- Ride the circle train around Yangon to see what local life is really like
- Take a balloon ride over Bagan as the sunrises and the thousands of pagodas are illuminated
- Help out in an elephant sanctuary, getting up close and personal with these gentle giants
- Sink your toes into the soft sand on Phuket's beaches
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For those seeking to get off the beaten track without compromising on beach time or classic sightseeing, this 15-day Myanmar and Thailand itinerary might just be the perfect choice. Wow friends with tales of balloon rides over Bagan and remote village visits near Chiang Mai but make time for some sunbathing in Phuket and classic temple touring too.
Your adventure begins as you head to the airport and board an international flight to Bangkok. This overnight flight leaves at around lunchtime and takes roughly 11 hours.
Arrive and explore Yangon
Landing into the Thai capital in the early morning you can transfer across to the shorter flight to Yangon, with your bags checked straight through. On arrival you'll be met by a driver at arrivals and taken to your hotel in the centre of town. After a quick freshen up and the morning spent settling into your new surroundings a guide will meet you at the hotel for an afternoon walking tour. Your guide will introduce you to some of the buildings on the Yangon City Heritage List, a collection of 188 man-made structures mainly consisting of religious landmarks and colonial-era buildings. Highlights include the City Hall, the old railway station, the former Minister's office, St Mary's Cathedral and the Buddhist landmarks of Sule Paya and Botataung Pagoda.
Walking through the streets you'll also witness the lifestyle of the locals, taking in the buzz at the busy bus and boat stations and hidden street markets before stopping for a cup of tea or coffee at Lat Ywae Sin tea shop, a favourite with the locals thanks to its famous home roasted coffee and delicious semolina cake.
This morning you will be met at your hotel and transferred to Insein Township, home to one of the city's best fresh produce markets. After a short visit you'll board the local 'circle train' which runs from Yangon's main railway station in a circle around various neighbourhoods. Riding on the slowly travelling train gives you a unique opportunity to observe the lively and colourful life of rural Myanmar, which you'll experience first-hand during a lunch stop near one of the stations.
Back in town by the late afternoon, you will be accompanied to Shwedagon Pagoda, the most revered Buddhist temple in Myanmar. Although the origins of the pagoda are unclear, local legend states that the original structure was built 2,500 years ago. Your guide will show you around the huge complex, pointing out the eight-sided central stupa, which is 325ft tall, gilded with gold leaf and surrounded by 64 smaller stupas.
Today head onwards on your journey through Myanmar, with a short (roughly one hour and 20 minutes) domestic flight from Yangon to Bagan. You'll be met by a driver and taken to the airport in plenty of time, and then collected and transferred to your new hotel at the other end.
Once settled in, the afternoon is yours to explore before your evening plans begin. Tonight we've arranged for you to take a cruise along the Irrawaddy River as the sun sets over the temple plains. From the boat you'll go ashore to explore the crowd-free pagodas and then wander through peaceful Shwezigon to see the illuminated facades and mingle with locals at a nearby night market.
This morning get up bright and early to float above Bagan's temples and the mighty Irrawaddy River during an unforgettable hot air balloon ride. You'll travel to the launch site in darkness and climb aboard with a steaming hot coffee in hand. Take-off is just in time to watch the sun rise over the glistening Irrawaddy River, the plains and the thousands of pagodas below you.
The knowledgeable pilot will point out famous sites and share interesting stories about the temples and Myanmar culture as the balloon drifts over Bagan for just under an hour. Once descended to ground level, raise a glass of bubbly to celebrate the flight and enjoy a light breakfast while the balloon is packed up.
This afternoon enjoy a tour of some of the city's most important temples and get a closer look at its rich culture and intrinsic spirituality. Start with a visit to Shwezigon, one of Myanmar's holiest sites which is best known for its gilded stupa-shaped pagoda. Next, visit nearby Wetkyi-In Gubyaukgyi to admire the beautiful mural paintings found inside and the incredible plaster carvings found on the exterior. After this introduction to Bagan's famed pagodas, take a closer look at its culture with a visit to a selection of traditional workshops and a local village.
With one heck of a day behind you, today it's time to move on again. This time to Mandalay, which is a four-hour drive away. On arrival you'll drop your bags and head out to explore the area with a private guide.
You'll first be collected and taken to Mahamuni Pagoda, Mandalay's most important religious site. The temple's massive Buddha image is coated with gold leaf applied by the local pilgrims - in fact, so much gold leaf has been applied over the years that the image now appears 'lumpy' in texture.
