With some cities in South East Asia, you are stuck there until you decide to fly home, but in Bangkok it may surprise you to learn that there is almost as much to see outside of city limits than there is on the regular tourist trail in the city itself.
Bangkok is a city with a lot of tourist attractions, but ultimately I find that apart from shopping, eating, and partying, the absolute best things to do when based in Bangkok are actually outside of city limits. Even the Floating Market of Damnoen Saduak and Maeklong Railway Market are an hour’s drive outside of the capital, but there are some even more incredible places within a 2-4hr driving range that can make brilliant day trips (or overnight trips) for those travellers who want to make the most of their time in central Thailand!
While Thailand has an efficient and cheap rail network to most areas in the central parts of the country, buses are still the most common method of transport to all the key areas, such as beach resorts and national parks. Another option, especially if heading north, is to experience a boat ride down the canals and the Chao Phraya River in the general direction of Chiang Mai. All good hotels and hostels will offer trips and tours (or at least point you in the direction of somebody who does knows!), and if all else fails you can always go on the hunt for a tour on Khao San Road in Bangkok, although remember to check the itinerary BEFORE you hand over your Baht!
Forget Ko Samui or Phuket (or my favourite, Krabi). The closest major beach resort area to Bangkok is Pattaya. Sitting on the Gulf of Siam facing Cambodia (a long swim away), you can find good – if crowded – beaches in Pattaya, as well as a lot of retail opportunities. Many Bangkokonians with a bit of cash to spare spend their weekends in Pattaya to get them out of the big smoke.
The second ever capital city of Thailand was Ayutthaya. At its peak, Ayutthaya was one of the most important cities in the world, yet it was invaded by the Burmese and almost completely burnt to the ground. What remains is now known as the Ayutthaya Historical Park, and it is sort of like Thailand’s own version of the Temples of Angkor in Cambodia (though nowhere near as large in scale).
Kanchanaburi, 3 hours west
Kanchanaburi is probably the only item in this list that could require more than just one day to fully appreciate. Some people spend up to a week here in this region, although if you were struck for time and just wanted to see the main sights, it can of course be done in one day. You’ll find in Kanchanaburi tiger temples, elephant camps, Buddhist temples, glorious waterfalls, and hiking trails through the jungle. The most famous attractions of them all, though, are The Hellfire Pass, The Death Railway, and the Bridge on the River Kwai. It is these 3 attractions that most people choose to see as part of their day trip from Bangkok.
Khao Yai, 3 hours west
Established in 1962 as Thailand’s first national park, Khao Yai is also the third largest national park in the country and part of a complex of parks that is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is hard to believe that so close to Bangkok, you can find such lush rainforest with an array of large wild animals, including elephants and sun bears. Khao Yai National Park is a true wonder to behold!
Aranyaprathet, 4 hours east
If border hopping is your thing (or if you’ve just had enough of Thailand already!) then head on the bus to Aranyaprathet, which is the Thai town closest to the border with Cambodia. After immigration and customs (as well as a Cambodian visa, of course), you’ll find yourself in the Cambodian town of Poipet. Full steam ahead to Angkor!