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Albania, North Macedonia and Kosovo: Hidden Countries in the Balkans

The Balkans, also known as the Balkan Peninsula, is a geographical area in southeastern Europe with various geographical and historical definitions. The region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains that stretch throughout the whole of Bulgaria. The Balkan Peninsula is bordered by the Adriatic Sea in the northwest, the Ionian Sea in the southwest, the Aegean Sea in the south, the Turkish Straits in the east, and the Black Sea in the northeast.

Albania – High, rugged mountains wall off the country from its neighbour but could not keep out a historic parade of invaders, including Turks who ruled for nearly five centuries before rebellions brought independence in 1912. Islam was a chief legacy, practiced by 70 percent of the people, but in 1967 Albania prohibited public observances of all religions and declared itself “The first atheist state”.

Albania has a natural beauty and offers a remarkable array of unique attractions, not least due to this very isolation: ancient mountain behaviours codes, forgotten archaeological sites and villages where time seems to have stood still are all on the menu. With its stunning mountain scenery, thriving capital in Tirana and beaches to rival anywhere else in the Mediterranean, Albania has become the sleeper hit of the Balkans.

North Macedonia – North Macedonia is a small nation with a complex and fascinating history. Part Balkan, part Mediterranean and rich in Greek, Roman, and Ottoman history, it offers impressive ancient sites along with buzzing modernity, managing to pack in more activity and natural beauty than would seem possible for a country its size. Easygoing Skopje remains one of Europe’s more unusual capitals, where constant urban renewal has made the city a bizarre jigsaw puzzle that never fails to surprise. Elsewhere in the country hiking, mountain biking, wine tasting and climbing beckon, while the remote mountains conceal fascinating medieval monasteries, superb alpine trails and traditional Balkan village. Ohrid, noted for its beach, summer festival, sublime Byzantine churches and 34 km-long lake, is the center of country’s tourism industry, while in the winter months skiing becomes the main draw.

Kosovo – Kosovo is Europe’s newest country, fascinating land at the heart of the Balkans that rewards visitors with welcoming smile, charming mountain towns, incredible hiking opportunities and 13th century domed Serbian monasteries-just for starters. It’s safe to travel here now, and indeed is one of the last corners of Europe that remains off the beaten track for travelers.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and while it has been diplomatically recognized by 110 countries, the country has been the focus of massive aid from the international community, particularly the EU and NATO, who effectively operate its politics and maintain peace between the ethnic Albanian majority and the minority Serbs.

For the past years, The Siam Society organised a number of study trips to visit various countries in the Balkans, such as Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, and Serbia. This coming year, The Siam Society, under the leadership of Khun Bilaibhan Sampatisiri, President of The Siam Society, will once again revisit Albania, North Macedonia, and Kosovo. The location of these countries between some of Europe’s most important empires has left them well endowed with a wealth of attractions from the Greek, Roman and Ottoman eras. The region is home to a wealth of old Ottoman architecture which sits side by side with elaborately decorated Orthodox churches, and from more recent times, the civic buildings of Communist Yugoslavia, as well as impressive Roman ruins and well-preserved historic towns. The region is also blessed with incredible natural scenery with imposing mountains, pristine lakes and the sea.

When

Wednesday, 22 March to Sunday, 2 April 2023

Leader

Khun Bilaibhan Sampatisiri, President of The Siam Society

Booking

The tentative programme will be as follows:

Day 1: Wednesday, 22 March: Bangkok – Vienna
21:00 Meet at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Check in at Austrian Airlines counter.
23:50 Depart Bangkok to Vienna by flight OS026
   
Day 2: Thursday, 23 March: Vienna – Tirana
05:25 Arrive at Vienna International Airport, transfer for flight to Tirana, Albania.
12:45 Depart Vienna to Tirana by flight OS847.
14:15 Arrive at Tirana – Mother Teresa Airport Rinas. Transfer to hotel.
Afternoon: City tour in Tirana, the capital and the biggest city of Albania.