Next, visit some of the city's traditional workshops and see the skilled craftsmen at work. After that, continue to Kuthodaw Pagoda, whose 729 marble stone slabs of Buddhist scriptures have earned it the title 'World's Biggest Book', and then to Shwenandaw Monastery, the only remaining building from the 19th century Royal Palace. Finally, head to the top of Mandalay Hill as the sun begins to set to enjoy magnificent views of the city and Irrawaddy River.
Travel south of Mandalay to Paleik today. Your first stop here will be at the snake temple; officially called Hmwe Paya, the site is famous, as its name suggests, for the massive pythons which live within the temple grounds as well as for its statue which depicts Buddha surrounded by snakes. The locals believe this image brings good luck and, thus, so they gather daily to wash the image and the actual snakes. Watch this bizarre ceremony from a distance and step closer for a chance to touch the snakes if you dare!
After this, continue to discover Paleik's Ava-style temples that have been abandoned and covered by jungle, this is a really atmospheric site that few tourists get to see. On the drive back to Mandalay, stop at some small villages for a short walk before returning to the city around midday. The afternoon is then yours to spend as you please.
It's back on the road again this evening (or more literally, in the air) as you leave Myanmar behind and fly to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. The flight is nice and short at around an hour and a half, and you'll be collected at the other end and taken to your new hotel in the heart of Chiang Mai.
Today the second half of your holiday begins as you start adventuring on Thai soil. You can spend this morning relaxing at your hotel and after lunch you will be met by a guide for a tour of the many beautiful temples around Chiang Mai. Start with a visit to the town centre, then hop on a pedal-powered trishaw to explore the old town where you'll stop at the Three Kings Monument on the way to Wat Phra Singh, one of the city's most revered temples. See the various buildings in the compound, admire its ancient Buddha image and hear about its 700-year history. Then continue on foot to Wat Chedi Luang and finally pass through Chiang Mai's silver district to see Wat Sri Suphan, a temple made from ornate silver.
Chiang Mai elephants
Visiting an elephant camp is a must do on any Thailand holiday, and visiting the Elephant Nature Park in the Mae Taeng Valley is a really special experience. After driving from Chiang Mai you'll arrive and be met by one of the volunteers from the park to learn about the work done here. Established more than 20 years ago, the park provides a sanctuary for Thailand's mistreated elephants. Hearing the tales of some of the park's residents, you'll gain a better understanding of the threats to the Thai elephant population and their natural habitat.
Then, wander through the park to meet the elephants themselves. They are allowed to roam completely free in the park but have become accustomed to the daily feeding routines so are likely to be around.
Join the staff to feed and bathe the elephants, getting up close and personal with some of the world's most beautiful creatures. Take plenty of photographs to remember the day by and then bid farewell before you return to Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai countryside
Spend today on the outskirts of Chiang Mai with this day trip to Mae Taeng and the countryside outside of the city Your first stop is at Sri Lanna, one of the north's most scenic National Parks, where you'll see Bua Tong, a three-tiered, cascading waterfall set amid the forest. Continue through the park to board a longtail boat and cruise across the reservoir to a floating restaurant. Here you can relax and enjoy the views of the reservoir and its wild surroundings while dining on a delicious Thai meal.
Having refuelled, resume your exploration with a walk through an agricultural area. Pass by rice paddies, fruit orchards and other farms, encountering water buffaloes and oxen on the way. Learn about the farming methods used and then spend the afternoon at a local village. Here you'll meet the friendly residents and get a real insight into rural Thai life, before heading back to your hotel for dinner.
To the beach
Today it's time to head south for some well-deserved beach bliss. You'll be collected at your hotel and driven to Chiang Mai airport where you'll catch a direct two-hour flight to Phuket. Once again you'll be collected and taken to your new hotel, this time on the sandy shores of this beautiful island.
As the afternoon draws in, wander down the beach and dip your toes in the sea before settling down with a cocktail to watch the sun set and the sky light up. For dinner we recommend some fresh seafood eaten overlooking the sea it was caught in that morning.
After hitting the heights in a balloon over Bagan, and the ethereal otherworldliness of the many temples you've visited, the next few days are very much about getting back down to earth, relaxing and enjoying the sunshine. Swim in the turquoise sea, sunbathe on the soft white sand and listen to the palm leaves gently swaying in the breeze. With seas this beautiful you'll also want to go diving or snorkelling or get stuck into some watersports, and for those looking to pack in a bit more activity, we can also arrange various excursions including cooking classes and boat trips to places such as the Phi Phi Islands.
As with all good things, the holiday has sadly had to come to an end today. But, not before you are transferred to the airport to catch your flight to Bangkok, which will take an hour and a half, and then onward 12-hour flight to the UK, arriving in the evening.
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