Step aside Bangkok, it is time for your neighbours to shine! We love Bangkok for her historical charms, Khao San alcohol and oversized night markets, but how many of us have been to the areas around Bangkok? There are many amazing places just two to three hours’ drive away, and you should not miss them on your next trip to the city of angels. Here are just seven of the many places that locals go to for the weekend:
1. Khao Wang Hill
You have seen the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Magnificent stupas, beautiful halls and intricate statues. Yet no experience is complete without the countless tourists crowding up walkways and huge tour groups circling around screaming tour guides. The summer palace at Khao Wang hill in Phetchaburi offers a very different experience. The stupas and halls are spread over the hill, and the short climb up rewards you with mesmerising views of the city on one side, and the rainforest on the other. You can explore the stupas, sit in the shade and enjoy the breeze on top of fulfilling your historical desires, all at the same time. Or you can take a stroll along the shady trails that connect the various halls with an ice-cream in hand to cool you down.
2. Khao Luang Cave Temple
We usually find temples in built-up compounds. A temple in a cave sounds interesting for the fact that it is underground. But the Khao Luang Cave temple is more than just that. As you enter the cave, you cannot help but notice beautifully diffracted light shining into the cave. Depending on the time you visit, the light rays could be shining onto parts of the steps, the buddha statues or the rock walls. The surreal atmosphere is intensified by the fact that the cave is barely lit, which allows for a stunning visual contrast between darkness and light.
The Khao Luang Cave temple is in the same vicinity as the summer palace at Khao Wang hill. I recommend that you rent a bicycle to explore the area, which includes smaller shrines and cave temples. Phetchaburi, a city two hours’ drive from Bangkok, is definitely one you should not miss as you explore Bangkok and the areas around it.
3. Death Railway over River Kwai
This bridge is a famous section of the death railway that stretches over the Kwai river in Kanchanaburi, two hours’ drive from Bangkok. Trains still operate on this section of the railway and the best time to visit is when the train pulls into or out of the River Kwai Bridge station. As the train approaches the railway bridge, jump over to the safety zones along the bridge and watch the train go by you! If you visit in the late afternoon, stay on to watch the setting sun over the temple compound across the river. After sunset, why not head over to one of the floating restaurants for a sumptuous seafood dinner?
4. Hellfire Pass Museum
The death railway is merely steel and bolts if you know little about its symbolism. The Hellfire Pass Museum is about 80km from Kanchanaburi. Upon reaching the complex, register for a free audio guide and take it with you through the entire experience. Going through the museum exhibits gives you a general idea of the hardships the prisoners-of-war and labourers went through to build the railway. However, the museum itself is only a small part of the entire experience. Head out and walk alongside the death railway track. With the audio guide, you will hear about stories of suffering and abuse, as well as of unity and camaraderie at various sections of the trail as you walk pass them. A truly immersive experience, the Hellfire Pass museum is a story in itself, of grit, hope and gratitude.
5. Death Railway Museum
If you have caught onto the death railway bug and would like to learn more about what happened, do visit the Death Railway Museum and Research Centre in Kanchanaburi. This small, visual and informative museum packs a punch. The stories are engineered to create a solemn experience and you will emerge with greater clarity and appreciation of what exactly transpired during the period of construction. The experience ends with a cup of coffee at a viewing gallery that oversees a well-manicured Allied Forces Cemetery. This is a great spot to consolidate your thoughts, reflect and leave feeling more knowledgable than before you entered.
6. Erawan Falls
Enough of all that history. Now it is time for some much-needed relaxation and therapy. You could stay all day at the swimming pool in your hotel in Bangkok, or at a beach south of Bangkok. Why not try soaking in the natural waters from a 7-tiered waterfall? A local’s favourite, many Thais head to the waterfalls 50km from Kanchanaburi during the weekend to escape the Bangkok heat. Climb up to the 7th tier and head all the way in to the hidden waterfall for a good back massage. Find the tier you love most and soak in its emerald pool. Watch out for the nibbling little fishes!
Kanchanaburi is a city with much to offer, from great food to historical experiences to natural sights. Take two days off your Bangkok itinerary and give this city a shot. You will not regret the diversity of experiences, which will make your Bangkok vacation a lot more memorable!
Just an hour’s drive north of Bangkok is the Bang Pa-in Summer Palace, which is an eclectic mix of buildings of various architectural styles. As you walk through the beautifully maintained gardens, you will see intricately designed halls that are Siamese, European and even Chinese-styled. Unlike the Grand Palace, this is where kings come to rest and enjoy their time. Similarly, you too will feel rested and re-energised as you walk around the lakeside houses.
Next to the Bang Pa-in Summer Palace is Wat Nivet Thammaprawat. Before you pass it off as yet another Thai temple, Wat Nivet Thammaprawat is unlike any temples you will see in Thailand. Designed by an Italian architect, the temple exudes a strong European flavour. You will be amused at how the designer beautifully marries the elegance of European architecture with the spiritual vibes of Buddhism. Most tourists skip Bang Pa-in for nearby Ayutthaya, but you will not regret making a stop at this stunning summer palace and temple compound.
Next time you visit Bangkok, enjoy the great nightlife, amazing food and cheap shopping. However, do not forget the areas around Bangkok! Put Phetchaburi, Kanchanaburi and Bang Pa-in on your list and visit these areas that are less than two hours’ drive from Bangkok. You can even make an itinerary out of these places for your next trip to Bangkok. Now you have more reasons to visit Bangkok if you have not, or to visit Bangkok again if you have.
Did you like these seven locations? Share them with your friends on social media through the icons below. Have you been to any of these places? Drop me a comment below and tell me your experiences! I would love to hear how you felt and if you have any other recommendations.