10 Highlights of Central Thailand
From the bustling modernity of Bangkok to the splendours of ancient Sukhothai, the central region of Thailand is a region of contrasts. It’s also a region that is easy to explore with convenient road and rail routes connecting Bangkok to a number of Thailand’s must-see tourist attractions. And with two airports in Bangkok, it’s only an hour’s flight to the mountains of the north or an hour in the opposite direction to the beaches of the south.
1) Explore Bangkok’s Historic Old Town
To experience the best of Bangkok, take time to explore the historic Old Town area which is home to the magnificent Grand Palace, Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha), and the colourful Pak Klong Talad Flower and Vegetable Market. A number of excellent boutique hotels have opened in recent years and with the opening of new metro stations in 2019, this historic district will be easier than ever to reach from downtown Bangkok.
2) Sample the Best of Bangkok from Street Level to Rooftop
Street food is at the heart of Thai life and visitors will never go hungry on any visit here. Although local authorities in Bangkok have recently introduced new regulations for street vendors, cheap and tasty Thai food remains an integral part of the Bangkok experience. And at the other end of the scale, Michelin starred restaurants and glamorous rooftop bars offer another way of enjoying the Thai capital’s dynamic dining scene.
3) Relax and Unwind
Wat Pho in Bangkok is the home of traditional Thai massage and taking the opportunity to receive a massage within the Wat Pho compound is a unique experience. A traditional Thai massage can be beneficial to health, but can also be too strong for some people. If you are really seeking the total relaxation experience, plump instead for one of the luxury spas in Bangkok. You’ll soon be forgetting about the jet-lag and stresses of life and work back home.
4) Travel on the River of Kings
The Chao Phraya River runs through the heart of central Thailand and down into Bangkok before entering the Gulf of Thailand. Known as the ‘River of Kings’, visitors to Bangkok shouldn’t miss the opportunity to view the city from the river. During the day, regular boat services ferry commuters and tourists to and from many of Bangkok’s main sightseeing attractions. And at night, enjoy the ambiance of an evening dinner cruise. For those who prefer the luxury of slow travel, take an overnight cruise north of Bangkok to the former capital of Ayutthaya.
5) Cycle Around the Ancient Kingdom of Ayutthaya
Before Bangkok was established as the Siamese capital, Ayutthaya was the most important location in the country. Such was the might of Ayutthaya in the 16th century, the city was an international powerhouse with traders from around the world attracted here. The glory days of Ayutthaya may be over, but the enigmatic ruins of this UNESCO World Heritage Site continue to attract international visitors. The city makes for an excellent day trip from Bangkok or, better still, relax here for a night or two before continuing north to explore more of central and northern Thailand.
6) Wake up at the Dawn of Happiness
Before the rise to prominence of Ayutthaya and then Bangkok, it was Sukhothai which was the original capital of the country we know today as Thailand. The name Sukhothai translates as the ‘Dawn of Happiness’ and the Sukhothai era in the 13th century was a golden period in Thai history. Set amidst serene countryside, the ancient temples and atmospheric ruins of Old Sukhothai are a delight to explore by bicycle.
7) Bag a Bargain at the Local Markets
In days gone by, the network of canals in and around Bangkok led to the city being dubbed the ‘Venice of the East’. Those halcyon days may be over, but the canals still play an important role in everyday life. Trade is still carried out on the waterways with colourful floating markets at a number of locations including Damnoen Saduak, Amphawa and Taling Chan.
8) Monkey Around in Lopburi
Lopburi has a long and illustrious history and was an important city when Ayutthaya was the Thai capital. Located in between Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, the ancient ruins provide an interesting backdrop to the downtown area, but it is the presence of dozens of monkeys that makes them even more memorable. In the past, the primates have even been treated to their own ‘Monkey Buffet Festival’ as a way of thanking them for bringing tourists to Lopburi.
9) Ride the Death Railway
Strictly speaking, Kanchanaburi is one of Thailand's western provinces, but with such close proximity to Bangkok we’ve included it here. The province is famous for its wartime history and is the location of the infamous Bridge Over the River Kwai and the Death Railway. Daily passenger trains cross the bridge and the remarkable Wang Po viaduct. Combined with a visit to the poignant wartime cemeteries and Hellfire Pass, this is a humbling experience. Although Kanchanaburi is well-known for its history, it’s also a region of outstanding natural beauty with the Erawan waterfalls one of the star attractions.
10) Stay in a Floating Hotel
Many visitors to Kanchanaburi travel on day-trips from Bangkok. That is a good option for those short on time, but for an unforgettable experience try to stay overnight in one of the floating hotels that occupy a spectacular setting on the river in Sai Yok National Park.