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Bangkok is synonymous with crowded night markets and soaring skyscrapers. It isn’t hard to see why the city folk love to travel out of the metropolis to find peace and quiet elsewhere. Perhaps you’ve already seen all the temples and shopping malls the capital has to offer and would like to experience something a little different. Time to make like a local and head out of the city to explore Thailand’s other gems!
Kanchanaburi, Ayutthaya, and Phetchaburi are three very different locations that offer a plethora of incredible sights and activities. Best of all, they are easily accessible by car from Bangkok, each less than 160 kilometers away. We’ve put together the ultimate guide to experiencing the best of all three places in 72 hours. From the ruins of an ancient Siamese kingdom to the snaking passageways of underground cave temples, we’ll say it now: this itinerary is jam-packed full of treasures you won’t find anywhere within Bangkok’s city limits.
Day 1: Kanchanaburi
Distance from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi: Approximately 128 kilometers
Picturesque Kanchanaburi is approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes from Bangkok by car. Leave the city early to beat the morning peak hour traffic and make a quick stop at Damnoen Saduak Floating Market along the way.
Some say it may be overly commercial and swamped with crowds at its busiest, but this iconic floating market and its water canals are something else entirely when you arrive early in the morning. At this time, the river is only just coming to life.
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast of freshly-made noodles and perhaps a spring roll or two while you observe the vendors place their wares and produce on display. Grab a few additional snacks to go before continuing onward to Kanchanaburi.
Kanchanaburi is home to the reconstructed River Kwai Bridge. This is the very bridge associated with the 414-kilometer Thai-Burma Death Railway. In media, you may have heard of the 1957 war epic The Bridge on the River Kwai, praised for its cultural and historical significance. Here, remnants of World War II leave a powerful reminder of a dark past. In deep contrast with the scenic backdrop of the river, this imposing iron-rail structure is one of Kanchanaburi’s most photographed landmarks. Trains still use the bridge twice a day, but many enjoy crossing the structure on foot to get a good view of the river. Watch out for motorcycles that share the path!
Be sure to drop into the old JEATH War Museum to view its collection of original memorabilia and photographs from the war. For a more educational experience, follow the river southeast to find the Death Railway Museum across from the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. Here, the exhibits are well-researched and exceptionally moving. The landscaped grounds of the cemetery offer a peaceful resting place for those who lost their lives during the construction of the railway.
Head southwest toward Wat Tham Khao Pun via the countryside of Kanchanaburi. On the way, delightful views of farmland and green hills whip by in the distance. Before you reach your destination, stop by the hidden Rabiangna Cafe, a natural shack-style outdoor eatery located smack in the middle of nature overlooking a stretch of lush paddy fields. Have your fill of refreshing iced coffee and satisfy your cravings for pad thai and deep-fried chicken wings.
Wat Tham Khao Pun itself is a quick 10 minutes further south. It is the nearest cave temple to the town of Kanchanaburi and provides visitors with a touch of adventure. Carefully snake your way through a labyrinth of stone passageways here and discover each room. A deep silence enshrouds this limestone-confined Buddhist temple, creating a spiritual ambiance.
Head back to town and have a relaxing time at one of the waterfront hotels. We recommend the U Inchantree Kanchanaburi, a simple boutique hotel with a charming atmosphere. Close to the River Kwai bridge, it offers guests a marvelous riverside view from the swimming pool and the well-manicured gardens.
Day 2: Erawan National Park & Ayutthaya
Distance from Kanchanaburi to Erawan National Park: Approximately 60 kilometers
Feeling well-rested? It’s time for a trip to the heart of nature at Erawan National Park this morning. One of the most accessible national parks close to Kanchanaburi, Erawan is a straightforward drive from the center of town. Have an early breakfast and head to the park before the crowds show up. Aim to arrive at the entrance of the park by 8:30 am. It costs 300 THB to enter.
Here, you will find many natural jewels, but the biggest draw to this national park is the impressive seven-tiered Erawan Waterfall. We hope you’ve charged your camera batteries for this! The levels of the waterfall are accessible via a fairly easy winding trail. Don’t be afraid to get your feet a little wet! A few of these tiers offer many incredible sparkling green pools to cool off in. Plenty of curious fish hide between the crevices and rocks. If you’ve ever been to a fish spa, you’ll get flashbacks here — these critters love nibbling on your feet and legs! Most importantly, the falls make for unparalleled photo opportunities!
