There’s much more to Bangkok than high rises, traffic and crowded tourist sights.
And if you set aside time for a day trip or overnight excursion to one of the wonderful nearby attractions you will certainly leave with a much more rewarding impression. Unique and impressive Ayutthaya and the Floating Market are the two most popular, but there are also some well kept secrets, such as the Ancient City and Koh Kret.
Day tours from Bangkok are best arranged via a tour company or concierge, since very few of them are practically undertaken on your own. Getting out of the city is a challenge, and organised tours from Bangkok are inexpensive and take in the highlights of the area. Here are the significant day trips from Bangkok in order of importance and/or practicality.
Ayutthaya and Bang Pa In
This World Heritage site lies at the heart of Siamese history and is an essential visit for those with a cultural interest in the country. The ruins of this important 17th century city – the largest of its era in Southeast Asia – are scattered about the modern town, with the bulk located on an ‘island’ formed between an ox bow and canals of the Chao Phraya River, about 100kms north of Bangkok. Taking an overnight cruise upriver is a comfortable and enchanting way to witness the grand historic chedis and temples. By car, you can also visit the Bang Pa In summer palace built by King Rama V, incorporating all sorts of unusual European and Asian styles.
This is a favourite among foreign visitors who experience this delightful working market as long tail boats guide tourist shoppers among all the wares. Located an hour’s drive southwest of Bangkok, it is colourful, chaotic, impressionable, and full of smells and unusual foods. You’ll need to get up early to get there in good time. On the way back, tours often stop at the lovely Rose Garden complex which includes a cultural village, and pretty riverside location.
Just 30 minutes from the airport by taxi, this is a highly underrated historic theme park, where you step back in time. This lovely open air ‘museum’ full of lakes and gardens reproduces in amazingly authentic detail many of Thailand’s most important historic sites and buildings, including some that are no longer standing. It’s shaped like the Kingdom and allows you to see much of Thailand in one day. On your way there from the city, ask to be taken past the intriguing three-headed elephant in Samut Prakarn.
This small island on the Chao Phraya River, about an hour’s drive north of the city, takes you back to a quieter era in the Bangkok area. It is the site of a Mon settlement dating back to the 6th century and now offers a nice escape and cultural experience with its pottery shops, kilns, and natural environment. Getting there isn’t easy. Apart from a Saturday cruise with the Chao Phraya River Express leaving from Tha Maharat Pier at 09:00 (near the Grand Palace), you might have to get a guide or join a tourist tour.
These are provided by Flight of the Gibbon; a popular zip line canopy tour that’s opened in the magnificent Chompoo Wildlife Sanctuary. Just one hour’s drive from Bangkok you get to experience the true tropical jungle of Southeast Asia from the treetops, while swinging along on a safety inspected three-kilometre long, 26 stage cable. You might even spot or hear a gibbon…if you’re lucky.
This ancient site dates back much further than Ayutthaya and is especially interesting for its distinctive Khmer influenced architecture. The ruins here are smaller than Ayutthaya and have barely survived the 10 centuries since the Dvaravarti period when the area was settled by the long extinct Lavo culture. Lop Buri can be easily reached by hire car or tour, but it’s a long drive for a day trip.
The nearest decent seaside city has a reputation for its hedonistic nightlife, soaked in sex. It’s a favourite among package tourist Russians, with some acceptable beaches, and close enough to Bangkok for an overnight visit. Some people think it’s great fun and many live there, others prefer to head to the better seaside resorts further south where there are better, quieter beaches.
Khao Kheow Open Zoo approx 90 mins from Bangkok boasts the majority of animals you would expect to see in the wild, such as tigers and monkeys, roaming relatively free. There is also a petting zoo where children can handle safe and friendly animals.
Open: 08:00-18:00, 235 Moo 7, Bang Phra, Sri Racha, Tel: (038) 318 444, Fax: (038) 318 400.
Located over on the western border, Kanchanaburi has a special place in 20th century history as a result of the famous film Bridge over the River Kwai. The construction of the railway cost thousands of lives in WWII, under Japanese occupation. Many tourists come to pay tribute at the moving war museum and graveyard; others relax on the river boats and explore the lush area, so you’ll need a couple of days.