Arrival and check in at centrally located hotel. With a pool on the roof and views across the city you may wish to unwind here and get over your jet lag. There will be a meeting with the leader in the evening to hear all about the trip ahead.
This morning we take a short walk to the Chao Praya river where we board a long tail boat for a tour of the local canals. Bangkok was once known as the Venice of the East because of its intricate canal network. We get a glimpse of daily life as we pass locals selling their wares by the river. We will visit what to this day remains the home of the Thai Royal family at the Royal Palace complex followed by Wat Phra Kaew, home to the Emerald Buddha, one of Thailand's most venerated images. The opulence of the palace is striking and the solid gold and shining gem stones cannot fail to impress. Another highlight is Wat Po, the largest temple in Bangkok, housing a 46m long, 15m high gold-plated reclining Buddha. This afternoon is free for personal exploration. You may choose to explore the nearby famous Koh San Road; a shoppers delight, be sure to practice your haggling skills! This evening we head to the train station to board our overnight train to Surat Thani, the gateway to the stunning jungle and islands of Southern Thailand.
We arrive in Surat Thani early this morning and head straight to a local cafe for breakfast before transferring to our overnight lodge. Approximately a two hour drive takes us deep into the National Park. Khao Sok is one of the most bio-diverse jungles in all of Southeast Asia and our lodge is set in the heart of it ensuring a spectacular dawn chorus in the mornings. This afternoon there will be the opportunity to ride an elephant for those who wish. Enjoy riding through this ancient National Park, marveling at the towering limestone mountains and lush rainforest . We'll enjoy listening to the sounds of trickling streams and roaring waterfalls as well the unique call of the gibbon; a distinct sound that echoes around us on our jungle trail aboard the majestic animals that have become known as a national symbol of Thailand. Returning to our lodge for the evening there will be the chance to hop in the pool and cool down or simply relax in one of the hammocks in the lush garden.
This morning we will meet a local guide who will take us on a jungle walk through Khao Sok. Passing bamboo groves our guide will assist us in spotting species of fern and weird-and-wonderful fungi. The giant red rafflesia, Thailand's largest flower - with a diameter of up to 3ft - also blooms here between December and February; its rotten meat smell attracting flies for pollination. Walking will be for approximately 3 hours on fairly flat terrain. There will be the option to further explore the park today and for those keen the leader can arrange a trip to the beautiful Cheow Lan Lake. A vast expanse of turquoise water the lake is surrounded by small bungalows and towering trees. There is the option to rent a kayak here to explore the lake further.
We depart Khao Sok National Park today and make our way to the Nakornsri Thammarat province, the home of the Ban Prom Loke community homestay, our accommodation for the night. The village and community were established approximately 250 years ago and are known for growing the betel leaf that leaves a red stain on the villager's lips. The homestay experience provides a great opportunity to see how villagers live and exposes us to a traditional way of life. There will be the opportunity to visit the local fruit orchards and meet the farmers. If desired there will also be the chance to get involved with the cooking and to meet villagers who will be likely be keen to share their culture with you. Please also ask your leader if you wish to hire bicycles to explore this secluded province further.
Wishing our village hosts thanks and goodbye we begin our journey to the Don Sak Pier to catch a short ferry ride to our first island resort, Koh Pha Ngan. Approaching the island we can admire its many secluded white sand beaches that glimmer against the warm turquoise waters of the Gulf. On arrival we will be met by songthaews (a distinctive Thai vehicle that allows approx. 8 people to sit in the back) and driven to our resort for the next 3 nights. Located on Thong Nai Pan Yai beach on the north-east side of the island this location promises secluded beaches and solitude. The beach is surrounded by mountains covered in dense tropical rainforest and hosts some of the most spectacular sunrises to be found on the island. It is also a great swimming spot with shallow waters and an abundance of marine life, ideal for families to while away the hours.
Today offer the chance to see the two top rated snorkelling sites on the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Tao and Koh Nangyuan. The coral reefs and aquatic life are spectacular, with anemone fish, stag horns, mushroom and lettuce corals, blue-barrel and pink sponges, butterfly fish, angel fish, and sweetlips just a few of the sights you'll experience. Lunch will be provided on Koh Tao after which we will journey to Koh Nangyuan for some further snorkelling or for the adventurous there is the walk to the view point which provides panoramic views (the walk is time permitting so please let your leader know if you are keen).
Today is a full day at leisure. You may wish to explore the island further and our base provides the perfect opportunity to do so. There are numerous trails to walk and waterfalls to visit, and Thong Nai Pan Yai also has a decent set of rocks for experienced climbers. This side of the island is still pretty wild, and the surrounding jungle is a haven for many exotic tropical creatures. Giant water monitor lizards, 'Takuad' in Thai, can be seen feeding outside the Panviman Resort at sunset. You may of course choose to simply relax on the beach and take full advantage of the numerous fresh tropical fruit smoothies on offer at the resort.
Transferring again by fast ferry we arrive at our beachside destination by lunchtime. Our final stop is the island of Koh Samui, the largest and most developed of the islands in the Sumai Archipelago. A distinctive mix of quiet palm fringed beaches, backpacker resorts and coconut plantations ensures there is plenty to do and see. There are a few optional activities to choose from over the next couple of days. You may choose to visit the Na Muang waterfalls, a majestic set of two cascades that flow into a natural swimming pool, ideal for cooling off in the afternoon heat. Alternatively you could visit the Big Buddha Temple. Sitting majestically on a small rocky island off the north-eastern corner, this golden 12-metre seated Buddha statue was built in 1972 and can be seen at a distance of several kilometres off the island. Your tour leader will be able to arrange a full day's sightseeing of the island if desired.
Day 11 - 12
The next two days are to be spent entirely at your leisure. You may wish to do an optional trip to the Ang Thong National Marine, a stunning archipelago of pristine beaches, remote bays and virginal rainforest. These limestone islands are home to sea otters, monitor lizards, dolphins and wild pigs, and offer the perfect setting for some aquatic exploration, ideal if you have the snorkelling-bug from the previous day trip. Alternatively you might like to test out your culinary skills with a Thai cooking class. Offering an education into the fundamentals of Thai cooking you will have the opportunity to learn about the five basics of Thai cuisine, that is - sour, sweet, creamy, salty and spicy as well as learning how to make a traditional dish. Open for all abilities this will promise to teach even the novices how to recreate their favourite dishes once home. Or of course you may like to simply relax by the sea for the last couple of days and take advantage of the on-beach traditional Thai massages, an absolute must before returning home.
Transfer to the Koh Samui International Airport for flight back to Bangkok and connecting flight back home.