A hike up and down this trail will take you around two hours, but arriving early pays off. With luck, you’ll avoid the rush of the afternoon crowd by the time you are halfway through your excursion. Head back down only when you start to feel a little hungry for lunch!
After a pit-stop back in town to refuel with some good food — we highly recommend On’s Thai Issan for excellent home-cooked vegetarian Thai dishes — we’re off to the historic city of Ayutthaya.
Ayutthaya: A UNESCO World Heritage site full of archaeological treasures
Distance from Kanchanaburi to Ayutthaya: Approximately 150 kilometers
Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, known colloquially as Ayutthaya, sits on an island in the valley of the Chao Phraya River. Once the capital of the Kingdom of Siam from 1351 to 1767, it is easy to see how prosperous and grand the site once was. Large stone temples, monasteries, statues, and palaces still stand today as somber ruins that whisper secrets of a forgotten time.
Explore the many archaeological marvels that surround the parklands and lake. These historical sites are walking distance from one another, so you won’t have to go far. Admire the iconic bell-shaped chedis of Wat Phra Si Sanphet before crossing the lake to see the Wat Maha That. Here, its distinctly earthen-red shrines make for a magnificent sight.
Above image taken by Aykut.Ekinci.
Nearby, you will also find the much-photographed Buddha head trapped in the twisted roots of an overgrown banyan tree.
Enjoy some tasty cakes and desserts at Busaba Cafe & Bake Lab. This well-positioned cafe offers a clear view of the Wat Ratchaburana temple from its upper floor.
Conclude your adventurous day with a tranquil sunset boat ride down the Chao Phraya River. From long-tail boats to restaurant barges, you definitely have some options. Whichever way you choose to meander down the river will surely leave you in awe of the serene waterscape.
Spend the night at Sala Ayutthaya for a unique experience. White walls and earthy tones give this oasis-like hotel a truly intimate feel. Most importantly, the hotel’s vantage point on the riverbank provides guests with breathtaking views of Wat Phutthaisawan.
Day 3: Mae Klong Train Market & Phetchaburi
Distance from Ayutthaya to MITTA CAFE (first stop): Approximately 100 kilometers
Time to head back south in the direction of Bangkok. Pass through the city and stop by MITTA CAFE to experience exactly the kind of tranquil outdoor cafe culture you can only find by skirting the city limits, complete with an entire backyard full of greenery. Pick from their croissants, cheesecakes, and cream-filled Swiss rolls. Don’t forget to order an iced “marble coffee”!
Travel southwest and make another stop, this time at the Mae Klong Train Market. Many come here to spot the train that runs through the colorful warren of stalls here. The trains run eight times a day, although the accuracy of timings is always up for debate. With any luck, you’ll be able to catch sight of it. If not, this unusual market offers a rare glimpse into the bizarre workings of a train market in full swing.
Journey to Phra Nakhon Khiri, a further 70 kilometers southwest. We are now in the province of Phetchaburi. Phra Nakhon Khiri is a historic palace complex. Elevated over three peaks, you can take a cable car to the top to access the phenomenal panoramic views that stretch for miles! While exploring the grounds, do be careful of the monkeys — they love pinching food.
If you skipped the cave temple in Kanchanaburi, don’t worry, Tham Khao Luang is just as spectacular. This special cave, located just a short drive from Phra Nakhon Khiri, gets flooded by sunlight through the large openings in its ceiling. Its unique geology makes for magical photo opportunities of sun-drenched Buddha statues surrounded by natural rock.
Spend the rest of the day relaxing at Kaeng Krachan National Park. This massive park is one of Thailand’s most treasured green lungs. If you love birdwatching, this is the best place in the country to do it! There are some gorgeous viewpoints near the Kaeng Krachan Dam that offer unforgettable scenic views of forested mountains in the distance. Sunsets here are said to be amazing.
If you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of shy white-handed gibbons, ambling monitor lizards, and black giant squirrels.
This caps off our 72-hour trip outside of Bangkok. If you want even more adventure, we suggest extending your trip and heading further south to Hua Hin! Travel safe!