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.ancientcitygroup.net for info.
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.
Floating Market at Damnoen Saduak -- This, the best known of Thailand’s floating markets, is very photogenic. The sampans on the canals are laden with colorful fruits and flowers, and the vendors dress in traditional costume. But it soon becomes clear that it’s all staged for tourists. As it’s over 100km (62 miles) from Bangkok, you’ll need a very early start to catch the market at its best; if this is not convenient, consider a visit to nearby Amphawa Floating Market (a 90-minute drive from Bangkok),which takes place in the afternoon, and is less staged. Some tours combine the Floating Market with a visit to the Rose Garden (see above for info). If you choose to go via organized tour, expect to pay about 1,800B. It's located at Damnoen Saduak, Ratchaburi, around 40 minutes south of Nakhon Pathom/ 100km (62 miles) from Bangkok.
Phra Pathom Chedi -- One of Thailand’s oldest towns, Nakhon Pathom is thought to be where Buddhism first established a following in this region, over 2,000 years ago. Thus, it is fitting that it should be home to thetallest (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). The chedican be visited in combination with a trip to the Floating Market (see above) or en route to Kanchanaburi (see below). It is 56km/35 miles west of Bangkok, Nakhon Pathom. Admission is 40B. Open daily 6am–6pm.
Farther Afield: Kanchanaburi139km (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 by 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 100B). 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). Buses and minivans cost the same as the train and take 2.5 hours.
Accommodations -- There are a couple of new places, both located by the river some distance from town, that offer excellent amenities and efficient service. The FloatHouse River Kwai (55 Moo 5 Tambol Wangkrajae; www.thefloathouseriverkwai.com; tel. 02642-5497) has teak wood and bamboo floating villas on the River Kwai that make for an incredibly chic eco-stay. Rooms have private balconies, modern bathrooms, and the hotel employs people from the ethnic Mon tribe. Rooms start at 4,800B. A cheaper and smaller alternative is the Oriental Kwai (194/5, Moo 1, Tambon Ladya. www.orientalkwai.com; tel. 03458-8168), which has cottages and a pool in a lush tropical garden, and rates beginning at 2,800B including breakfast.
If you’d rather be nearer the town, the pretty Sabai@Kan (www.sabaiatkan.com; tel. 03452-1559), at 317/4 Mae Nam Khwae, is a hospitable boutique with a swimming pool that’s close to all the tourist spots. Rates include breakfast and start at 1,400B. See www.kanchanburi-info.com for more tips on accommodation.
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 140B, children 60B), 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 50B). 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.
Other sites farther afield from Kanchanaburi include the Hellfire Pass Memorial, on the route of the Death Railway. Pick up a free audio guide at the museum to hear first-person accounts from survivors. Another option is to visit the Erawan National Park, north of town, where you can see one of Thailand’s most attractive waterfalls. Walking shoes and a level of physical fitness are required to reach the second and third tiers of the falls (it’s a 2km hike). You’ll need to catch one of the hourly busses from Kanchanaburi (50B; 90-minutes).
Further Afield: Khao Yai National Park
120km (75 miles) NE of Bangkok
ocated 3 hours from Bangkok, 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. The best time to visit the park is December to June but trips can be arranged year-round. Visitors usually spot such wildlife as wild elephants, lar gibbons, barking deer, hornbills, and any number of other bird species. Outside of park attractions, you might be interested to join a wine tour or tasting at either PB Valley (www.khaoyaiwinery.com; [tel] 081733-8783) or GranMonte (www.granmonte.com; tel. 04400-9543). Both wineries are on the northwest edge of the park and a 15-minute drive apart. Each facility offers tours, tastings, food, and scenic views. If you’re trying to pick between the two, PB Valley edges out GranMonte.
Getting to Khao Yai -- Minivans depart Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit) for Pak Chong every 30 minutes; three hours and a cost of 160B. 10 trains leave Hua Lampong Station (tel. 1690 or 02220-4334) for Pak Chong; two to three hours and 25B to 363B. You might also consider renting a car for the journey.
Hotels & Resorts -- There are a couple of comfortable places to stay near the park, including Hotel des Artists (4 Moo 17 Thanarat Road; www.hotelartists.com/khaoyai; (tel. 089) with a large outdoor swimming pool, mountain views, and a French-colonial vibe. Rooms start at 4,600B and villas go for 7,500B. The nicest option is Sala Khaoyai Resort (99 Moo 11; www.salahospitality.com; tel. 089846-0500) with a hilltop restaurant, 360-degree views, modern furnishings, and deep-soak tubs; rooms start at 7,500B. It’s possible to stay in the park, which makes early-morning hiking or animal-watching a simple affair. Contact the Khao Yai National Park (http://nps.dnp.go.th; tel. 086092-6529) for information on booking a park-run bungalow (expect to pay about 2,000B a night).
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.
For complete info on visiting Ayutthaya, including advice on transportation, dining and accommodations (for the lucky few who get to do an overnight here), please click here.
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.