Visit some important landmarks, such as Skanderbeg Square, dedicated to Albania’s national hero, the Mosque of Ethem Bey, one of the oldest buildings in Tirana.

Dinner and overnight at Maritim Hotel Plaza Tirana.
   
Day 3: Friday, 24 March: Tirana – Vlorë
Breakfast at the hotel.
08:30 Check out of the hotel.
Morning: Visit the National Archaeological Museum and proceed to the Archaeological Park of Apollonia.
Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant.
Afternoon: Visit the 14th century Byzentine Church of St. Mary and the ruins of the ancient city of Apollonia of Illyria, which was founded at the beginning of the 7th century BC.
Drive down south to Vlorë, the major seaport and popular seaside resort town.
  Check in at Kraal Hotel in Vlorë.
  Dinner at a local restaurant.
   
Day 4: Saturday, 25 March: Vlorë – Butrint – Gjirokaster
Breakfast at the hotel.
08:30 Check out of the hotel. Proceed to Butrint National Park.
Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant in the small seaside town of Ksamil.
Afternoon: Visit the ancient city of Butrint, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1992. Inhabited since prehistoric times, Butrint has been the site of a Greek colony, a Roman city and a bishopric. Following a period of prosperity under Byzantine administration, then a brief occupation by the Venetians. The present archaeological site is a repository of ruins representing each period in the city’s development. It is the best well preserved archaeological sites in Albania.
  After the visit, continue to Gjirokaster. UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  Dinner and overnight at Hotel Vila Sharm.
   
Day 5: Sunday, 26 March: Gjirokaster – Berat
Breakfast at the hotel.
08:30 Check out of the hotel.  Walking tour in Gjirokaster, explore the rare example of the well-preserved Ottoman town.  Visit Castle of Gjirokaster, Skenduli House, Gjirokastra Obelisk and more.
Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant.
Afternoon: Proceed to Berat (180 km/3 hrs.), another beautiful Abanian town, which was declared as UNESCO world heritage sites together with Gjirokaster in the year 2005.
Dinner and overnight at Hotel Merko.
   
Day 6: Monday, 27 March: Berat – Ohrid
Breakfast at the hotel.
08:30 Check out of the hotel.
Walking tour in Berat. Visit The White Mosque, Gorica Bridge and the Berati castle, the Church of the Dormition of St. Mary and The National Iconographic Museum “Onufri”, dedicated to Byzantine art and iconography which is located inside the church. The museum was named to honor Onufri, a painting Headmaster of the 16th century.
Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant.
Afternoon: Proceed to Ohrid, North Macedonia (161 km/ 3.30 hrs.). On the way, visit the Cave of St. Archangel Michael church, built in a small natural cave in the 13th century. The church is dedicated to St. Archangel Michael and most of the fresco painting dates from the 14thcentury.
  Overnight at Hotel Unique Resort & Spa in North Macedonia.
  Dinner at the hotel.
   
Day 7: Tuesday, 28 March: Ohrid
Breakfast at the hotel.
09:00 Ohrid is the town by Lake Ohrid.  North Macedonia’s side of Lake Ohrid was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979, with the site being extended to also include the cultural and historic area of Ohrid in 1980. Albania’s side of Lake Ohrid was also designated UNESCO World Heritage status in 2019. Ohrid is notable for once having had 365 churches, one for each day of the year and has been referred as “Jerusalem of the Balkans”. Now, only 70 of them are preserved.
Sightseeing of Ohrid town and the sights by the lake.

–           Visit the Church of Saint Sophia, Samuil’s Fortress and walk along its historic 4th-century walls.

–           The Ancient Theater of Ohrid, built in the Hellenistic style.

–           Walk up to the cliff-top Church of Saint John at Kaneo for panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains.

–           Visit Saint Naum Monastery, view its intricate frescoes besides the monumental Byzantine church of St. Naum.

