So you’re hanging out in Bangkok, ready to escape the city for a bit, but you’re not sure how, or where to go, and you’re not ready to jump on a plane just yet. Well, the following three places are great, short day-trips to give you a break from big city life for a little bit, and tune into a little inner peace. Love ancient ruins, temples, beaches, infinity pools, or Buddhist traditions? Well then read along, and I’ll tell you the best day trips just a few hours or less outside of Bangkok!
- Travel time: Approximately 1:30 away from Bangkok
- Transport to: Taxi from anywhere (expensive) or Minivan from Mo Chit Bus Station (cheap!)
- Transport in Ayutthaya: Walk (free), Bike (few dollars), Tuk Tuk (less than $20 a person)
- Price: Whole day of exploration, everything included- about $15-$50 per person depending on how large your group is. (This is the mini van prices, taxi is much more expensive. Remember, everything is negotiable!)
Ayutthaya, now a World Heritage Site, was the original Capital of the Kingdom of Siam (Thailand), until it was burned down by the Burmese in the 1700’s. The ruins that exist today, are what is left of the sprawling metropolitan city. The area itself is massive, and although you can walk to some of the ruins, I highly recommend renting a bike (but remember it’s hot), or tuk-tuk to get around and see everything.
If you take the Minivan from Mo Chit Bus Station, which I highly recommend, they will drop you off at Naresuan Alley. Here you will find a map of all the ruins, a place for bike rentals, and tuk-tuk’s all waiting to take you around. If you choose to do a tuk-tuk, like we did because it’s hot, and biking although still fast, is draining in the hot sun, you’ll have a fun and unique experience. We bargained with the tuk-tuk drivers till we got a reasonable price for our party of 5. The drivers speak very little English, but have photos of every place on the map that you can point to so they know where to go next. Keep in mind, some of the ruins are free to enter, and some you must pay a small entrance fee, but all are quite stunning, especially given their history, and preservation. My personal favorites were:
Wat Mahathat: This is probably one of the most famous places in the area, because of one particular statue: a Buddha Head entwined in tree roots. It is indeed a beautiful site to see. Although no one is quiet sure how the Buddha head ended up where it is, theories assume it was dropped there hundreds of years ago after the Burmese attacked, and tried to steal it but it was too heavy, so they left it. After years of abandonment, nature took over and created the beautiful image you see today.
Wat Yai Chai Mongkol: This temple features tons of Buddha statues, (some ancient, others restored) and a 60 meters (197 feet) chedi or Buddhist monument, that allows tourists to climb up it’s uneven stone steps to the top. Here you will also find a Reclining Buddha, similar in design to the Wat in Bangkok, but on a much smaller scale and not covered in gold. What makes the place unique is the Buddha’s of all shapes, sizes, and designs throughout the temple.
Wat Phanan Choeng: This temple, which is still an active temple today, has one of the largest Buddha structures in the country. Prior to the destruction of Ayutthaya, the Buddha sat outside. Now the 19 meter (62 feet) high statute resides inside the Wat. Legend says this Buddha shed tears right before the burning and destruction of Ayutthaya in the 1700’s. Pictures do not do it justice to how large this Buddha actually is.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet: This was the main, and most important temple in Ayutthaya before it’s destruction. It was the temple the King went to, no monks lived on site, and it was the inspiration for the Temple of the Emerald Buddha located at the Grand Palace later built in Bangkok.
Wat Lokayasutharam: Constructed of bricks and cement, this wat’s main attraction is the giant Reclining Buddha. It is pretty much the only intact item still from this particular temple, but there is beauty in how long this Buddha has withstood hundreds of years outside in the elements.
Chedi Phukhao Thong: Not a temple, but a tower that was built by former Kings throughout the years to celebrate their victories of conquering Ayutthaya. Made with Burmese, and Thai styles, the tower has seen much transformation and redesign throughout the hundreds of years it’s been around. Today you can climb the uneven, and steep steps to the top and make your way inside the chedi.
After you explore all the ruins, many of the tuk-tuk’s, will drive you to a restaurant to eat, but they often take you to places they have deals with, meaning the place is meant for tourists, it’s pricier, and not the best quality food. If you can wait until after the tour to eat, have the tuk-tuk driver drop you off at the same spot you began your journey, Naresuan Alley, and right around the corner is a market called the Chao Phrom Market. Here you will find local, fresh, cheap, and tasty food to end your adventure!
2. Chonburi, Bangsaen Beach:
- Travel time: Approximately 1:30 away from Bangkok
- Transport to: Taxi from anywhere (expensive), or Minivan from Mo Chit Bus Station (cheap!)
