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On a snowy day at the end of December, we took off from London for a three week trip to Thailand, a holiday that had been many months in the planning. I developed our 3 week Thailand itinerary through lots of research, weighing up many options, creating shortlists, narrowing down the choices, and finally making reservations for accommodation, transport and a few activities. It took a lot of time to pull together but it was so worth it! We had an absolutely fantastic trip and the itinerary worked out beautifully. Ahead of sharing it here, I’ve made some tiny tweaks to make it even better, based on our experiences.
One reason it took me so long to nail down our plans was that most suggested itineraries include at least a week of beach time – understandable since most travellers enjoy beach resorts, and Thailand has miles of stunning coastline.
But what if you’re not into beaches? Pete and I aren’t beach lovers at all and we knew we wanted Thailand without the beaches! So I created a 21 night Thailand itinerary focused on the best of Thailand’s food, culture, history and a mix of cities and nature.
The 3 week Thailand itinerary below is perfect for anyone who shares those interests.
For each stop on my recommended itinerary, I’ve given you a summary of the destination, the key attractions and reasons to visit, and our personal highlights.
At the end, you’ll find some tips on international and internal travel, guidance on costs for food and hotels, and prices for the specialist tours and activities we booked. I’ve also shared some ideas about elements you can adjust to achieve the best Thailand itinerary for you.
3 Week Thailand Itinerary
This three week Thailand travel plan is for those seeking an immersion into Thai food, culture, history, cities and nature.
Click on the links in the itinerary below to jump straight to a destination:
- Day 1 International flight lands in Bangkok (3 nights)
- Day 2-3 Sightseeing Bangkok
- Day 4 Early morning flight from Bangkok to Phuket or Surat Thani airport for transfer to Elephant Hills Khao Sok National Park (2 nights)
- Day 5 Khao Sok National Park
- Day 6 Afternoon transfer to Phuket or Surat Thani airport for evening flight to Chiang Mai (5 nights)
- Day 7-10 Sightseeing in Chiang Mai
- Day 11 Morning pick up for tour of hill tribe village and landcapes (1 night)
- Day 12 Continuation of tour, dropping off at the end of the day in Chiang Rai (3 nights)
- Day 13-14 Sightseeing Chiang Rai
- Day 15 Early morning flight to Bangkok, collect rental car and drive to Khao Yai (2 nights)
- Day 16 All day excursion within Khao Yai National Park
- Day 17 Drive to Ayutthaya (2 Nights)
- Day 18 Sightseeing Ayutthaya
- Day 19 Sightseeing Ayutthaya, then return car to Bangkok airport late afternoon, public transport into city (2 nights)
- Day 20 Sightseeing / shopping Bangkok
- Day 21 International flight out of Thailand
Bangkok (3 nights)
Bangkok is one of the largest cities in South East Asia, and, unless you have a serious aversion to crowds, it’s well-worth giving a few days to the sights of Bangkok. We split our Bangkok time between the beginning and end of our trip, allowing a couple of days on arrival to acclimatise to the heat, recover from the long flight and sightsee and time at the end to relax, do further sightseeing and shopping.
I’ve heard that it’s changed enormously in the last few decades, but there are still facets of traditional Thailand to be enjoyed within the city alongside the modern era high rise hotels, offices and residential blocks, shiny shopping malls and traffic-congested roads.
Favourite sights and experiences for us in Bangkok included visiting some of the famous Bangkok floating markets, touring the city’s extensive China Town, taking a boat ride up the Chao Phraya River and along some of the klongs (canals) of Thonburi, and visiting some of the many beautiful temples.
There are also many great places to visit near Bangkok.
Our Bangkok Hotel
- The Adelphi Suites Bangkok is located in bustling Sukhumvit, just a minute’s walk from Nana BST station, making it easy to travel around the city, and well-situated for plenty of food and shopping options. We loved the extra space this all-suites hotel provided for a very reasonable price. Our stay included a decent breakfast buffet in their onsite restaurant and bar, and we appreciated having a comfortable lounge, kitchenette and laundry facilities within our personal apartment. We paid 5,760 baht per night.
Other Bangkok Hotels We Shortlisted
- COMO Metropolitan Bangkok is just to the East of Silom district, not far from Lumphini Metro station. It’s also home to David Thompson’s Nahm restaurant.
- Baan K Managed by Bliston is close to the COMO Metropolitan. It offers spacious and attractive suites at budget-busting prices.
- AVANI Riverside Bangkok Hotel overlooks the Chao Phraya River, on the West bank, and has rooms and a pool with stunning views over the river and city beyond, but note that it doesn’t have any Metro or BTS stations nearby.
More on best areas and hotels in Bangkok.
Bangkok Eating Recommendations
- There are night markets all around Bangkok, not just the big name ones, but small ones all over the place. Choose a stall that’s doing brisk business, where everything is cooked hot and fresh to order, and you can’t go wrong.
- Terminal 21, a large modern shopping mall next to Asok BTS Station and a minute from Sukhumvit Metro station, has two floors dedicated to dining. To order at any of the food court stalls, first purchase a card from a cashier, load it with a couple of hundred baht and hand it over each time you make an order. The sales person will deduct the price and return it to you. Anything unspent can be saved for your next visit, or cashed in before leaving.
- Issaya Restaurant was recently recognised as one of Asia’s top restaurants, and is certainly considered one of Thailand’s best. It’s head chef, Pongtawat ‘Ian’ Chalermkittichai is a respected celebrity chef and he has created a menu of classic dishes with a modern interpretation, beautiful presentation and the occasional unexpected twist. Every dish we ate was a delight, perfectly cooked, full of intense flavours, delicious. This restaurant is certainly expensive, but was a food highlight of our visit.
- Hai Som Tam located on Soi Convent in Silom is an Isaan (northeastern Thai) restaurant specialising, as the name conveys, in the hugely popular som tam aka green papaya salad. It’s a casual place, almost canteen-like, and prices are not much higher than street food from the many stalls nearby. There’s an English-language menu (nothing is off the tourist trail here!) so it’s easy to order. The som tam is fantastically delicious and fiercely fiery, even thought it was ordered “less spicy”, as is a larb moo (minced pork). Balance the heat with sticky rice and some excellent deep fried chicken wings.
- Find out more about Vegan dining in Bangkok.
