The Real Deal: Round-trip international airfare, flights within Thailand, an escorted coach tour, some meals, some excursions, and 12 nights' hotel lodging, from $1,867 per person—plus taxes of about $101.
When: Depart Mar. 6, 20, Apr. 3, 17, May 1, 15, 29, Aug. 7, 21, Sept. 4, 18, Oct. 2, 16, Nov. 6, 20, 2008; additional dates in 2009 available.
Gateways: Los Angeles, San Francisco; add $100 for New York City.
The fine print: Fuel surcharge of $186 is included. Airport and hotel taxes of $101 are not included. Breakfast daily is included. Because this is an escorted tour, airport-hotel transfers are included. Based on double occupancy; single supplement starts at $450. Read these guidelines before you book any Real Deal.
Book by: Feb. 29, 2008, to receive the $1,867 rate, which reflects a $50 per person discount off the $1,917 rate quoted on the Ritz Tours Web site; bookings must be made at least 60 days before departure and by Feb. 29, 2008.
Contact: Ritz Tours, 800/900-2446, ritztours.com.
Why it's a deal: For comparison purposes, consider that the lowest round-trip fare we recently found on Kayak between Los Angeles and Bangkok for a March 20, 2008, departure was $903 (China Airlines). For $964 more, you receive the international airfare—and 12 nights of lodging, flights within Thailand, and an escorted tour—if you book Ritz Tours' package instead. You'll spend about $80 a day for the convenience of having someone else select the best lodging, transport your luggage, and guide you on escorted tours of several cultural and historical sights.
Trip details: The Tantalizing Thailand package includes round-trip airfare on Cathay Pacific to Bangkok, Thailand's capital. You'll attend a traditional Thai classical dance, with a dinner. You'll check in to one of two luxury hotels, the Sofitel Centara Grand or the Amari Watergate Hotel and Spa.
On your first full day in Bangkok, you'll tour the Royal Coronation Hall (Amarin Vinichai Prasad), where the kings of Siam have been crowned, and the Emerald Buddha Temple (Wat Phra Kaeo), which houses an amazing Buddha that is carved from a single piece of jade and is one of Thailand's holiest objects.
On day two, you'll take a day trip outside of the city to see the Damnern Saduak Floating Market, where stilt houses dot marshes.
You'll have a day for yourself, and then you'll fly to Chiang Mai, a city noted for its villages that produce handicrafts and indigenous people who wear colorful clothing. A show with traditional Thai dance is included with your tour. Dinner is also included and is served on small, low, round tables and eaten from food containers and implements fashioned from locally made, traditional materials.
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The next day, you'll visit the mountaintop temple Phrathat Doi Suthep and see important Buddhist relics. After lunch, your tour will continue at a handicraft market, a silk-weaving factory, and Borsang, a village famous for its umbrellas and primitive papermaking. At night, you'll visit a bazaar for more shopping. You'll spend the night at the Empress, a chain business-class hotel.
The next day includes close-up encounters with elephants. A day after, you'll visit the 700-year-old temple Wat Chiang Man, which contains a small image of the Buddha rumored to have the power to bring rain. You'll move on to another temple, Wat Chedi Luang, which is about 600 years old. There, a special lecture will be given to your group about the role of Buddhism in Thailand's social, cultural, and political life.
Next stop: Chiang Rai, another town with important religious and cultural attractions in Thailand. It is located on the scenic Mae Kok River. Dinner is included at the hotel, where you'll stay the night at the Chiang Rai Dusit Island Resort.
After some downtime for self-guided excursions, you'll fly back to Bangkok, where your 12-night trip ends.
In Thailand, temperatures through March tend to be in the 80s and 90s Fahrenheit. The dry season is January through March, while the rainy season is September and October. Before you go, check the local forecast at BudgetTravel.com. You'll find the exchange rate there, too. And for more information and tips on what to see and do, visit Thailand's official tourism Web site.
Copyright © 2012 Newsweek Budget Travel, Inc.