Some destinations elude being described in a few words and Bangkok is certainly one of them. The Thai capital is shrill, beautiful, progressive and full of wisdom – the city’s many temples and shrines being an emblem of this. It’s no surprise most visitors fall head over heels with busy Bangkok. In fact, many never leave!
Within close proximity of the capital, is a good deal of other destinations, all of which are attractive in their own right. Hua Hin, Kanchanaburi, Koh Lan and Ayutthaya each make for a welcome retreat from the ‘City of Angels’ while having their own, distinctive atmospheres…
Southeast Asia’s original beach destination, Hua Hin sits roughly 200 km south of Bangkok, stretching along Thailand’s striking east coast. Its biggest tourist magnets are good beaches – but you already knew that. Break away from their magnetic force (if you can) and head for the hills upcountry for a refreshingly different Thai experience: a vineyard excursion utterly impossible back in Bangkok. We’re perhaps most excited about wine safaris that venture off the wineries, into nearby Kui Buri National Park. Ride around the lush park for the Jungle Book-worthy sights of bathing elephants and herds of gaurs grazing in peace. Rest assured you’ll be back at the vineyard in time for dinner and, of course, a glass of Thai Shiraz!
A mention of Kanchanaburi usually conjures up the city’s tragic history: in the early 1940s, the construction of the Thai-Burma railway brought a ripple of violence to the otherwise idyllic region. Local museums do a phenomenal job at educating visitors on Kanchanaburi’s past (history lovers get their money’s worth here…), but the province’s offerings go far beyond museums! Well-known Erawan National Park features a multi-tiered, turquoise waterfall fit for a guidebook cover, while Sai Yok draws nature-lovers with its Tham Lawa cave – a tunnel complex decked in enormous rock formations. Most of Sai Yok remains inaccessible jungle territory and that’s a good thing: the park makes you feel a world away from busy Bangkok.
Koh Lan, Pattaya
Less than two hours from the capital, Pattaya is practically around the corner from Bangkok (though you can’t quite see it from the city’s rooftop bars). While Pattaya’s buzzing nightlife is great, a small island off its cost lends itself to a different kind of fun: Koh Lan is all about water sports! Go parasailing and hop on a jet ski or whatever else floats your (banana) boat before strolling down a powdery beach. Tired of sand in your shoes? Try one of the island’s excellent hikes or cycle around its villages, making regular stops for iced coffee! Whatever you end up doing, remember to climb the viewpoint just south of Samae beach to catch a stunning sunset.
Ayutthaya is so convenient to reach by train from the capital, it’s a crime not to visit – especially seeing Thailand’s ancient history feels more alive here than anywhere else in the country! Once you’ve ticked the iconic sites of Wat Phra Sri Sanphet and the overgrown Buddha head off your list, bike around Ayutthaya’s outskirts to sidestep the tourist trail. Outlying temples such as Wat Phu Khao Thong are as imposing as they are devoid of tourists: far from the crowds of the capital, they offer the most private and perhaps most impressive glimpse at a long-lost civilisation. Looking for more recent history? Nearby Dutch, Japanese and Portuguese villages are all worth a visit – who would have thought so much of the world’s heritage lays on Bangkok’s doorstep?