Khao Sok National Park (2 Nights)
Visiting Thailand, you quickly come to learn how much Thai people appreciate nature, and indeed the country has 127 national parks preserving vast swathes of habitat – and the creatures that inhabit them. With 22 of these categorised as marine environments, both sea and land environments are protected.
Khao Sok is the most popular of the country’s mainland national parks, in part because it’s so readily accessible. As well as lush jungle and iconic limestone mountains, it also encompasses a number of rivers and a vast man-made lake created by the Ratchaprapha dam.
We had two reasons for choosing this park. The first was to visit an elephant sanctuary run by Elephant Hills, staying the night in their rainforest camp nearby.
Elephants have long been used for heavy labour across Asia, but their use in the logging industry was banned in Thailand in 1989. After that, many owners turned to the tourism industry as a way to support themselves and their elephants – expensive beasts to keep given the amount of feed they need to consume every day. Unfortunately, the success of elephant tourism has resulted in more elephants being taken from the wild, or bred in captivity, to fulfill a growing demand (and the realisation that it’s a big earner). The problem is that the only way to train elephants to accept riders on their backs, to perform in shows, do tricks, “paint” or otherwise entertain, they must be broken as babies, a horrific process known as the crush. In addition, unlike horses and other large animals, the backs of elephants are not the right shape for carrying weight upon them, and are severely damaged by the heavy riding platforms and passengers they carry.
Since elephants previously trained for labour cannot survive in the wild, Elephant Hills have created a sanctuary where these animals can retire with their mahouts, to a life of leisure. To fund this, visitors are able to visit the elephants, feed them fresh fruit (which they eat in enormous amounts), and help to wash them. The sanctuary allows no breeding, riding or forcing the elephants to participate in the tourist visits and has won awards from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, as well as a range of international tourism bodies.
The second reason was to stay overnight at a floating lake camp on Cheow Lan Lake. There are organised activities available here including a 3 hour rainforest trek and a guided kayak excursion, but we decided to spend the time swimming and kayaking in the area in front of the camp instead, relaxing and enjoying the cooling water and beautiful views.
Check out my dedicated posts about ethical elephant tourism at the elephant sanctuary and staying at the floating Rainforest camp.
Our Khao Sok Accommodation
- Elephant Hills offers an inclusive package that covers pick-up from several airports, towns and resorts within a few hours drive from them, a stay in their jungle-based elephant camp and the floating lake rainforest camp, activities including visiting the elephant sanctuary, river canoeing, trekking in the jungle and kayaking on the lake, and all meals during the stay. It also includes the transfer back to your designated airport or resort afterwards.
- Because of limited availability and the need to switch around the order of our itinerary, we had to fly down the day before pick-up and stay a night near Phuket airport, to be collected from our hotel in the morning. However, if you co-ordinate with the Reservations team, they will let you know specific flights from Bangkok into Phuket or Surat Thani airports which they will meet on landing, so you can fly in the same morning your package begins. The Jungle Lake package costs from 20,372 baht per adult based on two sharing.
Chiang Mai (5 Nights)
Chiang Mai is the largest city in northern Thailand, and is very firmly on the tourist trail. Relatively difficult to reach until the last century, it has retained much of its historic architecture and charm. There’s plenty to do in Chiang Mai, from visiting the city’s many distinctive temples to browsing its famous daytime and night markets and attending a Thai cookery class.
Geographically the foothills of the Himalayas, Chiang Mai is also a hop-off area for visits to nearby Doi Inthanon National Park, and the rest of the region, with excursions to visit nearby hill tribes also popular.
Read my post sharing eight great reasons to visit Chiang Mai!
Our Chiang Mai Hotel
- Rich Lanna House has a great location on the Northern edge of the old city, close to Chang Puak Gate. It’s a short walk to the Sunday Walking Street (night market), but we preferred the smaller North Market just by Chang Phueak Gate. The hotel is in a newly built Thai house and the spacious rooms are beautifully bright and modern. They are furnished with Lanna-inspired fittings and very comfortable beds. The pricing is really great value for the space, comfort and quality of the rooms. The hotel also has a small pool, and an onsite coffee shop. We paid 2,691 baht per night.
Other Chiang Mai Hotels We Shortlisted
- Rachamankha (Secret Retreats) is in the old town, not far from the Western boundary and offers luxurious rooms, beautiful public spaces, a pool and pool spa, and an onsite restaurant serving both Asian and western cuisine.
- Pingviman Hotel is also in the old town, just by Saen Pung Gate along the Southern boundary, a short walk to the Saturday Walking Market. Rooms are decorated in an attractive Northern-Thai style with polished wooden floors and ornately carved wooden furniture, and all have jacuzzi spa bathtubs. There’s a pool and onsite restaurant.
- Nidhra Lanna is on the Western boundary of old town, not far from Tha Pae Gate. It’s a well-priced boutique hotel with huge rooms featuring roll-top baths.
- Rachamankha Thai Villa gives you the freedom of a spacious villa at a great value price. It’s well-located within the western boundary of the old town, and offers complimentary airport pick up.
Chiang Mai Eating Recommendations
Chiang Mai has so many great street food offerings that we didn’t eat any of our evening meals in restaurants, instead visiting our nearest night market (North Market by Chang Puak Gate) on two evenings, the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar one night and the Saturday Walking Market another night.
Rural Hill Tribe Village (1 Night)
Visiting an Akha Hill Tribe to learn about their history, culture and cuisine was something I really wanted to do on this trip.
After a lot of online research, I got in touch with Local Alike, who work with small villages across Thailand. Local Alike help villages to initiate and develop tourism within their communities, assist with marketing, and also serve as an agency to bring tourists to those villages. I mentioned that I was keen to learn about a hill tribe’s history and culture, observe small scale agriculture and production of coffee, enjoy and perhaps learn how to make some traditional foods and crafts. As I have some mobility issues, I also needed the community to be readily accessible by road.
Local Alike organised a comprehensive 2 day / 1 night tour, with pick up from Chiang Rai and drop off in Chiang Mai – I’m recommending you swap the itinerary around to visit Chiang Mai first. We had a Local Alike guide with us throughout, and the community assigned two local hosts who were with us throughout our visit to the village, (translated by our Local Alike guide) and introduced us to Akha culture, traditions, food and history.
