mountain). The initiative works to eradicate opium supply, drug use, rural poverty through Sustainable Alternative Development in the Golden Triangle.
In 1969 His Majesty King Bhumiphol launched the Royal Project to help Hill-Tribes in North Thailand and discourage the practice of slash-and burn techniques and widespread farming of opium poppy. The Project introduced new cash crops and new technology, both which have aided sustainability efforts and also directly increased income, which is why experts worldwide point to the project as a successful initiative. In His Majesty’s words: “The Hill Tribes no longer need to destroy watershed areas to survive, which helps the nation, nor need they grow opium poppy any longer, which helps everyone in the world.”
We will meet with representatives from the foundation to learn of the history of the area and continuing efforts to provide sustainable community development. We will have an opportunity to visit the royal residence with most of the interior paneling made of pine timber from recycled shipping crates, and the adjacent four hectares of botanical gardens. We will also visit the reforestation accomplishments at Doi Chang Mub, the site of the Mae Fah Luang Arboretum, the highest peak of the Nang Non mountain range on the Thai-Myanmar border.
Return to the resort and spend the rest of the afternoon at leisure using our resort facilities before our Farewell Dinner at the resort.
Day 12: Chiang Rai - fly to Bangkok - return home or do a post trip
After breakfast transfer to the Chiang Rai airport for return flight to Bangkok, and return home or do a post trip.
More information from Cultural Crossroads: