There are plenty of easy day trips from Bangkok. Favorites include various cruises along the Chao Phraya to the more distant klongs, and to the ancient capital of Ayutthaya, north of Bangkok, with a stop at the Bang Pa-In Summer Palace. Kids will enjoy most of these listed below.
Easy 1-Day Excursions
The Ancient City (Muang Boran) -- This remarkable museum is a giant scale model of Thailand spread over hundreds of acres, with more than a hundred models of the country's major landmarks either displayed as life-size or in reduced scale. For visitors short of time, it is an excellent way to get an overview of the country's most impressive buildings in just 1 day. It has been built over the past 30 years by a local millionaire who has played out his obsession with Thai history on a grand scale. Because it is far from the heart of Bangkok, the Ancient City is best visited by organized tour, though you can certainly go on your own. It is at kilometer 33 on the old Sukhumvit Highway, in Samut Prakan Province. All travel agents offer package tours that combine this with the nearby Crocodile Farm, though you could easily spend a day just in the Ancient City. You'll also need to arrange a method of getting around, as it's too far to walk everywhere; choices are a car and driver, rented bicycle, or tram tour with guide. Muang Boran is open daily from 8am to 5pm, and admission is 300B (children 150B). Contact tel. 02709-1644, or visit www.ancientcity.com for info.
Samutprakarn Crocodile Farm and Zoo -- Only 3km (1 3/4 miles) from the Ancient City, you'll find the Samutprakarn Crocodile Farm and Zoo, at kilometer 30 on the Old Sukhumvit Highway (tel. 02703-4891). Supposedly the world's largest, it has more than 60,000 crocs, both fresh and saltwater. During the hourly show (9am-5pm), handlers wrestle the crocs in murky ponds -- enough to scare the living daylights out of junior. Admission is 300B. It's open daily from 7am to 6pm, and feeding takes place between 4:30 and 5:30pm.
Rose Garden Riverside -- Besides its delightful rose garden, this attractive theme park and resort that sprawls over 28 hectares (69 acres) is known for its all-in-one show of Thai culture that includes Thai classical and folk dancing, Thai boxing, sword fighting, and cockfighting. It's hardly authentic, but it is a convenient way for visitors with limited time to digest some canned Thai culture. It's located 32km (20 miles) west of Bangkok, on the way to Nakhon Pathom, on Highway 4 (tel. 03432-2544; www.rosegardenriverside.com). The resort's flagship restaurant, Inn Chan, offers an idyllic spot to take lunch and serves traditionally prepared Thai dishes. Admission to the cultural show, which starts daily at 2pm, is 480B adults, 240B for kids; you can wander around the extensive gardens for 50B. It is open daily from 8am to 6pm.
Samphran Elephant Grounds & Zoo -- Located 1km (2/3 mile) north of the Rose Garden, in Samphran (30km/19 miles from the city), the Samphran Elephant Grounds and Zoo (tel. 02284-1873; www.elephantshow.com) is a lush 24-hectare (59-acre) garden complex offering two entertaining elephant shows and crocodile wrestling shows daily. Admission is 500B for adults, 300B for children. The zoo is open daily from 8:30am to 5:30pm. Crocodile wrestling shows are at 12:45 and 2:20pm; elephant show times are at 1:45 and 3:30pm, with additional shows on Saturday, Sunday, and holidays at 10:30am.
Activity Parks -- If the heat and the kids have gotten to you, splash out (literally) with a trip to Siam Water Park, in Minburi (tel. 02919-7200; www.siamparkcity.com), a large complex of water slides, enormous swimming pools with artificial surf, waterfalls, playgrounds, and a beer garden. It's a 30-minute drive east of town (or 1 hr. by bus no. 26 or 27, from Victory Monument). Admission is 200B (children 100B), including rides. Siam Water Park is open daily from 10am to 6pm. Also on the bus no. 26 route is the nearby Safari World & Marine Park (tel. 0662/9144100; www.safariworld.com/), an outdoor zoo tailor-made for restless kids, with restaurants and shows.
