Several excellent and varied day-trip options are possible for anyone needing a break from the crowded metropolis of Bangkok. If you’re in search of nature, you can hike alongside wild elephants and trek to waterfalls at Khao Yai National Park or enjoy the beach at the hedonistic party town of Pattaya. For history, explore the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya, a UNESCO World Heritage site, or learn about Thailand’s World War II history at the somber Death Railway museum in Kanchanaburi. Read on for more on these excellent Bangkok day trips.
Ayutthaya — For nearly 400 years, Ayutthaya served as the capital of Siam before being sacked by invading Burmese armies in 1767. Today, the ruined fortresses, palaces, and temples make a fascinating day-trip from Bangkok. They’re a must-see destination for anyone who enjoys history or ancient ruins. Ayutthaya occupies a strategically located island in the Chao Phraya River, and during its heyday, the cosmopolitan city held over one million residents from all over Asia and Europe. Today, the Ayutthaya Historical Park occupies the western half of the island, with the eastern side being a modern city with hotels, restaurants, and bars for travelers who want to stay the night.
Ayutthaya is one hour from Bangkok by train, and the best way to explore the area is to rent a bike at the rail depot and cycle between the sites. The first stop on everyone’s itinerary is the Wat MahaThat, a ruined temple with a stone Buddha head suspended in a banyan tree. Looters likely dropped the head, and the tree grew around it, creating a surreal and photogenic sight. The nearby Wat Phra Si Sanphet features a giant golden Buddha statue in a restored prayer hall and has several stupas in various states of decay.
Another way to see the sites is to take a boat cruise. In the afternoon, boat tours cruise around the river visiting outlying temples and monuments before stopping at the spectacular ruins of the Wat ChaiWatthanaram for sunset.
Amphawa and Maeklong — A 90-minute drive southwest of Bangkok leads to the Amphawa Floating Market and one of Thailand’s unique sites, the Maeklong Train Market. The Amphawa Floating Market, open from 9:00 AM to 10:00 PM, Friday through Sunday, is a chance to experience a market from a bygone era, albeit in a touristy way. The floating markets of Thailand are no longer full of villagers on wooden boats laden with fish and vegetables. Instead, most vendors on boats offer rides to tourists and cook up pad Thai on woks. Nevertheless, the floating market is busy throughout the day with travelers who pack the canalside restaurants to feast on fresh seafood. After dark, the bars come alive with music and merriment.
Four miles from Amphawa is the unique — and slightly dangerous — Maeklong Train Market. This market, where locals converge to buy fruit, vegetables, fish, and meat, sits directly on the train tracks. Several times a day, vendors hastily pack up their wares, fold up tents that hang over the rails, and stand back as the train rumbles through the market. As soon as the train passes, the vendors quickly reset everything, and the shopping continues.
The best way to get to Amphawa and Maeklong is on a tour. Almost every hotel or tour operator in Bangkok can arrange a taxi for the 90-minute drive, or sell a package to the market and nearby sites.
Kanchanaburi — Set along the banks of the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi is a beautiful, tranquil town with a shocking history. During World War II, Allied prisoners of war and enslaved Asians were forced to construct a railway between Bangkok and Burma. At least 100,000 people died working in the brutal conditions building the “Death Railway.”
Today, the riverside village makes an excellent day trip or overnight journey from Bangkok. The informative Death Railway Museum features displays and explanations about the construction of the bridge and the ordeal the soldiers faced. Across the street, the serene Kanchanaburi War Cemetery is the final resting spot for thousands of soldiers.
On the north side of Kanchanaburi is a steel bridge built by prisoners of war, and made famous by the 1957 war film, The Bridge on the River Kwai. Visitors can walk across the wooden planks on the bridge and take in views of the river, town, and hills. Aside from the somber historical sites, Kanchanaburi is a delightful town to visit. After touring the museums, eat lunch at a riverside restaurant or take a boat trip. To visit Kanchanaburi in one day, sign up for a train-bus combo tour at one of the travel agencies in Bangkok.
Khao Yai National Park — This mountainous area of waterfalls, forests, wildlife, and hiking trails is one of the most overlooked yet spectacular destinations in Thailand. Situated 70 miles northeast of downtown, the park makes an easy day trip from Bangkok for anyone looking to commune with nature and escape the city.
Khao Yai is the best place in Thailand to spot terrestrial animals. Most visitors will see wild elephants, deer, macaque, gibbons, and porcupines, and lucky visitors may spot elusive Asiatic black bears, sun bears, and guer. Birders will want their binoculars to gaze at the over 400 bird species that call the park home.
There are seven official hiking trails in the national park, many of them leading to waterfalls or wildlife watching towers. To walk on the trails, visitors must hire a guide or go with a park ranger. The longest trail is the five-mile trek to the stunning Haew Suwat waterfall. Near the visitor center is a network of shorter trails in the grasslands and forests that are some of the best places to spot elephants.
The optimal way to visit the park is to rent a car at Suvarnabhumi Airport and drive. By having your own transportation, you’ll be able to park at the trailheads, hike, and explore at your own pace.
Pattaya — Pattaya has an unsavory reputation due to its massive red-light district and infamous nightlife, but it also has family-friendly entertainment and the closest beaches to Bangkok. If you’re in need of sea breezes and sand, the 90-mile drive from Bangkok takes visitors to a tropical playground.
Pattaya has two urban beaches with different vibes. Adrenaline seekers head to Pattaya Beach to do watersports like jet skiing and windsurfing. On the southern side of town, Jomtien Beach is more relaxed and is popular with families. To get away from the city, take a short ferry ride to tranquil Coconut Island, with the soft sand and clear water of your Thai dreams.
Aside from beach activities, there are several things to do on dry land. The Underwater World Pattaya aquarium has an impressive collection of sharks, rays, and fish, but is best known for its surreal displays of illuminated jellyfish. The best way to get to Pattaya is to take one of the comfortable hourly buses that depart from Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Ancient Siam — You can spend several weeks and thousands of dollars traveling to the far corners of Thailand to see all its cultural and architectural splendor, or see it all in one day. Dubbed the “World’s largest private outdoor museum,” Ancient Siam — also called the Muang Boran Museum — has replicas of the famous temples, ancient ruins, and grand palaces of Thailand.
The sprawling park is divided into six sections, representing the different regions of Thailand. The park has replicas of famous sites like the former capitals of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, but also lesser-known places like Phimai, the architectural inspiration for the more famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The Suvarnabhumi section has several elaborate and photogenic buildings, including an island encircled by a giant fish that will amaze your followers on Instagram.
It sounds Disney-esque, but if you don’t have time to see the real places replicated, this is an easy day trip from Bangkok, and Ancient Siam is 2.2 miles from the Kheha MRT metro station. Visitors can ride around the park on a bike for free, or hire a golf cart for the day.