Nature Focused Thailand
Thailand is a nature lover's paradise, with dense topical forest full of exotic wildlife and numerous pioneering elephant sanctuaries that really do look after these gentle giants. There are also a plethora of beautiful landscapes to hike, kayak and dive through on this thirteen-day trip to Chiang Mai, Khao Sok National Park and Krabi.
Itinerary at a Glance:
- Feed rescued elephants and help the keepers improve the conditions at a pioneering sanctuary
- Stay in a floating hotel on a lake in the wildlife rich Khao Sok National Park
- Do some diving off the shores of Krabi and see all manner of colourful coral and fantastical fish
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When To Travel
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Day 1: Chiang Mai
On arrival into Chiang Mai airport you'll be met by a driver and whisked into the car to your hotel. The airport is only 25 minutes from the centre of town so you won't have long to wait until you can relax and the holiday fully begins.
Spend the rest of the day exploring the city, which has a striking mountain backdrop and over 300 beautiful temples in and around it. While Chiang Mai literally means 'New City' it actually has a venerable 700-year history and is the cultural capital of Buddhism in northern Thailand. Additionally, until the 1930s, Chiang Mai was only really accessible by river or by elephant, and such isolation has helped to preserve the unique Lanna culture.
There is plenty to do in and around Chiang Mai. One highlight which we recommend for tonight is the famous Night Bazaar, where you can hone your haggling skills shopping for local handicrafts at the hundreds of stalls and shops stretching along the Chang Khlan Road.
Day 2: Chiang Mai Elephant Experience
For nature and animal lovers there's little more heart-breaking than the mistreatment of animals, and despite being one of the world's most caring and most compassionate animals, elephants have often had it hard and suffered at the hands of poachers.
Centres like Elephant Nature Park in the Mae Taeng Valley are great examples of what work can, and is, being done to help stop the problem and make life for the Thai elephants a lot happier. So, spend today visiting the rescue centre and gaining a first-hand appreciation for the work that goes on, with the added bonus of getting to hang out with the big-eared residents too.
When you arrive you'll be shown around by the staff, and can help with the daily feeding routine. Though the elephants roam completely free in the park they have become accustomed to feeding times and so are likely to be around to welcome you.
After they've eaten the elephants will then be taken for their daily wash and you'll have the opportunity to join the staff in bathing them - be prepared, you will definitely get wet! - before saying goodbye and heading back to Chiang Mai.
Day 3: Chiang Mai
After an exciting day yesterday and with a busy few days coming up after this, we have left today free for you to relax and enjoy spending some time at your hotel.
You might like to opt for a spa treatment to revitalise yourself after the flight, or simply get stuck into a good book by the pool. Come evening we can recommend a selection of restaurants and bars in town in our detailed destination Dossier.
Day 4: Chiang Mai Trek and Homestay
Today we've arranged an amazing homestay experience for you in a small village called Mae Kampong, which is high in the hills above Chiang Mai.
You'll set off from your hotel in the morning and make the hour and a half drive up to the village, which sits at over 4,200ft above sea level. Along the way, stop to buy ingredients for tonight's dinner and enjoy the lush views as you climb up into the cooler hills.
When you arrive at Mae Kampong you'll be greeted by the friendly residents and taken on a guided walk to a waterfall, passing through the community forest and tea and coffee fields on the way. Return to the village for a simple lunch prepared by the village hosts and relax with a traditional Thai massage. Then, as the evening approaches, join the host family in preparing food for your dinner while finding out more about their traditional lifestyle. You'll then spend the night in the village.
Day 5: Chiang Mai
As the misty hills begin to clear and the sun rises higher, you'll wake up to a hot breakfast courtesy of your hosts. Afterwards, take a walk around the village to see the processing of fermented tea leaves and perhaps purchase some products which are handmade in the village.
With one last cup of home brewed coffee and a fond farewell to the villagers, head back towards Chiang Mai with your driver. On the way you'll stop at San Kamphaeng hot springs, a popular spot with the locals. These sulphur rich, bubbling waters are a fascinating spectacle known for their restorative properties - definitely worth soaking your feet, but make sure to choose the non-boiling pools.
Back at your hotel by late afternoon, spend the rest of the day relaxing and enjoying the luxury after your basic but brilliant homestay experience.
Day 6: To Khao Sok National Park
This morning head away from the mountainous north of Thailand to the emerald waters of the south. Begin the journey with a short flight to Phuket and then a two-hour transfer from the airport to Khao Sok National Park and more specifically, the Ratchaprapha Dam.
Here you'll be staying at The Greenery Panvaree Resort, a hotel floating on the calm waters of the dam. Surrounded by verdant jungle and the dramatic limestone karsts of the national park, this is an idyllic spot which is made even cooler by the fact that the luxury bungalows are all very gently bobbing on the water's surface. Once arrived and settled in, strip down to your swimwear and get ready for an afternoon on the lake; swimming, kayaking and enjoying a boat ride around what is known as 'Little Halong Bay', however it's a good deal less crowded than its Vietnamese counterpart.
Fresh and tangy Thai specialities will be served for dinner at the restaurant, which is, you guessed it, also floating. Enjoy the unspoilt starry skies from your dinner table and then head to bed ready for a day of adventuring tomorrow.
Day 7: Khao Sok
Wake up on the waters today and head straight out on a boat safari to watch the sun rise over the mountains and the early morning mist float across the water. Then, back at the hotel, wake up properly with a strong coffee and breakfast on the deck. After this the morning is yours to spend swimming and exploring as you wish.
Come afternoon, meet your guide to begin a trek into the thick jungle around the hotel. After a short while you'll reach a beautiful emerald lagoon where a bamboo boat will be waiting for you to board. From here, glide over the water and into the Prakarang coral cave, so named because the stunning stalagmites found inside have a similar shape to coral. While trekking and exploring by boat your guide will also be on hand to point out all manner of rare wildlife and plants found in the rainforest.
Back at the hotel with your scenery and species spotting quota full for the day, enjoy a pre-dinner snooze and another meal under the stars.
Day 8: To Krabi
After two nights in your floating jungle oasis, it's time to find another one, this time on the beach.
Make the two-hour boat and then car transfer back down south, this time to Krabi and a luxurious beachfront hotel.
Hopefully arriving in time for a leisurely lunch on the beach, you'll no doubt settle in to the laidback lifestyle right away. After lunch, dip your toes in the ocean, do some laps of the pool or simply get stuck into a book from your sun lounger. Then, watch the sunset, freshen up and have another leisurely meal accompanied by a cocktail or two.
Days 9-12: Krabi
As the vacation comes to an end spend your last four days at leisure, enjoying some well-earned rest and relaxation and all the facilities on offer at your hotel.
If too many days spent sunbathing and pampering yourself in the spa gives you itchy feet then rest assured there are also a number of activities that you can get involved with. Go kayaking through the pristine mangrove forests, hike a nature trail to a nearby waterfall or discover the art of Thai cooking with a cookery class.
One activity you simply must get involved with is diving or snorkelling. We can recommend the best dive sites to suit everyone from very beginners to hard core divers and can vouch for the quality of the colourful coral and marine diversity here. Get those fins ready, you're in for a real treat!
Day 13: Last Day
Sadly today is your last day in Thailand. Depending on your flight time to your home destination, you may have some time to spend relaxing in your hotel.
We will arrange for a private transfer to Krabi airport in time for your one-hour-20-minute flight back to Bangkok and then your international flight home.
Frances is our expert for this itinerary and, as a seasoned traveller, has the inside track on the most memorable adventures.