At a time when Europe was struggling through the Dark Ages and America was yet to be visited by Columbus, the cultures of Southeast Asia were thriving. In the north of what is now Thailand, the Lanna kingdom was well established, with Chiang Mai (founded in 1296) as its capital. To the south, the capital of Siam, Ayutthaya (founded in 1350), rivaled European cities in its splendor until the Burmese sacked it in 1767. To the northeast, Laos was a tiny landlocked nation, periodically overrun by regional powers, most recently occupied from the late 19th to the mid-20th centuries by the French, who left lasting architectural and culinary influences.
In Bangkok ― now a stunning, 21st-century city ― we’ll see impressive palaces and temples of the Chakri dynasty, established by Rama 1 in 1782. A short trip to Ayutthaya will reveal a wide range of temple architectures, from the Khmer, Burmese, and historical Thai styles. Traveling north to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, we’ll explore the distinctive mix of Burmese, Chinese, Tai (Lao) influences that inform the Lanna style.
In Laos, we’ll visit the quiet and beautiful city of Luang Prabang, with its distinctive temples and markets, and wander through side streets that send us back to colonial and pre-colonial times. Our adventure will end with a short stop in the capital, Vientiane, where we will visit the important That Luang and Haw Phra Kaew temples. Travelers may elect to add additional days in Vientiane, or make easy connections to other Southeast Asian destinations, like Siem Reap, Cambodia (Angkor Wat), Vietnam, or back to the fabulous beaches of southern Thailand.
Throughout the program, we’ll discuss Southeast Asia as a cultural crossroads, we’ll find time to visit markets, museums, and cultural shows, and, of course, we will enjoy a wide variety of fabulous foods.