One of my friends had to cancel a recent flight on Etihad Airways due to reasons out of his control and is now looking to plan an exotic vacation before the credit expires. I have a couple of ideas for him but wanted to put them on here incase it helps anyone else looking to put a trip together.
However, there are a couple caveats to keep in mind for this possible itinerary. First off, I am only considering flights on Etihad Airways since this is the airline he is looking to spend the credit on. Secondly, he has a Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) credit card and prefers to frequent these hotels so I will be trying to keep everything under the newly merged Marriott/SPG umbrella. Lastly, I am working with the dates and lengths for the desired vacation time. Feel free to move anything around to better fit your schedule or preferences.
Overall Trip Summary
Depart: Thursday evening from DFW at 7:55 pm
Arrive: Saturday morning +2 in Bangkok (BKK) at 9:10 am before a flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand, arriving early afternoon
Spend 3 nights in Chiang Mai relaxing, exploring, and hitting excursions before departing for Bangkok Tuesday late morning or early afternoon.
Then spend 3 nights in Bangkok before an afternoon or evening departure on Friday for Abu Dhabi, UAE. After 2 nights here you can catch the direct flight Sunday morning back to DFW, arriving that same day in the afternoon.
Lets preface this by saying there is really no easy way to get to Thailand, so prepare yourself for some significant time on an airplane. But this is a small price to pay if you want to indulge yourself in the Thai culture and experience the hustle and bustle of Bangkok.
There is a direct flight from Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) to Abu Dhabi (AUH) and then after a short layover a connecting flight can be taken the rest of the way to Bangkok (BKK). You’ll then find yourself literally on the other side of the world, with a 12 hr timezone difference from the central timezone in the US. There are also multiple direct flights a day from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (CNX) so be sure to book whichever one works best for you. It is easy to search the options on google flights.
First Destination – Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai is located north of Bangkok and is only an hour away by plane. I think it makes the most sense to go straight here on the first day so the second half of the trip is spent in Bangkok, where the return flight will be leaving from. Chiang Mai is known as one of the more historical cities in Thailand and is surrounded by lush jungle.
Above: Photo of a waterfall taken by one of my friends after a zipline excursion in Chiang Mai.
Where to stay and what to do in Chiang Mai?
There are plenty of hotel options to choose from in Chiang Mai but only one under the spg brand. The Le Meridien Chiang Mai would be the place to stay if looking to use or earn spg points during the trip. It is in a great location, offers a pool with spectacular views, and is a category 3 hotel offering redemptions at 7,000 points a night. Rates can also be found from approximately $116 a night at the current exchange rate.
While in Chiang Mai it would be possible to go on a zipline excursion one day and visit an elephant sanctuary another. Then have some time to relax poolside or explore the surrounding area of Chiang Mai. As far as the zipline experience goes my friend recently booked through “Flight of the Gibbon” in Chiang Mai and had a great time. They offer a zipline experience in the jungle of Thailand with a chance to see a wild gibbon. For more on this zipline excursion visit the TripAdvisor review page here.
Then as far as elephant encounters are concerned there are multiple options to choose from with varying activities that will really depend on your personal preference. The top 5 rated outdoor activities in Chiang Mai all involve elephants. Visit the trip advisor link here and all of the reviews are very helpful in determining which elephant encounter would be right for you.
After your time in Chiang Mai you can then catch a short flight down to Bangkok on Tuesday afternoon to continue the adventure.
Second Destination – Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok is the Capital city of Thailand with plenty of sites, history, a vibrant street life, and a plethora of skybars. With an arrival here late Tuesday afternoon it would allow for 3 or 4 nights to explore Bangkok before departing Friday evening or Saturday morning.
Above: Photo of the Grand Palace in Bangkok taken by one of my friends on his recent visit.
Where to stay in Bangkok?
Given the size of Bangkok there are many hotel options to choose from, but for this particular itinerary I would recommend the Marriott Bangkok Hotel Sukhumvit. This hotel has an awesome rooftop bar and an excellent location near the main subway line. Using Marriott points it costs 25,000 a night, or rates can be found from around 3,900 THB (113 USD) a night in September. Photos and more information on this hotel can be found here.
After three or four nights in Bangkok you can catch a return flight home with a stopover in Abu Dhabi. Rather than flying back right away with a short layover you can have the option of booking a stopover and spending two nights in Abu Dhabi. This is something that should be totally based on personal preference as you can choose between this or a shorter stopover with more time in Bangkok.
Return Stopover – Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.
Since most people don’t go to Thailand regularly I think it makes sense to break up the return trip by including a stopover in Abu Dhabi. A flight back on Etihad will have to go through Abu Dhabi either way so checking out the U.A.E. doesn’t result in any additional flights.
Note: The majority of airlines that fly to Bangkok offer some sort of ability to stopover in their main hub city so this is something that could be worth looking into if you end up flying an airline other than Etihad. I know Emirates, Qatar, and Singapore all offer stopover options.
Abu Dhabi is the very modern capital city of the United Arab Emirates. The city is known for its oil and luxurious accomodations. There are many hotels to choose from but since you’ll probably only end up visiting Abu Dhabi once I would recommend going all out on a budget. A stay at the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal would make for a relaxing visit. With rates from 515 AED a night (~142 USD at the current exchange rate) it comes in at a very reasonable price for the Ritz-Carlton experience. Especially when traveling with a friend who can split the price down the middle. For more information on the hotel and booking details visit the link here.
The hotel is located between 20-25 minutes from the airport by car and accross the way from the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The Mosque is a big tourist attraction in this area and most people recommend visiting if nearby. Of important note, however, be sure to pay attention to the dress code if you do plan to visit the Mosque.
After a couple nights in the United Arab Emirates you can catch your connecting flight back to DFW at 9:10 am, landing at 4:15 pm the same day. Then depending on the fare class you purchase you can either bid for an upgrade before departure or try to upgrade to business class using points and end the trip in style. Neither of which are a bad option if you’ll need to return to work shortly after arrival. Visit the, “my upgrade options” section of the Etihad Airways website here to learn all about the different ways you can upgrade your seat.
This particular itinerary is just one way to approach the trip. It is important to map out the amount of time you want to take for your vacation, how many cities you want to visit, and how long you want to spend in those cities. This is a great option for experiencing a large variety during one trip. Keep in mind that the length of time spent in each city can be adjusted, as well as which city is visited in addition to Bangkok. Are you a beach person? Maybe you would rather visit Phuket and chill out at the resort there for a few days. Or make is easier and visit one of the beach destinations closer to Bangkok. Once you pick your main course of travel then there are quite a few different options for adding additional cities based on personal preference. Also, you will experience jet lag on this trip, especially if flying economy, but that is just par for the course in this day and age for anyone looking to travel to the other side of the world. Hopefully this helps in planning your next trip and you find yourself enjoying a drink on the top of Bangkok sometime soon.