- Transport in Chonburi: Walk (free)
- Price: Whole day of exploration, everything included- about $20 per person or less
This is a great spot to check out if you’re sick of the city and really want a beach to go to and just relax. The beach is not the most spectacular thing in the world. There are jet ski’s, and swimming, and little markets to buy touristy beach items. It is the closest beach to Bangkok, so it is often a popular destination during the summer time. The absolute highlight of this place for us though, was not the beach, but the roof top infinity pool right on the beach, at the top of Panitar Haus. We bought a whole bunch of beers from the hotel, (or purchase them from the mart) paid a small entrance fee to get a towel and clearance to go to the top, and spent our whole day there. It was so perfect! No one else was up there except for our group and we just relaxed, drank, watched the sunset, and had the absolute time of our lives! The hotel will bring food up to the top, and all the drinks you want, for very little money. Go here if you looking to have a day of R&R and enjoy an amazing view!
3. Wat Bang Phra:
- Travel time: Approximately 1 hour away from Bangkok
- Transport to: Taxi from anywhere (expensive, but you can usually work out a deal), public transit (many different forms, bus, train, walking- cheap but time consuming), hire a guide (a little expensive, but worth it to have a translator, and helper through the traditional process)
- Transport in Wat Bang Phra: Walk (free)
- Price: Whole day of exploration, everything included- about $85 (This is if you go with the guide option, like I did)
So, I kept this for last, because it truly means more to me than any other experience I’ve had while traveling, and I am so honored and grateful I had the opportunity to do it. Wat Bang Phra is one of the most famous Sak Yant Temples in all of Thailand. It is home to Luang Pi Nunn, who happens to be the most famous tattooing monk in Thailand. It is an absolute honor and a privileged to visit this site, and to receive a tattoo from Luang Pi Nunn.
The process is very fascinating. You buy offerings outside of the temple, give the offerings to the monk, do a sequence of bows, and wait. The monk chooses the tattoo, and the placement on your body. He reads you, tattoos you, blesses you, and you’re on your way, all without uttering one word. Only after you’re finished, do you see your beautiful work of art and magic.
During the process you are held down by two people, and those two people are also waiting in line to receive their tattoo, so you, at one point, may also be holding down someone to participate in the process. As a female, the monk could not touch me, he wore gloves, and used a towel to prevent his skin from contacting mine. This is also not the most sanitary process. You go into this with faith, belief, and trust in the powers of the monk, and the Sak Yant. Although the needles are clean, the ink used is the same every time for every person. It is a unique concoction made by Nunn himself filled with snakes venom, ashes, and magic, among many other secret ingredients. The ink touches many different people and could possibly come in contact with many different people’s blood, so again, you do this on faith, not a tourist desire.
Originally Nunn did his tattoos with bamboo sticks, but as he’s gotten older, his hands less steady, he’s moved to a tattoo gun. He is so popular, you must arrive at the temple early, around 6am, to make sure you have a spot in line, because he only does so many within the day.
There are many different kinds of Sak Yants, my specific tattoo is called a Hah Taew or ‘5 Sacred Lines.’ Each line represents protection from a new element. You can receive these at any tattoo shop, but only when they are done by a monk, do they possess the magical powers of protection.
I got emotional before and after I received this tattoo. Once meant only for male warriors, now, a young female can carry the same pride those men did so long ago. I felt so honored, and lucky to be a part of such a beautiful tradition.This tattoo’s magic lasts only for a year before it must be re-blessed, and those in possession of the tattoo are required to follow a code (essentially be a good person), to ensure the magic stays alive during that time.
Now, this indeed is a powerful, and truly beautiful experience, but I encourage everyone who wants to do this, to truly do some research into it first, and go into the process with respect, and willingness to follow the traditions and practices this tattoo creates. It is not just a tourist activity. If you think that, then I encourage you to go to a tattoo shop and receive one there, it is after all, a beautiful piece of art. If though, you truly believe, and are willing to walk into the temple with an open heart, and respect for the tradition, I encourage you to go to Wat Bang Phra.
I personally did a lot of research prior to going, but despite all of that, I still hired a guide to help walk me through it, translate, and prevent me from disrespecting the process. I highly recommend you do the same, and enjoy this beautiful gift of magic.
Obviously there are a million day trips you can opt to take outside of Bangkok, but these were absolutely amazing and life changing! Hope these inspire you to take a trip out of your comfort zone and into the unknown!
Until next time my wanderlusters!