(Lonelyplanet)-Bangkok welcomes over 20 million travellers each year, adding to its already bustling streets. Yet only hours away are leafy lands devoid of urban sprawl, ancient 14th-century settlements, and WWII relics. Escape the city’s frenetic sois (side streets) with these ace day trips from the Thai capital.
The Wat Mahathat Buddhist temple complex in Ayutthaya – a buddha statue, with a gold sash draped over its shoulder, sits in a lotus position with the remains of several sandstone temples visible in the background; day trips from Bangkok
The Wat Mahathat Buddhist temple complex in Ayutthaya © Preto Perola / Shutterstock
Wander around the old capital of Ayuthaya
Before Bangkok claimed the country’s capital crown, Ayuthaya held the title back during the days of the Siam kingdom. An ancient city dating from 1350, Ayuthaya was once filled with 400 temples and palaces, many of which were adorned with resplendent gold leaf designs, before being sacked by the Burmese in 1767. Today its many relics remain in ruins, giving Cambodia’s Angkor Wat a run for its sightseeing money. The Khmer-style spires at temple Wat Ratchaburana are striking in all their crumbling 15th-century glory, while Wat Mahathat is famed for its sandstone Buddha head tangled in the roots of an old Bodhi tree. Chao Sam Phraya National Museum, meanwhile, is the custodian of items once housed in the temple’s crypts and includes ancient Thai pottery in its collection.
The Ayuthaya Historical Park is best circumnavigated by bike, which are readily available to hire outside the train station. Alternatively, jump in a tuk-tuk for a breezy way to explore this fascinating UNESCO World Heritage site.
Getting there: Trains run hourly from Bangkok Hua Lamphong Station to Ayutthaya Station, taking around two hours. Alternatively, minivans regularly depart from Bangkok’s Victory Monument (journey time: one hour).
A raised wooden boardwalk spans over a lake on Bang Krachao, Thailand; day trips from Bangkok
Bang Krachao is a perfect day trip for cycle enthusiasts © sirastock / Shutterstock
Unwind in Bang Krachao, Bangkok’s green lung
Although considered part of Bangkok, Bang Krachao – known as the capital’s green lung – is the antithesis of the city’s chaotic pleasures over the Chao Phraya River. Underdeveloped and at odds with the rest of the bustling metropolis, here you’ll find the floating weekend market Bang Nam Pheung, 250-year-old temples and an eco resort where you can sleep in a tree house.
Largely agricultural, this 16 sq km island is filled with mangrove forests, small homesteads, and elevated pathways precariously perched above the canals. It’s popular with cyclists – who zip past the teak-framed houses on stilts shaded by clusters of palm trees – but it’s a must-see for anyone interested in getting a glimpse of what remains of quiet village life in Bangkok. Stop by Si Nakhon Kheun Khan a public park and botanical garden littered with bike trails, fishponds, and a bird lookout.
Getting there: Long boats make the five-minute river crossing to Bang Krachao from Wat Klongtoey Pier in the southeast of the city. Once on the island, bike hire can be found at either pier for around 80 baht/day.
The Death Railway Bridge, made from steel and concrete, spanning the River Kwai; day trips from Bangkok
The Death Railway Bridge is Kanchanaburi’s biggest draw, but there’s plenty more to see here too © Bule Sky Studio / Shutterstock
Uncover the history of Kanchanaburi
Kanchanaburi has its dark past to thank for its modern-day popularity amongst travellers. The area is home to the evocatively-titled Death Railway Bridge, built by allied prisoners during WWII and immortalised in the (largely fictional) plot line of Pierre Boulle’s novel The Bridge Over the River Kwai (and subsequent Hollywood movie adaptation). As a result, the town is dotted with fascinating war museums – including the JEATH War Museum, which houses a collection of photographs, paintings and relics (such as an unexploded allied bomb) from the time – and sombre cemeteries that help piece together the harrowing historical events that took place here.
But there’s more to Kanchanaburi than its WWII connection. For those looking to take it easy, the region provides a wealth of low-key outdoor activities to enjoy, whether that be admiring the characterful buildings along the town’s Heritage Walking Street, taking a bamboo raft down the river, hopping between ancient temples (including, Wat Ban Tham, with its entrance resembling a dragon’s mouth) or embarking on an organised trek into the area’s dense jungles.
Getting there: Trains depart twice daily from Bangkok Thonburi Station to Kanchanaburi, with a journey time of around three hours. Alternatively, minivans regularly depart from Victory Monument and are usually slightly quicker (journey time: two hours 30 minutes).