–           The prehistoric pile-dwelling settlements in the Bay of Bones (Museum on Water).

Noon: Lunch will be at a local family’s house in Elshani village
Evening: One hour boat ride on the lake.

Dinner at a local restaurant.

Overnight at Hotel Unique Resort & Spa in Ohrid

   
Day 8: Wednesday, 29 March: Ohrid – Matka Canyon – Skopje
Breakfast at the hotel.
08:30 Check out of the hotel.
  Proceed to Skopje, the capital city of North Macedonia. (198 km/ 3.30 hrs.)

On the way, stop to visit the Matka Canyon known for its butterfly colonies.

Embark on a private boat ride for a short exploration of the Vrelo Cave, one the deepest in the world
Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant.
Afternoon: Sightseeing in Skopje, visit some of the highlights are Mother Teresa Memorial House, which opened in 2009 to pay tribute to the life of the celebrated humanitarian, the old railway station and the Stone Bridge, which dates back to 1451. The Archaeological Museum of Macedonia.
Overnight at Skopje Marriott Hotel in North Macedonia.
  Dinner at a local restaurant.
   

 

Day 9: Thursday, 30 March: Skopje – Pristina – Prizren (Kosovo)
Breakfast at the hotel.
08:30 Proceed crossing the border to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. (93 km/ 1.30 hrs.)

Visit Gračanica Monastery, a Serbian Orthodox monastery. It was built by the Serbian king Stefan Milutin in 1321 on the ruins of a 6th-century basilica. The monastery was declared a Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance in 1990 and in 2006 it was placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant.
Afternoon: Sightseeing in Pristina. Visit the Bazaar Mosque-the oldest mosque in Kosovo, the Ethnographic Museum, which is in the 300 years old Ottoman house, Yugoslavian Obelisk of Brotherhood, St. Teresa Cathedral.
Continue to Prizren, cultural capital of Kosovo.
  Dinner at a local restaurant.
  Overnight at Hotel Centrum Prizren in Kosovo.
 
Day 10: Friday, 31 March: Prizren – Visoki Dečani Monastery – Gjakova – Prizren
Breakfast at the hotel.
08:00 Walking tour through the ancient streets of Prizren, with its picturesque and historic buildings, churches, mosques such as Sinan Pasha Mosque and Church of Our Lady of Ljevis, a 14th-century Serbian Orthodox church. (UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006).
Noon: Lunch at own arrangement in Prizren.
Afternoon: Proceed to visit Visoki Dečani Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004). The medieval church houses some of the most preserved fresco decoration in the Balkans and continue to visit the pretty town of Gjakova, distinguished for cultural preservation, see the old Bazaar of Gjakova, Hadum Mosque and Tekke (Masjid) of Sheh Emini Tekke.
Travel back to Prizren.
  Dinner at a local restaurant.
  Overnight at Hotel Centrum Prizren in Kosovo.
   
Day 11: Saturday, 1 April: Prizren – Pristina International Airport – Vienna
Breakfast at the hotel.
09:00 Check out and transfer to Pristina International Airport, Kosovo.
12:25 Depart Pristina to Vienna flight OS768
14:05 Arrive at Vienna International Airport, transfer for flight to Bangkok.
18:05 Depart Vienna to Bangkok by flight OS025.
   
Day 12: Sunday, 2 April: Vienna – Bangkok
09:05 Arrive at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport.
   
The Siam Society reserves the right to change the programme as necessary.

Booking

Contribution of THB 96,000 (THB 99,500 for non-member). Single room surcharge of THB 10,000. A deposit of THB 30,000 and a photocopy of the identification page on your passport must accompany the booking. Your reservation will be confirmed as soon as the deposit has been made. Payment in full will be required 30 days before the start of the trip (i.e. by Wednesday, 22 February 2023). Please pay by cash or cheque payable to “The Siam Society”. Transfer can also be made to The Siam Society travel account at TMBThanachart Bank (ttb), saving account no. 053-2-18000-7 or by scanning the QR code on your right. Once payment has been made, please fax or e-mail the deposit or transfer docket to us.

