Deals from Friendly Planet (tel. 800/555-5765; www.friendlyplanet.com) routinely deliver great value. This Taste of Thailand tour is no exception. After all, this package includes airfare and six nights' hotel from $1,399.
The itinerary takes you to temples (including one with a 700-year-old Golden Buddha), palaces, and other important sites, but leaves you ample time to explore Bangkok on your own. This six-night Thailand package is valid for travel in September and October, when the weather hits the 80s and 90s. The rainy season runs through October, so pack accordingly.
Spend four nights in Bangkok at the Eastin Makkasan, a four-star hotel close to shopping and restaurants. From Bangkok the trip moves to Ayutthaya, an ancient city and UNESCO World Heritage site loaded with ruins, old palaces, and more statues of the Buddha. You'll spend a night there at Kantary Hotel, which isn't far from the old city and the Chao Phraya River. There's a day trip along the River Kwai, via train, and an overnight at the Felix River Kwai Resort, known for its low-rise architecture, lush gardens, and riverfront location -- yes, you can see the famous bridge on the River Kwai, too.
Let's examine the package savings when compared to booking the trip on your own. The airfare alone for a Sept. 11 departure from Los Angeles clocks in at $1,002, according to a recent Kayak search. The Eastin Makkasan starts at 2,449 Thai baht (about $81 per night) for dates in mid-September during this package; Kantary Hotel costs from 3,500 baht (about $116 per night) and Felxi River Kwai from 2,600 baht (about $86 per night). All of these prices, which total $526 before hotel taxes, reflect basic rooms for two people.Based on our calculations, booking airfare and hotel independently would cost at least $1,265 per person. For $134 more, this package also includes transportation within Thailand, breakfast daily and a dinner, the services of an English-speaking tour guide, and airline fuel surcharges. (Friendly Planet's starting price of $1,399 already includes a savings of up to $300 if you book by the July 20 deadline.)
Another note to the careful reader: you may see that the Sept. 4 trip (from $1,299) says "waitlist." This means that if you want to be added to a waitlist, the company will notify up to about 10 people if additional space becomes available. Those on the list will then be able to book on a first-come, first-served basis. However, we're not going to mislead you by noting that $1,299 is the starting price for this trip; availability is better on the other departure dates.
A word to the wise: Friendly Planet's trips tend to sell out, so interested travelers should try to act quickly.
Trip Type: Air-inclusive, with a mix of independent and guided activities
What the Quoted Price gets you: Round-trip flights from Los Angeles via China Airlines, intra-Thailand transportation, six nights' hotel, breakfast daily, one dinner, English-speaking tour guides, sightseeing tours per itinerary, all transfers, and fuel surcharges.
What Else You'll Have to Pay: Air/government taxes of about $99.
Book by: July 20 to receive the discount
When: Sept. 11, 25, Oct. 16
Other Details: The only departure gateway for this package is Los Angeles. Friendly Planet advises waiting until the itinerary is finalized before booking your connecting flight from elsewhere to LAX -- you are responsible for getting yourself to Los Angeles. Friendly Planet also offers three-night extensions to Phuket (add from $550 per person) and three-night extensions to Angkor Wat (add from $899).
This tour is available throughout the fall; it jumps to $1,449 for other departures in October and November.
Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers on our Thailand Travel Forum.