Mention Bangkok, and one immediately conjures up images of its expansive malls, extensive outdoor markets and vibrant street food scene. Yet, there’s more to this popular weekend getaway destination; venture beyond the city, and you’ll discover a different side – one that offers noteworthy historical sites, majestic palace and temple ruins and fascinating cultural sites. Here are five of our favourite destinations below – each of which will fit in nicely into a day trip itinerary. Happy exploring!
Founded in 1350, Ayutthaya served as the country’s capital until 1767 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once the most affluent city in Southeast Asia that drew in traders from far-flung locations like the Middle East and Europe, visitors today can revisit the old capital city’s grand history by exploring its sprawling complexes of temple and palace ruins.
Attractions are scattered across, as well as outside of the island. Wat Phra Mahathat, a religious site that enshrined relics of the Buddha is one of the main attractions on the island; don’t miss the tree that grew all around a statue of a Buddha head. The vast grounds of Wat Phra Sri Sanphet contains numerous structures used only by the kings of Ayutthaya, and Wat Lokayasutharam is home to an enormous statue of a reclining Buddha. The Bang Pa-In Royal Palace, once the summer home for the royal family, is worth a visit for its ornate architecture, extensive gardens and glimmering lakes.
These attractions are widely spread apart, so you’ll need to rent a bicycle or tuk tuk to get around if you’re not sightseeing as part of a guided tour. Pro-tip: it’s best to go at a slow pace and keep well hydrated in Bangkok’s soaring temperatures.
It may be called the Rose Garden, but it’s much more than a botanical garden. It’s also a cultural center that stages the widely acclaimed Thai Village Cultural Show, which includes displays of martial arts, ethnic dance performances, sword fighting and an elephant parade.
Before the show commences, there’s plenty of time for a leisurely stroll around the scenic gardens, lakes and village. Shop for souvenirs at the bustling handicraft market, and fill up on street food and local specialties at an outdoor food court. Vacationers who enjoy trying their hands at something new may participate in rice planting, bamboo dancing and vegetable carving activities.
Bang Krachao offers a refreshing change from the concrete jungle surroundings and busy bustle of Bangkok. Situated south of the city, the island’s lush, unspoilt environment, serene atmosphere, and location (it’s just a quick boat ride from Bang Na Pier or Klong Toei Pier) makes it a popular weekend escape for nature lovers.
Cycling is the best way to get around the island. You’ll find multiple bicycle rental shops on the island, so it won’t be a problem renting a bike to get around on your own. There are also tours available for travellers who prefer a guided visit through the island’s villages and Burmese Mon-influenced temples. Do exercise extra caution when cycling here, as the bike paths are rather narrow, with sharp and sudden bends.
Highlights on the island include the Sri Nakhon Kuen Khan Park and Botanical Garden, a public park with biking trails, ponds, picnic spots and viewpoints. And unlike other market attractions in Bangkok, the Bang Nam Pheung Floating Market retains its traditional charm, with numerous stalls set up under large, shady trees by the river. With myriad vendors serving up street food, it’s the perfect spot for adventurous foodies to sample unusual fruits and local snacks.
If you’re planning on staying in the area for the night, sign up for an evening time fireflies tour, where you’ll head out on a long tail boat with a guide to an estuary to watch swarms of fireflies glitter amidst the dense forestry. For more on Bang Krachao, see here.
Death Railway in Kanchanaburi
Constructed by prisoners of war during WWII, the Death Railway is a 415-kilometre railway that stretches from Ban Pong, Thailand to Thanbyuzayat, Myanmar. Originally called the Thailand-Burma Railway, the ominous-sounding ‘Death Railway’ is used to remind the world that more than a hundred thousand workers died during the construction process.
If you opt to visit the site on your own, it’s best to take the train from the Kanchanaburi station or Thonburi station in Bangkok. Most visitors will board the train all the way to Nam Tok to visit the main draw of the attraction: the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum and walking trail. Traversing through the trail is a sobering affair, particularly when one thinks about how the trail was created – by POWs who cut away at a sheer rock by hand, using little else but basic tools. At the museum, visitors may listen to audio recordings of survivors describing their experiences of constructing the railway, as well as visit a memorial built to honour the POWs.
A second option is to step out at the Sapan Tham Krasae Station, before the train continues on towards Nam Tok. It’s a less popular option among visitors, but worthwhile for the adrenaline-inducing experience of walking along the railway track at Wampo Viaduct.
The wooden structures hugs the edge of the cliff along Kwai Noi, and stands at a height between eight to nine metres – so a walk along the tracks definitely isn’t for the faint-hearted. Yet, visitors who brave the walk will be rewarded with incredible vistas of the picturesque surroundings from a viewing platform located along the Tham Krasae Bridge. Do make a stop by the Tham Krasae Cave, a large cave containing a golden Buddha statue after your walk.
Pro-tip: There are only two trains arriving at Sapan Tham Krasae Station each day, so you won’t be able to visit both locations unless you plan on getting up in the wee hours of the morning to catch the first ride.
Floating vineyards of Samut Sakhon
Wine lovers will appreciate a visit to the “floating vineyards” at Samut Sakhon – so called because the vines are planted upon strips of land in between deep canals, thus giving the impression that they are floating above land. This creates an unusual way of pruning and harvesting the vines, with workers getting around on a small boat that goes along the canals.
A great way to find out all about the cultivation, blending and winemaking processes is to join in a tour at Siam Winery – the largest winery in Southeast Asia. The tour includes a video presentation, guided tour of the facility and wine tasting session. A more comprehensive four-hour session, inclusive of a three-course lunch is also available.
Top image: Chedi Chaya Mongkhol in Ayutthaya, courtesy of Romel Sanchez.