We experienced a traditional welcome ceremony, visited coffee and orange plantations, learned how coffee is processed from freshly plucked to roasted bean, learned about local handicrafts, did two cookery lessons for local dishes, enjoyed traditional Akha dishes for lunch and dinner, and spent the night in a beautiful home-stay high in the mountains, with the most stunning views of the landscape.
Find out more about our ethical visit to a Thai hill tribe.
Our Akha Homestay
- Local Alike organised our overnight homestay as part of the tour. The rooms were small and basic, with extremely hard Thai-style mattresses, but they were en-suite, the welcome was warm, dinner was a traditional Akha meal (with locals kindly giving us a demonstration of a traditional dance) and the views were truly spectacular, both at sunset and through sunrise into the day. We paid 32,130 baht for our private tour including transportation, guiding services, activities, meals and accommodation.
Chiang Rai (3 Nights)
Chiang Rai is the northernmost city on Thailand’s tourist trail, located in a green and mountainous province of the same name. It’s much smaller and quieter than Chiang Mai, and many tourists choose to visit as part of a day trip from their Chiang Mai base.
However, we loved the two nights we spent here, and could happily have spent a third, which would have allowed us to make an excursion to the Golden Triangle (where the borders of Thailand meet those of Laos and Myanmar), visit the tea and coffee plantations in the area or take in one or more of the museums dedicated to the history and culture of local hill tribes.
We booked a one day guided tour to visit the key sites we wanted to see – the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun), the Black House (Baan Dam), the Blue Temple (Wat Rong Suea Ten) and Wat Huai Pla Kung (a modern Chinese Temple featuring a truly huge goddess statue that towers over the countryside).
We spent both our evenings browsing and eating at the city’s night market – perhaps our favourite night market of the trip.
Find out more about the key sights of Chiang Rai in one day, in my full post.
Our Chiang Rai Hotel
- Le Patta Hotel is a modern, comfortable hotel with a great location just a couple of minute’s walk from Chiang Rai’s Clocktower, and less than five minute’s walk to the Night Market. The rooms are spacious and comfortable and the hotel has a pretty pool area and an onsite restaurant, where breakfast is served. We paid 3,150 baht per night.
Other Chiang Rai Hotels We Shortlisted
- Le Meridien Chiang Rai Resort is at the high end of the price and luxury scale (it was well over twice as much as Le Patta for the dates of our stay) but we were very tempted by the beautiful rooms, exemplary service and riverfront setting. In the end, price point and being centrally located won out, and we were very happy with our choice.
Chiang Rai Eating Recommendations
Chiang Rai’s Night Market was our favourite of the whole trip (though we really enjoyed all of them!) A purpose built market area comprises a large open air space in which a huge number of tables and chairs are set up, a stage at one end (where live performances may be scheduled), and food stalls up both sides. On arrival, stake out a table first – especially if they’re nearly all taken when you arrive – and then take turns to browse the stalls, order your food and bring it back to the table to eat.
Khao Yai National Park (2 Nights)
As Thailand’s first National Park, established in 1962, Khao Yai covers over 2,000 square kilometres of rain forest, evergreen forest and grassland habitat, with altitudes rising to 1000 metres above sea level.
Commonly-sighted mammals include wild elephants, barking deer, gibbons and macaques; some visitors also see bears, gaurs and otters. Our sightings of white-handed gibbons gambolling through the trees were wonderful, and we got much closer than we expected. There are also many resident and migratory birds in the park, but during our January visit bird life was hard to spot however we did have sightings of three great hornbills, huge and impressive birds.
A key reason for us going to Khao Yai was a visit to some caves a short distance outside of the National Park, where a very large population of fruit bats reside. Visitors who time their visit right can watch these emerge from the caves around sunset in their thousands upon thousands – it’s an amazing wildlife spectacle and for us it was worth it to visit Khao Yai for the bats alone, let alone everything else we enjoyed.
Although you can self-drive the park, visitors without a certified guide may not walk many of the wildlife trails, and of course, a good guide is recommended to help you locate the coveted wildlife sightings. We were extremely happy with our guide Ghaan from Khao Yai Trekking, who provided our tour of the national park and our visit to the bat caves.
Another advantage of self-driving is the ease of exploring other sites in the area including one or more of the wineries that have sprung up in the area in recent years, the silk farm where the famous Jim Thompson brand’s silk is made, and various agro-tourism sites such as a mushroom farm, dairy farms and various fruit and vegetable farms.
Our Khao Yai Hotel
- Nhapa Khaoyai Resort is an architectural gem but as it’s located in a remote rural spot, it’s most suitable if you have a rental car (as we did), in which case it’s easy to find using Google Maps. The hotel is built in a disused stone quarry and each room is a stand-alone cube with floor-to-ceiling glass walls on at least two sides. Our cube was built right into the rock face, so that the rock itself formed the fourth wall – just beautiful! Another highlight is the modern and traditional art and pottery in the grounds, rooms and public spaces. There are two pretty pools, and the hotel offers full board dining. Let them know in advance of any food restrictions as it’s a no-choice menu each night. We paid 8,000 baht per night (full board).
Other Khao Yai Hotels We Shortlisted
- Lala Mukha Tented Resort, as the name suggests, is a resort in which most of the rooms are tents. Like luxury safari camps common across Africa, the tents include comfortable beds and an ensuite bathroom.
- U Khao Yai is one of many local resorts offering a classical European aesthetic.
- The Private Pool Villas at Civilai Hill look utterly stunning, and perfect if you have the money for a huge splurge.
Khao Yai Eating Recommendations
As we ate in our hotel both nights, we don’t have any specific recommendations for the Khao Yai area. Many of the resorts in the Khao Yai area offer onsite dining, as most are not very close to local restaurants. However if you’d like to eat out, several of the local wineries have restaurants (as well as wine tasting tours) that may fit the bill.
Ayutthaya (2 Nights)
Ayutthaya is best known for the multitude of temple ruins scattered all around the old town area.
Founded in 1350 to be the capital of the Siamese Kingdom, Ayutthaya flourished for more than four centuries, growing into one of the largest cities of the period. In 1767 the city was brutally sacked by the Burmese who burned Ayutthaya to the ground. Following this, the Thai capital moved to Thonburi (in present-day Bangkok), and remained there even when Ayutthaya was retaken from the Burmese and the regions of Thailand were unified.