Inclusions:

  • The contribution includes accommodation (twin sharing basis), meals as mentioned in programme, transfer & sightseeing coaches, entrance fees, gratuities and other costs incurred to make this trip possible.

Exclusions:

  • International airfares are not included in the price,but for those who would like us to book their tickets, it can be arranged at the time of booking.
  • Visa fees (if any), personal expenses, personal food and beverage consumptions, etc.

Please note that the flight itinerary between Bangkok-Vienna-Tirana-Pristina-Bangkok mentioned in the programme only serves as a suggestion. Trip participants are free to travel with their select airline of choice throughout the above sequence of itinerary.

To comply with payment and cancellation policies set forth by tour agencies and to facilitate smooth working conditions between The Siam Society and the tour agencies, please read carefully the revised cancellation policies stated below:

Cancellation charges:

45 days before the start of the trip: Deposit forfeited
45–30 days before the start of the trip: 50% of the tour cost
Less than 30 days or cancellation without notice: No refund

 

Covid-19 policy

Due to a lower number of worldwide infections, many countries have relaxed their travel restrictions and quarantine requirements in regards to Covid-19.

Nevertheless, when traveling as a group, The Siam Society would like to remind you of the following measures that we have put in place:

– We kindly ask that our trip participants perform a self-administered ATK test prior to the commencement of the trip. Participants are also asked to carry along with them multiple sets of ATK test kit, along with their preferred set of medicines (for consumption if infected with Covid-19.)

– In the event that trip participants are tested positive during the trip, the group will continue to follow the planned itinerary. To ensure the health and safety of all trip participants, those tested positive shall adhere to appropriate self-isolation measures as directed by the trip leader.

– Those tested positive with severe symptoms shall be treated in accordance with the health measures stipulated by the local government. Medical costs in excess of the insurance coverage shall be at the expense of trip participant(s).

– The Siam Society will provide a health insurance for all trip participants. Medical costs in excess of the insurance coverage shall be at the expense of trip participant.

– Our staff and local tour operators will constantly provide you with the latest update on local health and safety regulations.

 

Tourist Visa Policy

Thai passport holders:

Albania: Holders of Thai passports do not need to apply for a visa to enter Albania, in accordance with the visa waiver agreement established.

North Macedonia and Kosovo: Holders of Thai passports are required to apply for a tourist visa before entering North Macedonia and Kosovo. However, exceptions are granted to Thai passport holders holding a VALID UK, US, Canadian and VALID multiple entry Schengen visas that have been used previously once to enter/exit Schengen member states.

Non-Thai passport holders:

Albania: – Over 60 nations around the world such as US, EU, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore and etc. has a visa waiver agreement with Albania, and nationals from these countries do not require a visa to enter for the purpose of tourism. A valid passport with a minimum validity of six months from the arrival date is sufficient.

North Macedonia and Kosovo – Nationals of the US and EU Member States and signatories of the Schengen Agreement DO NOT need a visa to enter the Republic of North Macedonia and Kosovo.

 If you have any questions regarding the circumstances for your visa requirements, please do not hesitate to reach out to The Siam Society.

– Please note that your passport must be valid for at least six months longer than your intended stay in a visiting country and must also have at least two blank pages for visa sticker/stamps.

– Due to the lack of presence of the Kosovan and Macedonian Embassies in Thailand, we strongly recommend that Thai passport holders embarking on this trip are in possession of a current and valid US, UK, and/or VALID multiple entry Schengen visa that have been previously used at least ONCE to enter/exit member states.

For further information and bookings, please contact Khun Supanut at 02-661-6470-3 ext 506 or Khun Thun at 02-661-6470-3 ext 205, or supanut@thesiamsociety.org. The Society’s office is open from 09:00 to 17:00, Tuesday to Saturday.

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