The Ancient Kingdoms of Thailand and Laos    *alt*

15 days, from £2895
Great Rail Journeys
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Experience a unique 15-day Far Eastern adventure
Embark on an unforgettable exploration of this mystic corner of the globe, discovering the magnificent temples of Bangkok, journeying across the River Kwai on the historic Death Railway, and experiencing the spiritual city of Chiang Mai. Sail along the Mekong to the ancient kingdom of Laos and absorb its enchanting mixture of culture and charm.

Tour Highlights
* Bangkok
* Kanchanaburi
* Bridge on the River Kwai
* Thailand-Burma Railway Centre and Hellfire Pass
* Maeklong Railway Market
* Ayutthaya, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai
* Golden Triangle
* Mekong River journey
* Pak Ou Caves
* Luang Prabang and Vientiane

What's Included
* Heritage Rail Excursions
* Breakfast Every Day Selected Evening Meals 13 Nights Hotel Accommodation
* Return Scheduled Flights Upgrades Available


 Days 1-3 Bangkok

We depart London and fly to Bangkok, Thailand's lively metropolis. Arriving on Day 2, we transfer to the Rembrandt Hotel for a two-night stay. In its constant state of flux, Bangkok simply has to be seen to be appreciated; the city has expanded to accommodate the skyscrapers next to the centuries - old shrines, palaces and public gardens. On Day 3 we discover its attractions on our guided tour. We begin with an orientation cruise on the majestic Chaophraya River, at the heart of this dynamic city. Later we take in the dazzling Grand Palace, the official residence of the Thai monarchy, and the adjacent Wat Pho Temple, with its emerald Buddha statue. The rest of the day is free for you to continue exploring and perhaps visit the local markets. Includes:Scheduled flightsDay 1 - In-flight MealDay 2 - DinnerDay 3 - BreakfastExcursions

 Days 4-5 Thailand-Burma Railway and River Kwai

Today we enjoy an authentic Thai experience as we travel by local train to Kanchanaburi. The westward journey takes us through a countryside of verdant pastures and rice paddies. On arrival in Kanchanaburi we take a tour of the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre, which tells the story of the 'Death Railway', built in the 1940s by the Prisoners of War. Later we visit the Allied War Cemetery, a sobering site which commemorates the 9,000 Allied forces who lost their lives here. Our final visit today is to the Death Railway's most famous structure; the 'Bridge on the River Kwai', which is emblazoned across popular culture since the novel and film of the same name. We spend two nights at the nearby Dheva Mantra Resort & Spa. On Day 5 we take the train from Kanchanaburi and over the River Kwai on an original wooden viaduct built by the Prisoners Of War. Later we alight to visit the Hellfire Pass Museum. This infamous railway cutting earned its nickname after it claimed the lives of more than 15,000 Prisoners Of War, and the museum is a moving tribute to their efforts. Includes:Breakfast, DinnerExcursions

 Day 6 Bangkok and the Maeklong Railway

Today we drive back to Bangkok, travelling to the city's outskirts where we take a journey on the Maeklong Railway. The narrow-gauge line offers a truly unique experience, as it runs directly through a bustling local market. Here sweet-smelling flowers and exotic fruits are on offer either side of the tracks. We alight at the station in the heart of the market, and here you are free to wander between the stalls and admire the displays, before returning to the Thai capital for an overnight stay. Includes:BreakfastExcursion

 Day 7 Ayutthaya

Leaving Bangkok, we visit a local craft centre, before arriving in Ayutthaya. Although the city is now largely in ruins, it has been partially restored and it is easy to imagine how it would have been when it was the cornerstone of the Siamese Kingdom. Here we visit some of the most famous landmarks, such as the Wihaan Phra Mongkhon Bophit, a sanctuary hall which houses an immense 50ft bronze statue of Buddha. After time to explore, this evening we join the train to Phitsanuloke, where we spend the night at the Amarin Lagoon Hotel. Includes:Breakfast, DinnerExcursions