Extensive ruins of many palaces and temples were left abandoned, and while some were eroded by recycling of bricks and land, many were virtually untouched until the modern era. Many of these are now collectively protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Many visitors to Ayutthaya come on a day trip from Bangkok, without spending a night here, and certainly you could see some of the key ruins in the few hours this gives you. However, staying overnight allows you to visit not only three or four of the best known sites, but several others, many of which are far less crowded and often just as stunning as the big name sites.
Having a car was perfect for us; we found it easy to park near each of the sites (many of which had free-to-use dedicated car parks) and could save our limited energy (in the relentless heat) to walk the sites themselves. Some visitors also enjoy renting bicycles to travel from site to site.
I’ve suggested two nights rather than the one we had because we wished we’d had even longer here, to see more of the town and to relax. As well as the beautiful temples, we discovered a thriving food market and a bustling amulet market, both of which were very enjoyable to visit. Our out-of-town hotel was also the perfect place to while away half a day enjoying the pool, gardens and lake.
Read more detail about our top three Ayutthaya temple ruins and the wonderful local markets we enjoyed.
Our Ayutthaya Hotel
- Baan Thai House was one of the best value accommodations of our trip, at just £65 (GBP) a night for a deluxe villa; indeed Ayutthaya accommodation seems to be great value across the board, perhaps because so many visitors are day-trippers. Inside our standalone villa – one of several set in beautiful gardens around a small lake – we had a huge bedroom with very comfortable bed, a private balcony looking out onto the lake and small but functional shower room and toilet. The resort also had an inviting pool. Breakfast, served in the bar and restaurant building, is made to order. Lunch and dinner are also available. As we were self-driving, the location (in a very quiet residential area off the main island of Ayutthaya but only a few minutes drive from it) was perfect for us, but might be too out-of-the-way for guests without their own transport. We paid 2,800 baht per night.
Other Ayutthaya Hotels We Shortlisted
- Phuttal Residence sits on the river bank at the north east corner of Ayutthaya island. The property looks bright and filled with natural light, but room sizes seem to vary quite a bit within the same category.
- Baan Tye Wang Guesthouse is an inexpensive boutique hotel in a quiet location on Ayutthaya island, within walking distance of several of the key tourist sites. Rooms offer an open-air shower, outdoor seating area and views over a small canal.
- Baan Luang Harn offers accommodation in charming individual bungalows, and is centrally located on the island near to several key tourist sites.
Ayutthaya Eating Recommendations
As we had a car, we headed into town and parked up near the Bang Lan Night Market for dinner. Set up pretty quickly during the early evening, most of the market is dedicated to food, with some clothing, make up, shoes and electronics stalls too. Some of the food vendors have dedicated tables and chairs, for others you’ll have to eat on the hoof.
Bangkok (2 Nights)
We appreciated splitting our time in Bangkok between start and finish. At the start, we focused on sightseeing, whereas towards the end, while we did do some more of that too, it was also an ideal time to do a little souvenir shopping now we’d no longer need to lug purchases around the country with us.
Bangkok Airport Hotels
- Dharasom’s Colonial House is a great choice if you need to spend a night near Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, and are looking for a spacious, comfortable and keenly-priced room with transfers to and from the airport included in the price. There’s a 7-Eleven at the top of the road and a night market about 5-10 minutes walk away. We paid 1,740 baht per night.
How To Get There – International Flights
With readers around the world, it’s almost impossible to share any useful advice on booking international flights. For our trip flying from London Heathrow, we prioritised direct flights that arrived into Bangkok mid-afternoon so that we could transfer to our hotel, settle in and grab a quick dinner before going to sleep. We picked a departure a little after noon so that our morning start wasn’t horribly early, and it arrived back to London early evening.
Taxis at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport
You may have come across warnings about picking up a taxi at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport, but provided you follow these instructions, it’s pretty straightforward and easy to avoid being scammed.
- Don’t accept any offers from taxi touts within the airport terminal
- Head to the public taxi dispatcher area on Level 1
- There are three queues for regular cabs, large taxis and for very short distance rides. For two people with a medium case each, a regular taxi is fine. If you are a larger group or have a lot of / larger luggage, you may need a large taxi. The queues may look scarily long, but they move pretty quickly, though the large car service not quite as fast.
- At the front of the queue, use the automated machine to request a taxi, and take the ticket. This will show the number of a taxi bay; make your way to the relevant bay (shown clearly on overhead signs) and get in your taxi.
- Regular taxi boots (trunks) are small, and will often fit only one case. A second case is usually loaded to the front passenger seat.
- As you move off, make sure your taxi driver has switched on the meter. If they haven’t, ask them (politely) to do so.
- Either during the ride or at the end, your driver will ask you to pay an extra fee of 70 baht to cover the toll road charge for using the expressway into the city. This is on top of the metered fare, as is a 50 baht surcharge for all airport pick ups. (Touts may offer to waive the surcharge, even though it’s against the rules for them to do so, but chances are you’ll end up paying more for your ride anyway, if they don’t use the meter).
Airport Rail Link
- A cheaper way to get into the city is to use the Airport Rail Link, which stops at stations that allow you to transfer onto the BTS (Bangkok Sky Train) or Metro. If your hotel is close by to a BTS or Metro station, and you don’t have too much luggage to carry easily, this is a good option.
Travel Within Thailand (Flights, Transfers & Rental Cars)
- Travelling between Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Khao Sok by domestic flight is very straightforward and there are multiple budget airlines offering some great deals. For Khao Sok, you can fly into Phuket or Surat Thani airports; discuss with Elephant Hills before booking as they will only pick up from their nominated flight into each airport.
- Between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, many travellers use a bus service which takes 3-4 hours. Another option is to rent a car, especially useful if you want to explore further around the region. For our itinerary, we booked a private tour to visit an Akha hill tribe community, and incorporated the transfer within that service.
- For the Bangkok-Khao Yai-Ayutthaya-Bangkok loop, we rented a car from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport. We had been really nervous about driving in Thailand, but it was actually very straightforward, and a real pleasure. We had no scary moments, no difficulty in finding our way (courtesy of Google Maps navigation on our mobile phones, using a local SIM with data package) and loved the freedom a car gave us to explore at our own pace.
Thailand Food Costs
- We fell fast and hard for Thailand’s street food and enjoyed eating at night markets throughout our trip. Eating this way is very inexpensive, delicious and lots of fun. It’s also great on the budget as we rarely spent more than 200-300 baht between us on dinner for two.