Nakhon Pathom Chedi
One of Thailand's oldest towns, Nakhon Pathom is thought to be where Buddhism first established a following in this region, over 2000 years ago. Thus, it is fitting that it should be home to the Phra Pathom Chedi (daily 6am-6pm; admission 40B), the tallest (120m/394 ft.) and most revered stupa in the kingdom. The site has been abandoned and rebuilt many times through the centuries, and the current structure was the work of Rama IV in 1853. Apart from its sheer enormity, the chedi impresses with its range of Buddha images in niches, all displaying different mudras (hand gestures). Located 56km/35 miles west of Bangkok, the chedi can be visited in combination with a trip to the Floating Market or en route to Kanchanaburi.
Floating Market at DamnoenSaduak -- The Floating Market at Damnoen Saduak, Ratchaburi, is about 40 minutes south of Nakhon Pathom. The best known of Thailand's floating markets is very photogenic, as the sampans on the canals are laden with colorful fruits and flowers, and the vendors dress in traditional costume, though it soon becomes clear that it's all staged for tourists. Some tours combine the Floating Market with a visit to the Rose Garden. If you choose to go via organized tour, such as World Travel Service (tel. 02233-5900), expect to pay about 1,800B for the 1-day trip combo with the Rose Garden.
139km (86 miles) NW of Bangkok
Kanchanaburi lies on the River Kwae (Mae Nam Kwae, in Thai), better known to the West as the River Kwai. The city became famous for a single-track rail bridge, built under the Japanese occupation in WWII by Allied prisoners of war (POWs), linking Myanmar and Thailand. Due to the thousands of servicemen and women who lost their lives in this project, and in the notoriously inhumane Japanese internment camps, it became known popularly as the Death Railway. The town, and the dark times associated with it, came to fame following the hugely successful British film The Bridge on the River Kwai (which was shot in Sri Lanka). The original wooden bridge no longer exists, so today's visitors, pilgrims, and former POWs head to a similar, but now heavily commercialized, iron bridge that was built around the same time. Every year, in the last days of November, the city hosts several evenings of light and sound shows to commemorate the bombing of the bridge in 1944. Many former Allied prisoners, as well as local Thai tourists, fill the city and hotels generally book up fast.
In addition to the bridge, lots of other worthwhile attractions are in the area, including golf courses, bike trails, caves, and waterfalls in the surrounding hills. The area's handful of nice hotels and riverside guesthouses also make this a popular escape from the heat of Bangkok.
Getting to Kanchanaburi -- You can connect by railway from Bangkok's Hua Lamphong Station (tel. 1690) on regular weekend junkets that start in the early morning, or go by slow daily trains from Thonburi Station (formerly Bangkok Noi Station; tel. 02411-3102) to Kanchanaburi Station (tel. 03456-1052); rail trips here are quite scenic and cost next to nothing (about 30B each way). They're a great experience -- just be prepared for no air-conditioning for 3 long hours. There are also frequent regular buses from the Southern Bus Terminal (tel. 02422-4444).
Accommodations -- It's a bit stuck in the 1980s and worn in parts, but the immense Felix River Kwai Resort (9/1 Moo 3, Tambon, Kanchanaburi; tel. 03455-1000-23; www.felixriverkwai.co.th) is still the best place to stay in town. Expect room rates from 3,000B upward, and know that the grounds make up for the chunky decor. Or try the Bamboo House (3-5 Soi Vietnam; tel. 03462-4470), which is basic but well located.
On Mae Nam Khwae Road, the pretty Inchantree Resort (tel. 03462-4914), at number 443, and the friendly Ploy Guesthouse, at number 79/2 (tel. 03451-5804; www.ploygh.com), are good midrange (more atmospheric) choices near the bridge. Visit www.kanchanburi-info.com for more tips on accommodations.
Attractions -- The town's sites focus on the World War II history of the area. Start any tour of Kanchanaburi at the so-called Bridge over the River Kwai, emulating its more famous predecessor, built by World War II prisoners, and the main backdrop to the suspenseful 1957 film The Bridge on the River Kwai, directed by David Lean, which won seven Oscars. The bridge is about 5km (3 miles) north of the Kanchanaburi city center.
The Allied War Cemetery is where many of the 16,000 POWs who died building the railway are laid to rest; graves are organized by country. It is a sobering thought to realize that over 100,000 people died in the construction of this project, mostly conscripted laborers and prisoners. It's a 10-minute walk from the train station on Saengchto Road. It's open daily 8:30am to 6pm, and charges no entry fee.
