Safe in the knowledge that a Western tour leader is taking care of accommodation, transport and touring, and in a group of no more than 16 people, venture from buzzing Bangkok to charming Chiang Mai. Never a colony, the essence of Thailand is distinct. While the capital is cutting edge, a private cruise on its Thonburi canals and a stimulating tuk-tuk ride through Chinatown demonstrates the city’s blend of antique and modernity.
Cross the legendary ‘Bridge over the River Kwai,’ staying overnight on the river in a lodge amidst the jungle. Visit lesser-known but equally atmospheric sites: the ruins of Ayuthaya, the heart of a once far-reaching empire; Lopburi’s temple ruins, monkeys now their only inhabitants; an eco-organic farm at Sukhothai, the first capital of Siam 1,000 years ago.