- Casual roadside restaurants were not that much more than the street food vendors; those inside air-conditioned shopping malls were a fair bit more – anywhere from 500-1000 baht per person, more in the grander malls.
- Eating out at high end restaurants in Bangkok was at top end of the price scale; our final night dinner at Issaya was 11,581 baht between four. We loved it and felt it was worth the cost, but you’ll find plenty of lower budget restaurants, such as the Som Tam specialist I recommended.
Thailand Hotel Costs
- We are not budget travellers; we like comfort, space and an attractive setting. For cities, location is key, and I prioritise being near the sights or handy for public transport. While we love five star luxury from time to time, we rarely book luxury properties on this kind of holiday since we spend relatively little time within our hotels. Instead I look at mid-range options, seeking out places that seem to give more than others at the same price point.
- I’ve provided costs for hotels against each place we stayed. We travelled in high season (December-January), and booked a few months in advance. Prices for the same properties may be lower at other times of the year, or by booking nearer to time of departure. And of course, you can absolutely reduce hotel costs by picking less expensive hotels, guest houses or hostels.
Thailand Activities and Tours Costs
- The Elephant Hills package for Khao Sok National Park costs from 20,372 baht per adult based on two sharing (depending on season).
- The Chiang Mai cookery class we took cost 1,200 baht per person for a full day class including transfer from town to farm, tour of a local market and the cooking class itself.
- Our Thailand Hill Tribe visit with Local Alike was 32,130 baht and included transportation, guiding services, activities, meals and accommodation.
- A one day (private) sightseeing tour in Chiang Rai cost us 6,400 baht. Joining a group tour will be less expensive.
- We booked a one day private guided safari in Khao Yai National Park with Khao Yai Trekking through Tontan Travel, customising it to include a visit to the bat caves at dusk. This cost 6,000 baht for the day including transport, guide and driver.
Find Thailand tips on currency, electricity, visas, safety and more or check out these more esoteric interesting facts about Thailand.
Changing the Itinerary
Only have two weeks?
- First of all, drop 1-2 nights from the 5 we’ve given to Bangkok. I would still start with 3 nights at the beginning of your trip, but drop to 1 night at the end – or depending on the timing of your departing flight you could even go straight from Ayutthaya to the airport.
- We have two national parks in the itinerary, so drop one of these to save 2 nights. If you have the budget, the Elephant Hills experience at Khao Sok National Park is the more spectacular. But if you want to cut costs (both of the flights to and from Khao Sok as well as the package itself), or if you like the idea of self-driving, Khao Yai National Park may work better for you.
- The 9 nights in northern Thailand can be cut to 6 or 7. Either use Chiang Mai as your base and visit Chiang Rai and a hill tribe community via day trips from Chiang Mai, or divide the time into 4 nights in Chiang Mai, and 2 nights in Chiang rai.
Want to include some beach time?
- Use the suggestions above to cut my three week itinerary down by 4-7 days and give that time to one of Thailand’s many stunning beach resorts. If you are keen to visit Elephant Hills, resorts around Phuket and Krabi are eligible for a direct transfer to the national park. Alternatively, you may like Ko Samui, Koh Lanta or Ko Phi Phi. Hua Hin is popular for those seeking a beach resort nearer to Bangkok. More great Thailand places to visit here.
Best Souvenirs from Thailand
- If you’re a traveller who loves to pick up a souvenir (or two, or three!) to remind you of the trip, you’ll love shopping in Thailand – there’s such a great range of lovely items to buy and bring home.
Read our comprehensive guide to the best souvenirs to buy in Thailand.
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Please leave a comment - I love hearing from you!142 Comments to "3 Week Thailand Itinerary | Food, Culture, History, Cities & Nature"
Thanks for this extremely comprehensive post on Thailand. I’ve definitely pinned it for future reference.
This is such a valuable blog. I like that all your other posts also showcase the high level of research you put into you trips.
I especially like that you focus on the foodie adventures. The friends love trying new food and your journeys serve as inspiration.
BTW I love the term “eating on the hoof”!
Thank you for being so detailed in your post. Keep travel blogging. Adventure is better shared with friends!
Thanks, food is a huge part of our travels for sure. Glad you enjoyed the post and the level of detail!
Ahh Thailand has been on my list forever! What a packed itinerary – looks like there’s so much to see and do and I want to do it all! Looks like you had an amazing trip!
Go! It’s wonderful, and this itinerary packs in a lot but doesn’t feel rushed so hopefully you’ll have a great trip too!
Such a valuable post, Thailand is one of those places that are on most people’s bucketlists so I can see this being so so helpful to many people! What an amazing experience the hill tribe would have been!
Thank you, I hope so! And yes visiting the Akha hill tribe community was wonderful!
Very useful itinerary. I have seen few places in Thailand but none mentioned here. Saving it for future
Hope you get to visit again and see some of these wonderful destinations!
You’ve covered Thailand well and truly, and it’s the best way to experience a country, its culture, environment and, most importantly, food. Papaya green salad is one my favourite Thai dishes – sweet, sour and spicy. I’m salivating just thinking about it lol. This itinerary is comprehensive, and it makes it very easy for travellers to include or exclude places and activities to suit them. Well done!
Thanks for your kind comments, I’m really glad you enjoyed the post. I hope people will find it helpful when planning their own trip and can of course adapt to suit their personal needs.
What a comprehensive itinerary, I wish I had this when I went to Thailand. I really like how you have a great mix of everything you get the most out of your trip! I would love to visit the national park with the elephants!
Thanks, I hope future travellers will find it useful!
This goes straight to a friend of my sister who is planning her honeymoon in Thailand, thank you Kavita! I love how detailed you were, offering so much information… and I’ve also added the Khao Sok park to our bucket lists, especially the elephant sanctuary: what an incredible experience!
Oh lovely, I hope she finds it useful! Khao Sok is amazing, the elephant sanctuary combined with that floating lake camp is a truly incredible package!
Wow, this is the most comprehensive and amazing itinerary I’ve seen for Thailand. Really great insights and I can tell you have researched intensively. I LOVE the idea of seeing the bats at Khao Yai national park – I would definitely pay to be able to witness that. Your tips on the night markets and saving dinner by having this street food is also really useful – I love that kind of food anyway, so I’m totally up for that kind of dining!
