Weekly Travel Feature

Day Trips from Bangkok

Prepared by Harold Stephens
Travel Correspondent for Thai Airways International

Maybe you have a stopover in Bangkok and have a day or two on your own. What can you see and do outside the city? Plenty. There are a number of trips out of Bangkok that a traveller can make by departing in the morning and be back in town by evening. The traveller has several options to get there—by conducted tour, by bus or rented car, or even by river ferry.

First and foremost is a trip to Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Siam. This is a must for those who are interested in history and ancient sites. Ayutthaya is a little less than 50 miles by road from Bangkok and the trip takes about 90 minutes by road. An interesting way to get there is by boat. Many hotels and private tour companies have cruise boats that make daily trips. Travellers can choose to go by air-conditioned bus one way and return by boat, or vice versa. Lunch is served aboard and they are usually pretty grand lunches. While you dine on deck, you can get a glimpse of life on the river. The Shangri-La hotel’s Horizon is one such boat. Aboard the Manora Song, operated by the Marriott Garden hotel, you can spend the night aboard the vessel.

Ayutthaya, sacked by the Burmese 200 years ago, is a busy country town, surrounded by magnificent ruins, some of which have been tidied up quite well. From what we see standing, we can well imagine many of the city's past glories—her fine palaces, imposing temples, and splendid monuments. Most tours to Ayutthaya make a stop at Bang Pa-In, about an hour from Bangkok. Bang Pa-In is a pretty collection of pavilions and palaces once used as a summer residence by Thai kings. The architecture is varied to say the least and you'll see touches of Italian, Victorian and Chinese in the structures. The palaces are not open to the public but the gardens and grounds are.

In the middle of a little lake is a beautiful Thai-style pavilion, reflecting beautifully in the calm water. It is often said to be the most photographed building in Thailand. There's a shrine near the river that is dedicated to King Rama V’s wife who drowned in the river. The boat in which she was in was swamped and she fell into the river. She could not swim and the attendants, by tradition, were not allowed to touch royalty. It was a real tragedy.

Next is the Rose Garden. Visitors can easily spend a part of a day on a trip 20 miles west of Bangkok to the Rose Garden, a modern resort and convention center that also encompasses in its complex a fine garden and a bit of Instant Thailand. There you will get a brief introduction to the country—a Buddhist ordination procession, a beautiful "fingernail" dance, hill tribe and folk dances, Thai sword fighting, elephants at work, and Thai kick boxing. This sampling will whet your appetite to come back to Thailand and see more another day.

For those who are interested in Thailand’s unusual kickboxing, they can visit Bangkok's two Stadiums and see real life matches. For more elephants, they can actually watch these magnificent beasts work in the teak forests above Chiang Mai. A trip to Chiang Mai, however, will take at least two days.

Another day trip, whether by bus or by train, is to the River Kwai, site of the infamous bridge and death railway dating back to World War II days. Every effort is made to evoke the sad and stirring story. It's about 75 miles west of Bangkok, past Kanchanaburi, where there is a large war grave cemetery with about 7,000 of the 16,000 Allied prisoners who died on the Japanese labour force. The rickety bridge is a horror but worth seeing. There are also light and sound performances.

On the familiar tours for Bangkok visitors, you can go, in town, to see snake venom being scientifically drawn or choose to view some 30,000 reptiles at the Crocodile Farm, about 25 miles southeast of Bangkok.

As a counterpoint to the crocs, most tours also include a visit to the nearby "Ancient City," claimed to be the world's largest outdoor museum, wherein temples, markets and entire villages, some hundreds of years old, have been moved from up-country to a site close to the Gulf of Thailand.

For fun in the sun, Pattaya is a few hours’ trip. Hua Hin, on the other hand, is also close, a half day by road to the south of Bangkok. It is the summer palace of Thai kings located right on the Gulf of Thailand. Hua Hin is a resort, discovered in the early 1920s by King Rama VII as an ideal getaway from Bangkok. The tranquil fishing village was turned into the Royal resort and consequently became popular among Siam's nobility and upper class. Many of Bangkok's rich and famous built their own beachfront summer homes to the north and south along the curving sandy bay. Hua Hin has many fine five-star hotels and some very neat smaller boutique hotels and inns like the Villa Maroc, a Morocco designed resort.

Still farther to the south on the Gulf is the most beautiful island of all, Koh Samui, second only to Phuket on the other coast. The island resort is less than an hour by air from Bangkok.

Another interesting site, an hour’s drive from the city, is the famous wax museum. Here you can see many phases of Thai life and a fine display of all the Thai kings from the present royal dynasty that dates back 200 years.

There’s plenty to see and do on short trips outside the city. For those who like to get behind the driver’s wheel, there are a number of car rental agencies. And, of course, there are always tours one can join.

It’s also possible to make day trips to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and there are direct flights to Siem Reap in Cambodia. What a magnificent way to see the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat from above. These services are provided to enable visitors to depart in the morning and return to Bangkok the same day.


Q. Dear Mr. Stephens, I enjoyed very much your story on your visit to Myanmar, and I would like to visit the country, but how safe is it to travel there these days? Many countries have put out warnings to their citizens to stay away. Can you enlighten me? Thank you. —Karen Jameson, Los Angles, California.

A. Dear Ms. Jameson. Your question is one that I asked many people on my visit to Myanmar. From what I have been told, Myanmar is one of the safest counties in the world to travel in these days. The government keeps a close watch on crime. For example, I was curious why motorbikes where outlawed in Yangon and questioned my old friend Phyoe Wai Yar Zar, who runs his own travel office, about this. He claims the authorities feel that motorbikes make for easy escape for criminals. So they have been banned in the capital. I also asked about how safe, in his opinion, is it for foreigners in Myanmar from the head chef, Chee Kong, a Malaysian, at Traders Hotel in Yangon. He had been with Shangri-la group for 30 years. He acknowledges that tourism has dropped after the storm, but the media is not helping matters. He emphatically stressed that travel in Yangon and Myanmar is 100% safe and it’s a pity the press is making such a fuss about it. It’s not fair for the people of Myanmar. They are the ones suffering. That’s one man’s viewpoint but it reflects the sentiment of many I talked to. I will add that I certainly felt safe every place I traveled there. –HS

Harold Stephens
E-mail: ROH Weekly Travel (booking@inet.co.th)

Note: The article is the personal view of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the view of Thai Airways International Public Company Limited.

Ayutthaya in 1688. The contour has not changed

Travel Writer Paul Theroux and his wife at Ayutthaya

The Death Railway in Kanchanaburi, but not the original

The entrance to Bang Pa-Inn

The Wax Museum just outside Bangkok

One figure is real. Stephens standing

Welcome to Angkor Wat

Same location in 1966 with the author

Boats on the klong in the Ancient City

Classical teak house in the Ancient City

The Villa Maroc, a boutique hotel in Hun Hin

For more about Old Siam read the author’s book
For the Love of Siam