Bangkok lies at the geographic heart of Thailand, with the Gulf of Thailand stretching away to the south and the rice-growing heartland to the north. Beyond the city reaches there are enough attractions in Thailand’s central provinces to keep you busy for a week or more. Some, such as the popular floating market and the worthwhile Ancient City, are easy day trips, while others deserve a few days visit, but aren’t too far away.
The World Heritage site of the ancient city of Ayutthaya is two hours north of Bangkok. This enchanting historical park can be done on a romantic overnight cruise up the river and is a great way to delve into the country’s glorious past. Kanchanburi, the site of the famous Bridge over the River Kwai and Death Railway, attracts WWII history buffs, while Pattaya and Hua Hin are two decent seaside resorts within a couple of hours of the capital. This mini guide covers all the popular tourist attractions of Central Thailand.
Highlights of Central Thailand
There’s quite a bit more to see in the central region if you have the time. Using Bangkok as an ideal base you can visit some rewarding cultural and historic sites as day trips or overnight stops, and you’ll get a more thorough experience of Thailand, too.
Ayutthaya is the former capital; a fantastic set of ruins on an island of the Chao Praya, half a day upstream by luxury converted rice barges. It’s popular to take a tour that combines this with a trip west to Kanchanburi amid the hills of the Burmese border. Here, you get a tragic history lesson on the Death Railway and the River Kwai Bridge during Japanese WWII occupation, but there’s also plenty of soft adventure in this lovely landscape.
Heading south, you soon arrive at the first of the Gulf coast’s beachside towns, Hua Hin, which is the weekend getaway choice of Bangkokians. Don’t forget to stop and visit the largest pagoda in the world at Nakhon Pathom, reckoned to be Thailand’s oldest inhabited town. Two good national parks are located near Hua Hin.
On the other side of Bangkok, and much more accessible from Suvarnabhumi Airport, is the lively, if somewhat salubrious, resort city of Pattaya. It was Thailand’s original resort town, and though there are better beaches in the country, the naughty nightlife, golf courses, and family amusement parks attract the crowds. Several other seaside towns here cater to a Thai market, but venture a bit further and you can experience some gorgeous beach scenery on the tiny island of Koh Samet.
Northeast of Bangkok, on the fringe of the great escarpment that is the gateway to the Isaan region, is Khao Yai National Park. It was Thailand’s first designated park and is considered one of the best in Asia, boasting abundant wildlife, lovely nature trails and some great waterfalls. Vineyards have also been established nearby, providing a good place to stay. In the same area is Lopburi, where you can see Khmer ruins that are among the oldest such sites in the country.