Siam’s oldest city and the entry point of Buddhism, Nakhon Pathom was a centre of the Mon-influenced Dvaravati culture two millennia ago. Its huge Phra Pathom Chedi and Sanam Chan Palace make it a drop-in destination on the way west or south, or on a day trip to canal communities in this province, and neighbouring Amphawa. Amphawa retains some bygone lifestyles and markets, which are usually best viewed in the early morning. Before the evening Amphawa Floating Market tour the estuarine attractions of Samut Songkram, including mangroves, fireflies, plantations, homestays, and Rama II Memorial Park. On the way view the salt pans flanking the highway at Samut Sakhon.
The district bordering Bangkok features Putthamonthon, a vast Buddhist theme park. Look out for its 40-metre (131-foot) Buddha and Utthayan Avenue, which shimmers with ornate bridges, fountains, flora and lampposts. It makes a good half-day trip with the nearby House of Museums and National Film Archive.
Amphawa Floating Market
Near Wat Amphawan, Samut Songkram. Open 6am-6pm daily. Admission free.
The old wooden market of Samut Songkram (aka Amphawa) has been revived, with boats selling food and produce. On weekends it overflows with young Bangkokians drawn by the bohemian vibe and many quirkily designed products – and of course the speciality foods. At dusk myriad boat tours take people to view fireflies, though many overnight here in plantations, boating to one of many stilt-house homestays, like Baan Tha Kha (0 3476 6170, double B350) or Baan Hua Had (0 3473 5073, double B350). Day boat tours take in Dickensian caramel factories in sugar palm groves.
Don Wai Floating Market
Near Wat Rai King, Tha Nakhon Chaisri. Open 6am-noon daily.
A revival and expansion of an old wooden orchard port on the Tha Chin, Don Wai is authentic, untacky and very clean. It’s busiest on weekends as Thai tourists drive 30km west of Bangkok for its speciality foods. The Rose Garden (0 3432 2544, www.rosegardenriverside.com), which has accommodation and tourist shows, makes it the focus of a half-day teak barge cruise (Sat, Sun).
National Film Archive
94 Thanon Puttha Monthon Sai 5, Putthamonthon (0 2482 2013-5, www.nfat.org). Open 10am, 2pm & 4pm Sat, Sun. Tickets free.
This vital repository of decaying celluloid heritage hosts free informal screenings of Thai and foreign films (Sat, Sun 4pm), some subtitled. Its retro-style museum includes dioramas and Thai movie memorabilia.
Phra Pathom Chedi
Nakorn Pathom town (0 3424 2143). Open 6am-8pm daily. Admission Thais free; foreigners B40.
You can’t miss what is reputedly the world’s tallest stupa at 120 metres (414 feet). It’s constantly busy wth pilgrims. Since 1853, its bell shape has clad a Khmer prang that encased a Mon stupa. There’s also a reclining Buddha, a circular cloister, and Dvaravati treasures in Phra Pathom Chedi National Museum (Thais B20; foreigners B100; open 9am-4pm daily). Artefacts in the free Phra Pathom Museum (closed Mon, Tue) are less organised.
Rama II Memorial Park
Amphawa, Samut Songkram (0 3475 1666). Open 9am-6pm daily. Museum 9am-4pm daily. Admission B20; B5 children.
A riverside park beside Amphawa Floating Market features replicas of sumptuous teak stilt houses used by King Rama II, who was born here. They contain traditional instruments, bonsai-like Thai topiary and other fine objects. You can hire bikes to tour the grounds and their sculptures of characters by the king’s poet, Sunthorn Phu.
Sanam Chan Palace
6 Thanon Rajamankha Nai, Nakorn Pathom town (0 3424 4236-7). Open 8.30am-4pm daily. Admission Thais B30; foreigners B50. Performances 10am, 2pm Sat, Sun.
Across town, the leafy grounds of King Rama VI’s palace contain fretworked museums in timber residences, plus a theatre resembling a wat.
House of Museums
Baan Phipitaphan, Khlong Pho Soi 2, Thanon Sala Thammasop, Putthamonthon (08 9200 2803). Open 10am-5pm Sat, Sun. Admission B30; B10 reductions. No credit cards.
Historian and author Anake Nawigamune displays his vast popular culture collection in interactive retro reconstructions of mid-20th century Thai lifestyle, including a schoolroom and pharmacy.
Samphran Elephant Ground & Crocodile Farm
Km30 Thanon Phetkasem, Samphran (0 2429 0361-2, www.elephantshow.com). Open 8.30-5pm daily. Admission Thais B90; foreigners B500; reductions B50-B300.
Located near Rose Garden, this landscaped attraction offers elephant rides, croc wrestling, and mock battles.
By road & rail
Most hire a car/van and driver (see getting around Bangkok for more information). To Nakhon Pathom buses depart the Southern Bus Terminal (daily every 15mins, 5.30am-8.30pm, B38), while 13 trains leave 8.05am-10.50pm daily from Hualumphong station (B14-B60), and five 3rd-class trains run daily from Thonburi station (B10).
To Samut Songkram, buses depart the Southern Bus Terminal (daily every 20mins, 4.45am-5.30pm, B52), while 12 3rd-class trains leave hourly 5.30am-8.10pm daily from Wongwian Yai station (B10), changing for the ferry at Samut Sakhon.
2nd floor Amphawa Municipality City Hall, 2/1 Amphawa (0 347 2847-8, www.tourismthailand.org). Open 8am-4pm Mon-Fri.
Ayutthaya & Bang Pa-In A summer palace and ruined Siamese capital.
Ko Samet Beach massages, snorkelling and a mellow party scene.
Hua Hin & Cha-am World-class resorts and 5km of beaches.
Samut Prakarn Wrestle with crocodiles and bike round an ancient city.