 Days 8-9 Chiang Mai

We drive through the scenic north of Thailand from Phitsanuloke to Chiang Mai, arriving at our home for the next two nights, the Chiang Mai Plaza. Nestled in mist-shrouded hills, this relaxed city has much to recommend it. After checking in we take a guided tour of the city. Among the highlights we see the imposing city gate, along with the defensive fortifications. We also admire the historic core of Chiang Mai, with its attractive teak housing. Tonight we enjoy a typical Thai Kantoke dinner, whilst being entertained by a selection of the region's traditional cultural performance. We begin Day 9 with a visit to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple. Situated close to Doi Suthep's summit, this marvellous gold structure is the highest in Chiang Mai, which also affords amazing views over the city. We then continue into the surrounding hills, where we visit an elephant camp. Here these gentle giants work in teams to take timber loads through the forest. We also make a stop at the home of the cotton and silk industries to witness the fascinating process of weaving these fabrics. We then continue to Bor Sang where delicate Thai paper umbrellas are made and hand painted - and also observe the intricacies involved in lacquer ware, silverware and Thai wood carving. Includes:Breakfast, DinnerExcursionsGuided City Tour

 Day 10 Chiang Saen and the Mekong

We travel by coach to Chiang Saen this morning. During the journey we stop in a small village, home to the Long Neck Karen hill tribe, with their famous stacked necklaces of gold rings. Now a sleepy town on the Mekong River, Chiang Saen was the base of a major 7th century kingdom, and here we visit the museum dedicated to its past. We continue by longtail boat to the region's Golden Triangle, named because here the river marks the border between Burma, Thailand and Laos. We spend tonight in this superb location at the Imperial Golden Triangle Hotel. Includes:Breakfast, DinnerExcursions

 Days 11-12 Into Laos

Today we cross the river into Laos, a beautiful country which retains an idyllic, rustic charm. From the picturesque border town of Houayxai, we board a traditional longtail boat for our journey along the Mekong through lush valleys and forests to Pakbeng. During the journey we visit two ethnic minority villages, inhabited by the Lao Lu and Hmong peoples. The villages are filled with simple wooden dwellings, and are a delight to explore. Later we arrive in Pakbeng, and overnight at the Pakbeng Lodge. On Day 12 we continue sailing. During the day we visit some rural villages to learn more about the local way of life and also enjoy a traditional lunch of Lao food on board. Later this afternoon we visit the striking Pak Ou Caves, set in dramatic limestone cliffs above the river. Known as the 'Buddha Caves', here dozens of images and effigies of Buddha populate the inlets. We then arrive in Luang Prabang, for two nights at the Victoria Xienthong Palace. Includes:ExcursionsDay 11 - Breakfast, Lunch, DinnerDay 12 - Breakfast, Lunch

 Day 13 Luang Prabang

With its serene temples, streets lined with palm trees and French colonial architecture, UNESCO-listed Luang Prabang is packed with attractions. We discover many of them on today's guided tour. We begin by watching the early 'tagbat' ceremony, where saffron-robed monks give alms to the crowds. The tour also takes in That Makmo (the 'watermelon stupa'), the Buddhist Art Museum (Vat Visoun) and the Vat Mai Temple, which has a finely carved veranda and a five-tiered roof. After a walk through the Old City, we visit the magnificent Vat Xieng Thong Temple. We finish at Phousi Hill, where we watch the sunset and admire the superb views over the city. Includes:Breakfast, DinnerExcursions

 Days 14-15 To Vientiane and London

Today we take a short flight to Vientiane, Laos' compact and laid-back capital, where tall French mansions stand alongside modest wooden houses. After settling in, we enjoy a guided tour of the sights including Vat Sisaket, the city's oldest temple. We also see Laos' most revered shrine, the imposing That Luang Stupa, as well as the ornate Patouxay - the "Arch of Triumph". We spend tonight at the Ansara Boutique Hotel, and later we enjoy a farewell meal at a local restaurant to mark the end of our epic journey. On Day 15 we transfer to the airport for our flight back to London. Includes:ExcursionsGuided City TourDay 14 - Breakfast, DinnerDay 15 - BreakfastScheduled Flights