Thanks, I’m so glad you find it useful and appreciate the suggestions and insights. Thanks for commenting!
It’s a shame you didnt make it to Pai, but you nailed a few of the northern parts that we didn’t explore this time round – I guess we all have to visit again one day! Northern Thailand is so beautiful and peaceful. Love it.
I did look at Pai but in the end there were so many places that appealed and we only had three weeks. We like slower travel, giving ourselves lots of time in the places we see, so decided to stick to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai as our bases in northern Thailand this trip!
So in loooove <3 great trip!
Great article with lots of tips! I am not much of a beach person either (although I would spend a few days by the sea). I will definitely use this post when planning my Thailand trip – research takes a lot of time, so I will be using yours as a starting point ?
I was reading recently about someone’s visit to one of the marine national parks, and I think that may be something I would love to see, to enjoy that stunning coast and sea scenery without just sitting on a beach, which I am not good at!
Wow! What an incredible trip!!! This post is so thorough too! Thailand was already on my bucket list and your post just moved it to the top! Thank you so much for sharing this!!
That’s lovely to read, it’s a wonderful country, I’m sure you’d love it!
Beutiful pics. For those who’re planning to go to Thailand don’t need to do any research, there’s enough info for everything 😀
Thanks, I know not everyone enjoys the research as I do, and that many don’t have time to do this even if they do enjoy it, so I hope it will help fellow travellers make a great trip themselves!
This is what a call a worthy guide! Thank you for this valuable post, it has amazing tips! Thailand sounds amazing, it has a super rich culture. I love seeing temple cultural places and this, Thailand has alot to offer. Chiang Rai and Ayutthaya would definitely be my fav place to visit!
My pleasure, and yes, Chiang Rai and Ayutthaya both fascinating places to visit.
We’ve done a similar itinerary when we visited Thailand last year, but instead of Ayutthaya we did Koh Samui. Loved Thailand and can’t wait to go back!
Lovely. For me Ayutthaya was a highlight, so I hope you can see that next time you visit!
This is such a thorough post, will definitely save it for when I make it to Thailand! And thanks for speaking up about elephant exploitation. I’m so happy to see more travelers and bloggers seeking animal-friendly experiences 🙂
Thank you, Emily, I hope you make it there yourself and enjoy. And yes, I think travelling ethically is an important consideration.
Wow what a great itinerary! It’s nice to see all the other places to visit aside from the beautiful beaches. I am in love with the fact that there are so many national parks there and the photos are so intriguing!
Thanks, the beaches do look spectacular but aren’t a big focus for our travels, whereas Thailand has so much to offer those of us looking for food and culture. The national parks of Thailand are incredible, I really want to visit more of them!
This post is so comprehensive and really useful! Thank you for sharing your experience!
Thanks, I’m glad it’s useful!
This seems to be a really nice itinerary to cover almost all the famous areas of Thailand over three weeks. I am a full time employee , so, I never get three weeks leave at a stretch. But then, I can always split it into two itineraries and cover the places that you have suggested, isn’t it?
Neha, check out the section at the end where I give some tips for cutting it down into a two week itinerary for those with less time.
I love the detail and with so many things to see and do in Thailand, people deffo need it. We did a similar trip a few years back. From Bangkok we went to Siem Reap, Cambodia, then made our way to Ayutthaya. Instead of flying to CM, we took one of those overnight sleeper trains. Super fun. Looks like you guys had a great time.
Sleeper train sounds like a great way to travel, I’ll definitely look at that for a future trip, thanks!
Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai have been on my list for a long time! I’ve been to Thailand but the usual Bangkok, Krabi, Pattaya and Phuket. It was only for 10 days and that’s all we could cover in that much time. However, since that trip, I’ve been reading and hearing so much about other places to explore, I am going to have to go back! 3 weeks sounds like the right amount of time to spend in Thailand.
Do explore the North next time, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!
We can’t believe we’ve never visited Thailand. We love the food and the culture, maybe we’ve been put off by its ‘gap year’ reputation. It was good to see the standard of hotels on offer. Thanks for tips about the taxis, why are so many taxi services around the world such con men.
Love the pics with the elephants by the way.
Oh there’s that side but it’s easy to avoid, backpackers places tend to be clustered together… ?
For 3 weeks you have a damn well-planned itinerary. It does not look rushed anywhere. I like that. It reminds me I am yet to go to Chiang Mai – a place I have managed to miss on each of my Thailand trips.Ayutthaya is an all-time favorite place – can go back anytime.
Thank you, I hope you make it to Chiang Mai!
That is so wonderful you have excluded beaches and yet managed to have a great time in Thailand. I too prefer historical sites, souvenir shopping and local cuisines of a place. You have done justice to all of these and more. Very helpful guide.
Yes, there is so much more to Thailand than beaches even though I’m sure they are amazing!
I’ve gone to Bangkok three times but have not seen so many of what people were posting. Now I know I have to go to Khao Sok for the elephants, Chiang Mai for the weather and the revelry, Chiang Rai for the White Temple, and ti Ayudthaya for the ruins with trees! But where is Patthaya? I remember going there for the best beach!
I am not into beaches so, per my intro, this is an itinerary deliberately without beaches! ?
Great itinerary! You even made me a bit more interested in Thailand – I was always put off by the popularity it of 😉
There are many more peaceful spots as well as the crazy crowded places!
Just right in time when I needed.
This is so informative will bookmark this.
Happy it will be helpful!
Hey! I’m not a beach lover myself and would rather spend my time learning more about the country’s culture and appreciating the natural beauty of the landscapes there, so I really liked the itinerary you put together here. Phuket and Koh Samui just aren’t the places for an ideal vacation for me!
Thanks Nathan, pretty much every itinerary I pulled up on Google had a lot of beach time, so I wanted to share my non-beach one!
Thank you for the detailed itinerary. This is the most comprehensive plan I have seen with places, travel details and accommodation. I am pinning it for future reference. My interest in Thailand is because of the elephant parks. I have not heard of any other Asian countries (except India) where you can see them aplenty.
Thanks for a different perspective!!
My pleasure, hope it is useful when you come to planning your trip!
This is quite a lovely itinerary and a little different from the beaches one that we get to see. I liked how detailed you have made – just good enough for someone to start booking and run with it. The best part is that it includes, city, nature, culture and heritage. A lovely combo.
