Thailand

Magnificent Journey Thailand

Ten Days in Thailand

Thailand is roughly the size of France but thanks to its range of landscapes--from sandy beaches to dense jungles--the southeast Asian country offers many possible itineraries. Everyone from foodies to history buffs will find something to rave about in these ten days that kick off in Bangkok.

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Day 1-3: Bangkok

Bangkok

An overwhelming sprawl of everything from dusty dirt roads to gleaming skyscrapers, the Thai capital can be overwhelming, especially for a first-time visitor. Following a well-crafted itinerary, with lots of downtime and breaks for excellent Thai food, is the key to a successful trip.

Schedule to see just one or two of the main sights each day. The ones to cover are the Grand Palace, home to the stunning Emerald Buddha; Wat Po temple, which houses the massive Reclining Buddha; and Wat Arun, a porcelain-adorned extravaganza that stands riverside and is best seen at dusk from a boat. Another Bangkok highlight is the Jim Thompson House, the residence of the self-made American entrepreneur who is credited with helping resurrect the Thai silk industry. Those looking to buy silk can browse the many Jim Thompson stores across the city, though committed shoppers should take a half-day trip to the Chatuchak Weekend Market, a thirty-acre marketplace with vendors selling everything from jewelry and crafts to pythons and massive Buddhas.

Bangkok has an excellent restaurant scene; some of the best picks include riverside Supatra River House for traditional Thai cuisine; Hazara for incredible Indian; and Celadon, in the Sukothai Bangkok, for its stylish setting. For cocktails, plugged-in travelers head straight for the Sky Tower, home to several vertiginous bars, including the cool Distil Bar that hovers on the 64th floor above the sea of glittering lights that is contemporary Bangkok.

Tip: Purchase Nancy Chandler’s comprehensive Illustrated Map of Bangkok, which features transit stations, sights, restaurants and tips on getting around.

Day 4-6: Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

The flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai takes just a little over an hour, but the vibe of Thailand's second-largest city, in its northernmost region, could not be more different. The lush green mountains, seemingly endless rice paddies and misty air create a panorama of romance and adventure.

Walled Chiang Mai (meaning "new city") was built in the 13th century in a valley between the highest mountains in the kingdom and the Ping river, so there are plenty of historic sites to explore, including temples and the old town. Chiang Mai cuisine is world-famous for its incredible depth and range, and taking a cooking class to learn such dishes as kaeng khae (a spicy curry) and khao phat naem (fried rice) is another must.

Another highlight, especially for families with children, are the camps for rescued elephants that offer travelers a chance to interact with these noble creatures. Don't frequent and support places that offer "elephant shows" (training the animals to play basketball and dance is always abusive). A great option is Patara Elephant Farm, whose owners are dedicated to providing a safe and healthy haven for their elephants--and a great experience for their visitors.

Day 7-10: Koh Samui

Koh Samui

Another short flight (under two hours) brings travelers from the verdant greens of northern Chiang Mai to the palm trees of Koh Samui. The island measures ninety-five square miles and has a dense jungle interior and white sand beaches.

The island's top resorts are located along the serene northern edge, where seas are calm. There are on-island activities (including golf, zip-lining and hiking), but many travelers choose to end their Thailand adventure with some beach- and spa-time (Samui has a long history of drawing yogis and wellness seekers). Water fans take the short boat ride to Ang Thong National Marine Park, an archipelago of some forty-plus islands whose caves, lagoons and otherworldly rock formations provide fantastic snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities.

Return to Bangkok for your international flight. (Tip: The Bangkok International Airport has a large assortment of boutiques where you can get last-minute presents to take back home.)

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