When Bangkok is overwhelmed, an easy escapes within a few hours' drives from the city offer welcome relief. It's an easy ride to drive from Bangkok to some great attractions in the region, like the ruins of UNESCO World Heritage site Ayutthaya and Lop Buri to the north, or Kanchanaburi in the west with its renowned Bridge over the River Kwai. There are two famous beach resort spots in that area as well as a lively city of Pattaya on the eastern side of the Harbour, and the more sophisticated Hua Hin to the west. The region equally boasts of Thailand's first national park, Khao Yai.
Regions of the Central Plains
Bangkok Metropolitan Area
Chao Phraya Basin
Northern Gulf Coast
West of Bangkok
Here you will find attractions like the Rose Garden endowed with its tourist-geared cultural displays, and its close neighbour, Samphran Elephant Ground. Past the Rose Garden lies Nakhon Pathom with its massive golden Phra Pathom Chedi and an assortment of citadels, where many a Thai royal used to rest on journeys to places further afield. Southeast of Nakhon Pathom, Damnoen Saduak Floating Market ranks as a must-see on every first-time Bangkok visitor's list.
Even beyond the west is the site of the legendary World War II bridge popularly called Kanchanaburi, across the Kwai River. The neighbouring area is an open-air adventure playground with boundless possibilities for river propelling and trekking. West of Kanchanaburi are the olden Khmer ruins at Prasart Muang Singh, while the due north is the tropical forest at Erawan and Sai Yok communal gardens.
60kilometers (about 37 miles) north of Bangkok lays the Bang Pa-In, a good stop on the way further north to the earliest city of Ayutthaya. The last is a grand storehouse for faded ruins, dating as far back as the 14th century when it served as Thailand's capital. Some say the peak of Ayutthaya vacation is about getting there on a teakwood barge winding up the sinuous Chao Phraya River. Still further north is Lopburi, the old summer hideaway of the Ayutthayan monarchs.
The old Thai capital, Ayutthaya located about 20kilometres (12.5 miles) north of Bang Pa-In, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site comprising the ruins of buildings destroyed in 1767 by the assaulting Burmese army.
The drowsy, regional town of Kanchanaburi has attained a wide-spread reputation for its disreputable railway, which was built during World War II by Allied POWs and Asian workers under the watch of the Japanese. Click here for more.
Nakhon Pathom town, 56km (35 miles) west of Bangkok
Nakhon Pathom town is notable for the immense Phra Pathom Chedi. A chedi is the bell-shaped part of the temple holding the remnants of the Buddha. Cambodian-style pinnacles called prang are a variation of the chedi). Measuring 130 meters (420ft) high, this golden milestone is claimed to be the tallest Buddhist tribute in the world, and probably the oldest Buddhist spot in the country dating as far back as year 3 BC. The initial small Sri Lankan-style chedi was set up to honour the arrival of Indian Buddhist missionaries who allegedly brought Buddhism to Thailand through Burma that same year.
In the early 11th century, the Khmers from Angkor invaded and overran the city and replacing the original chedi with a more Brahman-style prang. Thereafter in 1057, King Anawrahta of Burma plagued the town, leaving the religious edifice in wrecks. When King Mongkut (Rama IV) visited the old chedi in 1853, he was so captivated by its historical importance that he commanded the renovation of the temple. A new chedi was built, overshadowing the older one; the current edifice was completed by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V).
Set in an enormous square park, the enormous chedi rests on a circular porch and is bounded by trees related to the Buddha's life.
This is a heterogeneous collection of fortresses and domes once used as a royal summer retreat. Most people make a stop here before continuing another journey of 25km (16 miles) north to Ayutthaya. The palace structures date from the late 19th- and early 20th-century reigns of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) and King Vajiravudh (Rama VI), who came here to escape the mid-year showers in Bangkok. Following the wishes of Chulalongkorn, the buildings that are scattered around the manicured grounds has Italian Baroque, European Gothic, Victorian and Chinese architectural styles. The only part of the royal residence is a public view, but it offers a foretaste into Chulalongkorn's fondness for European furniture and ornamentation.
Notable buildings like the two-story, Chinese-style Wehat Chamrun Palace and the red-and-yellow Within Thatsana surveillance tower situated on a nearby islet, as well as the Italianate Warophat Phiman Hall. The 1876 Thai-style pavilion in the middle of the lake adjacent to the central entrance, called the Aisawan Thipphaya-at, is considered as one of the most excellent examples of Thai architecture.
Slightly south of the Wat Niwet Thammaprawat Palace across the river is surmounted by a spike and the effect looks more like a Gothic Christian Church rather than a Buddhist temple. The delightful gardens are embroidered with canals, fountains, bridges and quirky elephant-shaped hedges.
West of Bangkok is the Damnoen Saduak floating market, in the Ratchaburi Province. An early morning departure is necessary if you want to beat the tour buses from Bangkok that flock to this famous floating market by 10 am.
While it is possible to walk along the bankside lined with souvenir stands, it's prudent to hire a long tail boat to make better use of the water-bound commercial activity. Be ready to be caught up in a tourist cast-offs: this 100-year-old market is little more than a tourist sideshow today, with visitors clamouring to take pictures of the colourful fruit- and vegetable-laden wooden vessels, rowed by sun-beaten women wearing wide-brimmed straw hats.
If you've rented your long tail boat, it might be meaningful asking the boatman to take you deeper into the canals where you can get a better preview of the lives of the canal-side communities.
Discovering the UNESCO World Heritage site in Ayutthaya, if you are luck, you may watch millions of migrating bats flow out from a cave during the sunset in Khao Yai, Driving safari in national park to seek for wildlife, start your own Thailand Uncovered Tour!
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