Thanks, hopefully it will prove helpful for others who aren’t big beach lovers and want a more cultural itinerary in Thailand.
What a great trip you had! and a fabulous and detailed post. Some great ideas for next time I go back. I so enjoyed meeting you and having a fabulous dinner together at Issaya too!
Thanks Caro, was lovely to meet you too and thanks for indulging my wish to go to Issaya! It proved to be a fantastically memorable meal!!
I am not person who would lay down at the beach but Thailand has a wonderful beaches so I have to say you missed out a bit but seems like you had your itinerary sorted perfectly the way you enjoyed it! I spent in Thailand 2 weeks and I loved the country! I only regret not visiting Chiang Mai as it seems wonderful ! I hope Ill get to go back there one day!
I don’t feel that I missed out. Thailand does indeed have some truly stunning ones, so my lack of interest is not a criticism of its beaches, it’s purely about personal interests.
Wow! What a detailed itinerary. If I’m honest I’ve never had a strong desire to travel to Thailand, but your post has really made me rethink. I love that you talk about all the food because for me travel is mainly about food (haha). Chiang Mai would be at the top of my list because I hear everyone talk about it, but the tour of the hill tribe village sounds incredible.
I’m glad to meet a fellow foodie traveller! Thailand is really a wonderful country to visit, especially for those of us with eyes bigger than our bellies, so much fantastic produce and food to try!
We’re actually heading to Thailand later this week though sadly we won’t have time to visit a National Park. Shame as it sounds like you had a really rewarding time there. Chiang Mai would also be on my list if we had time
Oh I have so been looking forward to reading this.
Lovely summary. We also stayed at Baan Thai in ayutthaya. How funny. Weren’t the people so lovely?
No way! That is amazing! Yeah really nice and it was wonderful having a car there!
I love the beaches in Thailand but it is nice to see someone showcasing some of the other fab places to visit. One of the not cultural things we particularly enjoyed in Chang Mai was tubing on the river. We had the river to ourselves and it was so nice and relaxing.
That sounds like an amazing experience!
What a post! Great read and sent to the man for a holiday hint
Aah, hope he takes the hint, it was a fabulous trip!
The way you have organized this post is very pretty and the photos speak for themselves! 3 week exploring a place like Thailand look perfect and we’d like to try your same experience! A visit to Bangkok is a must 🙂
Thanks, glad you like.
Wow what a great itinerary I’ll be book marking this post for when I plan my own trip to Thailand 🙂
Hope it’s helpful!
We’re going to be in Bangkok for a day this fall – it’s not quite a 3 week itinerary but I’m still excited to try some new things and I love your foodie recommendations.
I’m sure you’ll enjoy and no doubt that taster will leave you wanting more!
You really have put together a great mix of Thailand’s food, culture, history and a mix of cities and nature. I haven’t made it to Thailand yet, but might just steal your itinerary if that’s ok! And I especially love that you’ve included an ethical elephant experience in here – one of the trickiest things I’ve found with Thailand is figuring out which elephant sanctuaries are responsible and treat them well. So thankyou for the recommendation on Khao Sok and Elephant Hills 🙂
I would be delighted if fellow travellers make use of my itinerary, and have as wonderful a trip as we did!
For me, the Elephant Hill at Khao Sok National Park sounds like the best part of your trip. It’s always nice to hear of ethical elephant sanctuaries. I didn’t realise the elephant tourism industry in Thailand had gotten so out of control. I’ve always wanted to see the temple ruins in Ayutthaya. Pity that you didn’t have enough time there but at least you had more than a day trip.
Yes, we could have spent more time in Ayutthaya, though some of that would have been time out to relax in the gardens of our lovely hotel. But we did have the chance to see more of the quiet, less-visited ruins and that was magical.
Thailand is a melting pot of culture, food, nature, and adventure. A 3-week itinerary is indeed epic and gives one an opportunity to really have an immersive experience of the country. We did a very short trip of Thailand a few years ago and spent most of our time in Bangkok and a day in Pattaya. Chiang Mai is one place we want to get apart from some of the other exotic islands. Reading your post motivates us to plan our next trip soon.
It was luxurious to have three weeks to play with!
I’ve only been to Bangkok and definitely wanted more of Thailand and explore its less known provinces. Your itinerary is something I could follow as I would also want to exclude the beaches (I live in the Philippines, that’s my reason why), too and concentrate on the cultural side. I will bookmark this for later. Thanks for sharing! 🙂
Aah yes, you already have beautiful beaches in the Philippines, I’ve seen some gorgeous photos. I am glad this itinerary might be helpful!
What an incredibly detailed post with a range of activities. It’s always great to get outside of Bangkok and see more of the country. I really loved Chiang Mai, but unfortunately did not make it to Chiang Rai. Love your photos of the White Palace. The markets in Thailand incredible…thanks for a wonderful trip down memory lane!
Thank you, and hope you make it back to explore more of Thailand soon!
Wow thank you for this detailed itinerary for Thailand! We hope to make this location our next trip! I love the variety you encountered on your time here. Many different types of landscapes, hotels, food, etc. It looks like you covered the best parts! I will have to bookmark this so we can reference during our time here.
Thanks, we certainly experienced a great variety of places and landscapes and culture.
Thank you for such an amazing detailed post! Going to Thailand this year and planning on using this as reference. Great pics as well!!
Oh yeah, definitely pinned this for later. I want to spend my birthday in Thailand, and this itinerary has given me a great idea for timing. I was struggling to figure out a great way to see the country. Chiang Rai has been on my list for a while, although I was starting to hear some mixed reviews regarding crowds and such. I’m encouraged to hear that you enjoyed your visit and the night markets!
Chiang Rai wasn’t at *all* crowded, not even in January (high season).
Chiang Mai on the other hand, we found some parts of it very busy, though that was mostly in the walking street markets on Saturday / Sunday nights and the night bazaar. The rest wasn’t overly busy.
This is one of the most detailed and exceptional guides for Thailand I’ve ever read. I really hope to get to Thailand soon and use your practical itinerary!
Thanks, I hope it will be useful!
What an immersive guide. I am so glad you shared all these great places to visit in Thailand that are not the beach. You have exposed me to many new and beautiful places I want to visit. The hotels and homestays as well as the lake near elephant hills look especially fabulous
So glad you enjoyed reading it!
