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Thailand, the land of smiles, pad thai, and limitless adventure

A woman on a zip line in Thailand.

I remember when I was little being obsessed with movies like ‘The Goonies’ and ‘Honey I shrunk the kids.’ I guess I always figured it was my destiny to go on some sort of crazy adventure like the kids in those films.

Growing up, that sense of wanderlust never really left me. I craved to travel and to experience different cultures. Going to Thailand on Contiki’s Northern Thai Highlights trip was my first venture to Asia, a continent I’d always wanted to explore, with Thailand being on the top of my list.

In just eight days I made friends that will remain in my life forever and experienced moments I will never forget. Zip lining through the jungle, swimming underneath waterfalls and feeding rescued elephants – you name it, we did it. Each and every day was packed full of adventures and places to explore and whether foodie or fitness fanatic, this trip ticked every box (and even some I didn’t know needed ticking).

Where? Bangkok

Types of adventure? Cultural, reflective, party

Thailand’s vibrant capital is home to bustling street life and ornate temples. Catching a boat along the Chao Praya River, we fed the nearby cat fish with left-over bread rolls from breakfast whilst en route to the Wat Arun temple where we admired the beautiful detail and witnessed monks in prayer. A surreal moment as we walked around one of the most visited destinations in Bangkok, taking in the sheer beauty of the temple.

Wat Arun temple Bangkok

Where? Kanchanaburi

Types of adventure? Historical, tropical, playful

A provincial town steeped in history. We visited the World War II cemetery along with the Death Railway Museum to learn more about the history of the Burma Railway and the Prisoners of war who built it – a truly sobering experience.


Finishing our time in Kanchanaburi, we trekked to the waterfalls in the beautiful Erawan National Park. Amongst natural springs and pools, we spent our day taking pictures and sliding down water slides that had formed amongst the rocks whilst the fish swam around our feet.

jumping into river kwai in thailand
Kate Winney in Thailand

Where? Ayutthaya

Types of adventure? Relaxing, insightful, unique

Arriving in Ayutthaya, we headed out for a bike ride tour around the historical ruins of the old city. Riding our way through the local villages, rice paddies and temples, there’s no better way of exploring, and I even managed to squeeze in a Thai massage whilst here. After being clicked, stretched and prodded into various positions I felt ready for our next destination. All aboard! Taking the over night train from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai proved to be an unexpected highlight. Memories of school trips and summer camp were relived as we all climbed into our bunk beds, played card games and shared snacks during our 12-hour train ride.

ancient statue in ayutthaya

Where? Chiang Mai

Types of adventure? Adrenalin, foodie, musical, animal based

Thailand’s northern capital made legendary by its famed night markets. We packed so many activities into our two nights here. First up, the Flight Of The Gibbons – a zip lining adventure through the jungle and one of my personal highlights, where we flew *look mum no hands* style among the trees and vines, screaming our names as we went.

Swiftly onto our cooking class, we learnt how to master some of Thailand’s most signature dishes (side note – my thai chicken soup was pretty damn good.) We all lined up and quite literally set the stoves on fire as we rustled up our dinner for the evening before watching a tropical storm over the surrounding fields.


The night markets of Chiang Mai was something I’d been looking forward to since the start of the trip. Stall upon stall, selling everything from leather goods, delicious food and traditional clothing, I spent hours haggling, buying gifts and pretty much completing my Christmas shopping list. Our first night in Chiang Mai ended with the famous Chiang Mai Cabaret Show, a show bursting with energy and humour.

elephants in elephant sanctuary in chiang mai

Where? Pai

Types of adventure? Chilled, fitness, exhilarating

I survived 726 turns to Pai! Oh yes, it really is the long and winding road but the destination is totally worth it. The hippie centric town boasts markets selling hand made goods and laid back bars pumping out sounds of reggae music. It’s also home to the best vegan falafel wrap I have ever eaten!

Whilst there, we chilled by the pool at our guest house, visited Pai Canyon – another great spot for that must have Insta-shot – before finally heading into the village for a Muay Thai lesson – Thailand’s national sport. After stretching and going through all the basic moves of this combat/boxing sport we got into the ring three at a time to put our punches to practice. Two rounds later and completely exhausted we finished off by watching the professionals in a real Muay Thai fight.


contiki group in thailand

Thailand, you fed my hunger for adventure but there’s still room for a whole lot more…so where to next?

Kate Winney travelled on Contiki’s Northern Thai Highlights as part of The Travel Project. If you believe that travel has helped you become a better person, or you have discovered something revelatory about yourself whilst on the road, we want to hear from you. Head to to see how you can get involved, and maybe even travel on your own Travel Project mission with Contiki.