Published/Last edited or updated: 27th March, 2017
Where you might expect modern industry and suburban living to dominate, the old ways of central Thai life quietly endure. Reachable as day trips from Bangkok, many attractions can also be found amid the orchards, canals and villages that stretch just beyond the urban sprawl. In our opinion, a taste of the slow pace of life is what makes these short-lived adventures most worthwhile. For those willing to stray from the predictable historical sites, shopping malls and party streets, greater Bangkok and a little beyond has a lot more to offer than you might imagine.
Some might wonder why we left Damnoen Saduak and Ayutthaya off this list, but in our opinion, neither make great day trips. The floating market at Damnoen Saduak is extremely touristy (there are better floating markets to visit) and we feel that a single day just doesn't do Ayutthaya's historical park justice. Go for one of these lesser-known options instead.
Covering a section of Phra Phradaeng that's been cut off from the rest of the city by an oxbow in the Chao Phraya River, Bang Kachao looks like a teardrop of green amid a sea of concrete when seen from above. Many people who live in Bangkok for years remain totally unaware of this low-key agricultural community within a 20-minute walk and two-minute ferry hop of Sukhumvit Road.
While Bang Nam Phueng weekend market is the biggest attraction, cyclists will be psyched by a network of raised bicycle lanes that crisscross the canals and coconut orchards. Traditionally home to Mon people who emigrated here centuries ago, nearby Phra Phradaeng town has a healthy food scene to go with a park that once served as a defensive garrison.
Directions on how to reach Bang Kachao and where to rent bicycles can be found on the Phra Phradaeng transport page. Those looking for a quiet overnight getaway have a few accommodation options to pick from, including one of Thailand's best eco-resorts.
Some 70 kilometres southwest of Bangkok, Samut Songkhram is the smallest province in Thailand in terms of area -- and it hosts the highest number of temples. Anchored by the Mae Khlong River, this a place of fishing, bountiful agriculture and the slow-paced lifestyle that goes with it. Look no further if you're keen to witness Thailand's old-style boat culture, still alive and rowing.
The colourful provincial capital is worth a stop for its train market, which spills on to a working railway track, while an eye-popping seafood market buzzes away on weekends at nearby Don Hoi Lort. Amphawa is the province's biggest draw thanks to its weekend floating market and century-old wooden houses, many of which serve as homestays, lining the canal. For something quieter, head up to Bang Noi or Tha Kha.
Best known for its enormous chedi, travellers usually only see Nakhon Pathom province through the window of a bus or train headed to Kanchanaburi. Those seeking a more offbeat experience would do well to hop off and climb around the chedi before moving on to the town's very own royal palace and, if you're really adventurous, several other intriguing spots in the vicinity of Nakhon Chai Si.
We were entranced while munching on sam-o salad in Tha Na Market, soaking up the country atmosphere in Lam Phaya, stumbling on a Delorean at the curiously placed Jesada Vintage Car Museum, and wandering amid a thousand different types of orchids at Air Orchid Farm. You'll also find ancient temples and mystical tattoo-artist-monks amid the expansive rice fields and lotus ponds.
The province could be divided up into two or even three day trips, or you could settle into one of the basic hotels in the provincial capital. Check the Nakhon Pathom destination guide and Nakhon Chai Si listing for logistics.
Located where the Tha-Jeen River empties into the Gulf of Thailand, Samut Sakhon continues to support a lifestyle of fishing and agriculture within a short drive of Bangkok. A cruise along the back roads takes you past orchards bearing papaya, mango, chilli, lime, lychee and more. You might pass one of the province's signature "floating vineyards", or head towards the sea for a taste of handmade shrimp paste.
While we highly recommend a drive through the countryside if possible, the easiest and cheapest way to hit Samut Sakhon is with a day trip to Mahachai. Home to one of Thailand's largest wholesale seafood markets, you'll also find a community of artisans who've been crafting Benjarong pottery for over a century. Take the ferry across the river for a glimpse of Tha Chaloem's Chinese shrines, samlors and shophouses.
Though minibuses run frequently from Victory Monument, the best way to hit Samut Sakhon is with a train ride on the old Mahachai line.
Stretching out to the east of Bangkok, Chachoengsao province's small but animated capital is clustered along the banks of the Bang Pakong River. The claim to fame is Luang Por Sothon, an ancient Buddha image that's said to have been found floating miraculously downriver centuries ago. The town's many markets are also known to offer some of the best handmade Thai sweets in Thailand.
While Chachoengsao town provides a glimpse of non-touristy Thailand, we also recommend heading further east to the country village of Bang Khla. Here you'll find a weekend floating market featuring the area's famous sweet yellow mangoes among a bounty of food. For a more historic market experience, make a stop at century-old Khlong Suan on your way back to Bangkok.
Buses and minibuses run regularly to Chachoengsao from Ekkamai (eastern) station and Victory Monument, and taxis can be arranged to take you here on a day trip.
The few travellers who know Samut Prakan by name tend to view it merely as "South Bangkok", but locals take much pride in land that once served as a key protectorate of the capital -- even if their defenses failed to hold back French forces in the late 1800s. More industrialised and with less agriculture than the other two "Samut" provinces, the "fortress province" still has plenty to offer.
Two major cultural attractions -- Erawan Museum and Ancient Siam -- can be reached by bus or taxi from anywhere on Sukhumvit Road and together make for a full-day trip by themselves. While Erawan's gargantuan three-headed elephant should not be missed, we'd pass on Ancient Siam and instead drop by the riverside town of Pak Nam for a large seafood market and ferry ride to Phra Samut Chedi, the provincial symbol.
If you're here in September, don't miss the annual lotus throwing festival in nearby Bang Phli.
Created when a canal was dug centuries ago to shorten the boat voyage to Ayutthaya, the island of Ko Kret is one of the easiest, most popular and best day trips from Bangkok. First settled by Mon refugees in the mid 1700s, the riverine island remains an enclave of Mon culture that attracts both Thai daytrippers and foreign tourists from the big city, just 20 kilometres down the Chao Phraya.
Chants are still performed in the Mon language in the island's several beautiful temples; traditional Mon pottery crafted in the workshops; and Mon foods sold in a charming weekend market that sets up along the river. Once you've eaten your fill, be sure to rent a push bike for a spin past the old houses, shrines and farms, or hire a longtail boat for a cruise to a nearby canal whose residents are adepts at making rice flour goodies.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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