This definitely sounds like an epic 3 weeks in Thailand! Khao Sok National Park was the one place on this itinerary that I didn’t make it to, and boy did I miss out?! It looks absolutely incredible! Thanks for sharing this itinerary.
Khao Sok was wonderful… of course the elephant sanctuary was a highlight of the trip but so too was the night on the floating camp in the lake. Just stunning!
Thank you Kaveyeats. Great list and I have to admit to adding an Elephant hill and Khao Sok in my Travel wish list. This is a most detailed post about Thailand I have ever read. Here I want to recommend one more place Kerala, India maybe would like to explore.
My pleasure, glad to have helped you find more places you want to visit!
You have curated a wonderful itinerary. I love Bangkok and some of the attractions that you’ve mentioned are my favs too. It’s nice that you have excluded beaches and yet managed to have a great time in Thailand. There are so much to see and do there. I too look beyond beaches many times. And that Terminal 21 is my fav. too. 🙂
Very informative guide.
Thanks Nisha, really glad you like the guide!
Wow, such an informative article with so much great info! 3 weeks in Thailand would be such a dream. This is a great mix of activities, beyond the beaches. I’d love to help volunteer with elephants and wildlife, as well as visit historical places.
Yes I think being able to spend longer Ruth the elephants would be very special.
Oh my goodness, what a wonderfully grand adventure of a lifetime! Such a lovely idea to share your itinerary like this too so others could follow it. I’d love to visit there one day. I’m not a beach person really either (red hair and a pale complexion give me no choice, lol!). Love every bit of this post!
It was a really wonderful trip, I spent so much time planning it that I was really keen to share my itinerary and tips with others!
This post has a lot of information to prepare a well-structured itinerary. It would be a challenge to decide what to skip and what to include. Maybe I would leave out some of the beaches and focus on the culture instead.
There are no beaches in this itinerary!
Wow! Lots of ideas here and a good itinerary to think about. Havent got out to Thailand yet, but soon, I will be there. Bookmarked this page.
I think you’d really love Thailand!
This is such a detailed post on Thailand. I visited Thailand a couple of months back and it is indeed a beautiful place you can visit again and again. I like your itenary and all the detailed information you’ve listed. We visited Ayutthaya on a day trip and it is a place I would so love to explore for days. On my next visit, I’m definitely going to stay there for a couple of days. I’ve saved this post to my favourites for future reference. Thanks for sharing this lovely experience. 🙂
Yes I think many people go for a day and I’m so pleased we had longer, our one night gave us the best part of a day and a half to explore.
This is so informative and helpful! I’m only in Bangkok for 3 days and I wish I could spend 5 days in Chiang Mai, and go to Khao Sok, but maybe next time. Thanks for supporting the humane treatment of elephants! And Ayutthaya looks just gorgeous, I’m a sucker for ruins and just might take the day-trip from here tomorrow. Thanks for sharing!
Next time you’ll have to go for longer and give yourself time to visit these wonderful places!
What an incredibly detailed itenirsry. I thought we had good itenirsries but yours is incredible. We love the humane treatment of elephants and are glad they try to take care of them after such a cruel upbringing. We are very excited to visit Thailand someday. We know we can just do a week but not sure if we can do 3 weeks.
Thanks Christina, I spent so much time reading and moving ideas around, probably too much time really but it did work out well!
This is one Thailand itinerary I’d definitely like to bookmark. I’ve been to Bangkok and Pattaya before but Chiang Mai AND Chiang Rai are high on my bucketlist! Love all the pictures and your carefully put travelogue. Keep traveling! 🙂
Thanks Harsh, I hope you’ll find it useful when you make it back to Thailand and visit Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai!
This is so so detailed and so informative! Unfortunately I’m only in Bangkok for 3 days (today being my last night! Also I took your advice and headed to ayuttayah today to see the Wat Maha That along with some elephants! So jealous that you had three whole weeks to explore this country, already planning the next trip!
Glad you got to see the beauty of Ayutthaya, even a glimpse is better than none and it will whet your appetite to come back, I am sure!!
These tips for the taxi service were very helpful! Traveling to Asia for my first time in 2 weeks and I have no idea what to expect!
You are most welcome, it’s a wonderful country, I hope you love it as much as we did!
I love this! You guys have had some pretty awesome places – all the pictures are simply beautiful. That has to be one of the most memorable, not many people get to say that they have accomplished that!
My wife and I are going to. Thailand next January for one month,we have been before, but to Bangkok and cha am,we are looking forward to going to Phuket and ko Sami, your log was really interesting and full of useful info,thank you for your time.
Happy it’s going to be helpful for you, have a wonderful trip! 👍
Amazing post. I’m currently in the process of booking flights to Bangkok at the moment and see you’ve mentioned four hotels in Bangkok that you’d recommend. Thinking of staying at the COMO Metropolitan Bangkok but wanted to get your thoughts before I hit the green button? Any others you’d recommend? Thanks again for taking the time to write such a detailed post!
We visited the COMO for dinner, it wasn’t too far from one of the hotel’s we stayed in (one that I’m not recommending)… It seemed really nice to me and the reviews are very positive. If you get a good price on it, I’d give it a try, though we didn’t sleep in it ourselves. 👍 Good to hear this post is useful!
such a nice post and thanks for the information sharing with us which is very helpful when we travel in thiland….In India there is also a very beautiful places like lakshdweep and The Great Himalayan.
Absolutely stunning! A very original and beautiful trip!
Nice to see a new side of Bangkok besides shopping and beaches. great post
Thank you! I do enjoy shopping but it’s not a big interest, and we are not into beaches so I hope this works as an itinerary for those with similar interests to us!
Look at the pictures and reading the article it sounds awesom, i will love to visit some day.
I like your 3 week thailand itinerary and images.
I’d totally love to take a trip to this beautiful place this vacation! Thanks for posting this out! Amazing post and a great read!
Really appreciate this wonderful post that you have provided for us. Great site and a great topic as well i really get amazed to read this.
Thanks for posting this out! Amazing post and a great read!
Thanks for posting this out! Amazing post and a great read!
What a wonderful trip you took! and a wonderful and thorough post. Some excellent suggestions for my subsequent visit. I had a great time getting to know you and we had a wonderful meal at Issaya. I appreciate the thorough itinerary.