Adjacent to the cemetery is the Thailand-Burma Railway Center (tel. 03451-0067; www.tbrconline.com; daily 9am-5pm; adults 100B, children 50B), which displays a well-organized collection of photos and memorabilia, with ample English descriptions, maps with detailed historical background, and good audiovisual presentations recounting the terrifying fate of the Allied POWs during World War II. Nearby (just south of the cemetery along the river), find the mustier but no less moving JEATH War Museum (Wat Chaichumpol, Bantai, Kanchanaburi; tel. 03451-5203; daily 8:30am-6pm; admission 30B). JEATH is an acronym for Japan, England, Australia/America, Thailand, and Holland. Here, you'll see haunting photos and artifacts in a rustic bamboo museum adjacent to Wat Chaichumpol. Most poignant are the letters and faded photos of the many GIs who've returned since the end of the war.
Some 45km (28 miles) north of Kanchanaburi, you'll find Wat Pha Luangta Bua Yannasampanno Forest Monastery, better known as the Tiger Temple (www.tigertemple.org). Featured in dozens of TV shows and magazines, this rural temple is home to various animals, including a dozen tigers, most rescued from poachers as cubs. The monks here appear to have a remarkable understanding with these man-eating beasts, as the tigers are as tame as cats and pose placidly for photo ops. However, some criticize the monks for their attention-grabbing tactics and hefty admission fees (300B), while others claim the animals are drugged. The temple is open daily from 8:30am to 5pm, but it is best to go in the afternoon, when the tigers are allowed to roam free.
Other sites farther afield from Kanchanaburi include the Hellfire Pass, on the route of the Death Railway, which can be visited by train, as well as the Erawan National Park, north of town, where you can see one of Thailand's most attractive waterfalls.
Khao Yai National Park
120km (75 miles) NE of Bangkok
Located 3 hours from the Big Mango, near Nakhon Ratchasima (known as Khorat), on the edge of Thailand's rural northeast, the park is home to some high peaks and therefore boasts cooler temperatures year-round. It's a good place to spot wildlife, such as lar gibbons, barking deer, hornbills, and any number of other bird species, as well as a good chance to see wild elephants congregated around roadside salt licks.
Ayutthaya & 1-Day Riverboat Trips
76km (47 miles) NW of Bangkok
The temple town of Ayutthaya and the nearby Summer Palace compound of Bang Pa-In are both popular day trips from Bangkok. Ayutthaya was the capital of Thailand from 1350 until it was sacked in 1767 by the Burmese; thereafter, the capital moved briefly to Thonburi, and then to Bangkok. Ayutthaya's temples are magnificent -- both Khmer and Thai-style ruins lie along the rivers here, in what was once Thailand's greatest city. It's also an excellent place to rent a bicycle (the terrain is flat) and worth an overnight, in conjunction with an enjoyable 1-day boat trip. Nearby Bang Pa-In is home to some wonderfully whimsical mid-19th-century royal palaces, set amid splendid gardens with topiary elephants.
Most people get to Ayutthaya and Bang Pa-In by river cruise. Travel agents or hotels can arrange this for you, including the early-morning transfer from your hotel to the boat pier or coach. Usually at least one leg of the journey is undertaken by luxury coach, with a guide. It's an early rise and an all-day trip: Tour buses can leave as early as 6:30am in order to pick up tourists from a number of Bangkok hotels (which itself can take hours). Sometimes, there's an option to travel by coach both ways. Departure points are close to the River City pier, and tickets cost in the range of 2,000B per person (bus and boat) or less, if you choose to travel both ways by bus. Contact River Sun Cruises (tel. 02266-9125) for more details, but check websites (such as www.thairivercruise.com) for the full range of cruise options.
For an optimum river experience (without the coach travel), the Chao Phraya Express Co. (tel. 02222-5330) runs high-season tours on Sundays throughout December that go both ways by river. Tours depart Maharaj Pier at 7am (tickets 999B), returning around 7pm. They also run trips to Ko Kret, a small river island just north of Bangkok, famed for its terra-cotta ware, crafted by descendants of the country's Mon people. For a superluxury cruise option, the Marriott Resort & Spa operates Manohra Cruises (tel. 02477-0770; www.manohracruises.com), offering a variety of day and evening cruises, including overnight trips to Ayutthaya and Bang Pa-In. These trips use fully renovated, traditional rice barges. Though they usually cost hundreds of dollars, special packages are available online or through travel agents.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.