For everything the vast and beautiful kingdom has to offer, Thailand might best be known for its idyllic islands, thanks to books (and movies) like "The Beach" and a few decades of beach-bound tourists swarming to the south each dry season.
Places like Krabi or Phuket may be world-famous, and rightfully so, but there's no need to endure a ten-hour bus ride to the south to enjoy the sea. There are some very nice places within a few hours of Bangkok that make for an excellent weekend getaway from the big city!
1. Pattaya/Koh Larn
Pattaya City itself doesn't have the best reputation, although the city is rapidly becoming a much more family-friendly destination with a number of interesting attractions opening up. The Pattaya beaches themselves leave something to be desired, but just a 45-minute ferry ride out to Koh Larn (Coral Island) later, and you would swear you were much farther than just two hours away from the chaos of Bangkok.
There's not much to do on Koh Larn besides relaxing on the white sandy beaches, but isn't that the point of a beach vacation? It's even close enough to Bangkok to be feasible as a day trip.
Ferry service round-trip 150 baht from Balihai Pier in Pattaya.
What to do on Koh Larn
- Rent a chair and an umbrella and relax
- Enjoy some fresh seafood and cold beer
- Basically just chill out on an island. You're on vacation, what else are you going to want to do?
What to do in Pattaya
Pattaya is interesting. Despite its reputation, there are actually some very nice things to do in the city, especially as you get away from Pattaya City itself and more towards Jomtien Beach just south of the city. Besides that, there are a number of interesting attractions to visit in and around Pattaya, even for families. You can hire a taxi for the day to take you around the city to these major sites.
- Wat Phra Yai - Pattaya's famous "Big Buddha Temple" on a hill with a beautiful view overlooking the bay
- The "Laser Buddha" - a golden Buddha image carved by laser into the side of a mountain
- The Sanctuary of Truth - a massive hand carved wooden temple depicting images from major eastern religions. It's still unfinished, but open to visitors. (500 baht)
- Pattaya Floating Market - one of Thailand's many famous floating markets. Wander around buying food from the vendors on their boats along the canals.
2. Hua Hin
Hua Hin, the royal resort town two or three hours south of Bangkok caters to a more upscale crowd of expats and local Bangkokian weekenders. While the beaches in Hua Hin may not be as beautiful as those on the islands, the town is quiet, relaxing, and comfortable for foreign visitors. You can reach it by train or bus. The train route to Hua Hin from Bangkok was one of the first in the kingdom, and arrives at a historic train station commissioned by King Rama V. The bus is recommended if you are short on time, as it is much quicker.
What to do in Hua Hin
- Cicada Market - a clean and fun night market with delicious fresh food, live music, and trendy souvenirs to buy
- Monkey Mountain - AKA "Khao Takiab", a hill on the southern side of Hua Hin beach with a photogenic temple on top and a beautiful view of Hua Hin. It's also overrun with hilarious monkeys, hence its nickname!
- Hua Hin Hills - take a day trip out to the hilly inland region near Hua Hin to visit the Thai Winelands! Hua Hin Hills Vineyard offers wine tasting and mountain biking around the vineyards
3. Rayong/Koh Samet
Koh Samet, a good-sized island off of Rayong (about three hours east of Bangkok past Pattaya) is probably one of the most beautiful beaches near Bangkok. The island is one of Thailand's many national parks, and has something for everyone, whether you are into partying on the beach, deep sea fishing, or just relaxing in paradise.
What to do on Koh Samet
- Snorkeling tours - sign up at any guesthouse to take an evening snorkeling trip, combined with a sunset cruise around the island (400 baht)
- Squid Fishing - go out on an ancient wooden squid trawler for a late-night of adventure, being taught by the fishermen how to catch and barbecue fresh squid. BYOB! (600 baht)
- Party on the beach - not everyone's scene, but Koh Samet can definitely be a fun place
- Relax - Koh Samet is one of the most laid-back and relaxing places near Bangkok. Head out for a restful weekend away of sun and sand (and beer!)