Expert: G.W. "Sandy" Ferguson, Asia Desk
Length: Two weeks
Highlights: Ancient temples, elephant rides, night bazaars, and white sand beaches
DAY 1 & 2: IN TRANSIT TO BANGKOK, THAILAND Once you've arrived in Bangkok, check into the new Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hote located within the new airport complex; because of the US/Bangkok time difference (12 hours), you'll likely sleep only a few hours.... Wake up early the next morning for your connecting flight.
DAY 3: ARRIVE IN CHIANG MAI Take a short (one-hour) flight north and check into the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, and relax and enjoy the hotel's pool and gorgeous grounds.... Spend a few hours strolling through the Night Bazaar in the center of the city, where you can sample some of the best Thai street food available.
DAYS 4 & 5: CHIANG MAI Take a pre-dawn walk to the nearby wat (temple), where you'll be able to observe the monks preparing for the day.... After breakfast at the hotel, visit Wat Phra Singh, a large 14th-century temple located in the heart of the old walled city.... Visit Chiang Mai National Museum, which has an impressive collection of bronze and gold jewelry, among other artifacts.... Grab lunch and take in Thai-style street entertainment from musicians and dancers along Ratchadamnoen Road.... Visit Wat Phra Borommathat Doi Suthep, a temple at the base of a 4,900-foot mountain that looks over the Chiang Mai valley.... Return to the hotel for some downtime and dinner.
The next day, hire a local trekking guide to accompany you on a hike into the mountains of the Chiang Mai Province. Along the way you'll be able to visit some of the region's small tribal villages, like Akha, Lahu, and Lisu. Get to know the wonderful people in this part of Thailand—you'll be in great hands.... Return to the hotel and relax at the spa. Try the traditional Thai massage— a 2,500-year-old treatment that combines stretching and pressing techniques.
DAY 6: LUANG PRABANG, LAOS Fly into the royal Laos city (and Unesco World Heritage site) Luang Prabang.... Check into the Maison Souvannaphoum Hotel, a small but posh inn that was once home to a Laotian prince.... Explore the ancient palaces, temples, and French colonial architecture of the city.... Have a leisurely dinner poolside at the hotel's French-Laotian-Indochinese restaurant, Elephant Blanc.
DAY 7: LUANG PRABANG, LAOS Spend the morning on a boat ride up the Mekong River. You'll see the caves at Pak Ou, where locals and visiting Buddhists have been worshipping for thousands of years. The result: more than 4,000 images of Buddha that have been placed or drawn there over the years.... Also, stop at the village of Ban Xang Hai, known for its production of lao-Lao, a clear, moonshine-like whiskey brewed from rice that will knock your socks off.... You can also shop for handicrafts and souvenirs in the village of the Leu tribe.... At night, visit the Old Palace to enjoy traditional Lao dancing and music. Then stroll through the city's historic section and end the day with a three-course dinner at French-Lao restaurant L'Elephant.
DAY 8: LAO ELEPHANT SAFARI Head to Elephant Village, where you'll ride elephants through the jungle, swim, and eat lunch at Elephant View restaurant, which overlooks the Nam Khan River.... Return to town for more sightseeing, including a stop at the National Museum, a former palace that houses sacred artifacts. Around 4 p.m., head to the front of the Old Palace and walk up Mount Phousi (really more of a hill) for a bird's-eye view of the city.
DAY 9: FLY TO PHUKET Fly back to Thailand, to the resort town of Phuket.... My favorite spot (and it's also a great value) is the Andaman White Beach Resort, located on a private beach. Splurge on a room with an outdoor jacuzzi where you can watch the sunset.
DAYS 10 & 11: PHUKET Relax and enjoy the beach!
DAY 12: BANGKOK Fly to Bangkok and check into the Rembrandt Hotel & Towers, located in the fashionable Sukhumvit district.... Take the Skytrain to the Suan Lum Night Bazaar. The nearby Joe Louis Puppet Theatre is also a must-see tonight. For dinner, I like Spice Market for fine dining or Harmonique for simple, home-style Thai cooking.
DAY 13: BANGKOK Have a local guide give you a city tour, during which you'll visit Pak Khlong Talat, the biggest and most important wholesale market in the city—buy a chain of "love flowers" that smell wonderful and will last the rest of the day.... Board a "long-tail" boat for a trip down the river and along the canals of Bangkok's sister city, Thonburi, where you'll pass the Wat Arun (a.k.a. Temple of Dawn), a gorgeous example of Khmer architecture.... Back on land, visit the Grand Palace, and later, Vimanmek Palace. Enjoy a buffet lunch at the Royal Princess Hotel, then visit the Jim Thompson House, a must for lovers of Oriental art and antiques. For a culture-rich last dinner, dine with the locals at Soo Khek temple.
DAY 14: FLY HOME