Cupid finally improved his (or perhaps her?) aim enough to snag me a great partner last year. He’s certainly had enough practice, so it was about time. Bangkok has been a fascinating backdrop to dates ranging from the sweet to the bizarre. The zest for a satisfying romantic adventure led my boyfriend and I to try things from a night time bike tour of Dusit to paddling around Benjakiti Lake in the kitschy fibreglass swans. There’s also the time we both rode one bike – a push bike – to go dancing at RCA. We like chances to enjoy the fresh air.
Or lack thereof. What can be exotic and enticing when it’s new can become busy and loud when the novelty has worn off. Precisely for this reason, we have had some of our best weekend warrior moments in day trips where we traded in the concrete and traffic for a more relaxed pace in Bangkok’s nearby provinces.
These trips have recharged our relationship by reminding us of the things that drew us into loving Thailand and each other – romantic dinners al fresco sans the blaring din of the street, or a refreshing breeze off a river where there’s more fish than plastic bags. Once, we even dumbfoundedly remarked on how we had gone an entire day in a neighbouring province without seeing a 7/11 – I’m a firm believer that love starts where halogen lighting and convenience store jingles end.
So come along on three special escapades that sparked romantic sizzle. Each of these trips would be comfortably doable in a single day from Bangkok. Each location also offered unique activities that were fun to do with your special gal or guy. Our best weekend date excursions are Chachoengsao, Ratchaburi, and Petchaburi.
Chachoengsao – about 80km east of Bangkok
There aren’t too many times I will in good conscience recommend taking the train to get anywhere in Thailand, however for us, the train ride to Chachoengsao really set the day in (moderate) motion. In just under 80 minutes, we took in the transition from towering condos, then palm-fringed moobans, and ending with kilometres of lush, verdant fields, before pulling in to Chachoengsao’s station.
We have done this trip twice and even though there is a dramatic, old world feel to chugging out of historic Hua Lamphong
terminus, we recommend boarding the train at Asok station (at the ground level track platforms directly next to Makkasan Airport Link station; not the Asok BTS station). Getting on at Asok spares you the most congested section of the Thai Railway system between Hua Lamphong and Bang Sue stations. By miracle or possible repayment of good karma, the trains have arrived on time for every departure towards Chachoengsao that we’ve taken.
Furthermore, as where you get off is the terminal stop for the line, that means the trains are usually punctual when taking
you back to Bangkok. There’s no first class on the train, however not all 3rd class seats are made equal – we walked through the train wagons until we reached one with padded backs. The seat is still hard, but that’s just all the more reason to cuddle up for comfort. There’s also no air con on board, however the train is usually moving at a pretty good clip and the windows are (permanently?) open, so there’s a fair amount of air moving about inside the cars. Get your camera ready and be prepared to watch the scenery of Thailand’s rice basket unfold.
Once the train passes Lat Krabang, the rest of the trip takes you through fields greener than Lumpini Park in rainy season. Cows, buffalo, and stately coconut trees pepper the landscape. Even better, the ride is free going out of Bangkok. You only pay for the return journey, which costs a mere 45B.
Hopefully you’ve saved your appetite, because once you’re off the train your first stop should be the Ban Mai 100 Years Market. It’s as charming as floating markets come, and has a prime location built right along the Bang Pakong River. It is open everyday and offers the most romantic spots to dine. The market, entirely constructed of wooden shophouses dating from the time of King Rama V, has retained an authentic antique feel. There are no neon signs, no blasting music, and no touts.
For an extra special meal, grab a table riverside at one of the restaurants with a deck facing the Bang Pakong. You can see long tail boats going past while your meal is being prepared. The breeze feels fresh, so breathe in deep and give your lungs some therapy. Fish dishes are especially recommended here, with river catch coming in fresh daily right to your plate.
After you’ve eaten, you can even get onto the river for a short cruise. I have done this trip à deux with my partner and I being the only passengers on the rowboat. Your gondolier might not be serenading you, but you’ll still enjoy gliding past clusters of dense mangroves and palms so close to the waterline that the tropical leaves will brush past your hair. Hopefully you didn’t load up on garlic at lunch so you can enjoy a quick embrace as you meander down the river. Also hold onto your hat – fishing your cap out of the river costs extra.
The last train to Bangkok leaves at 6:00 in the evening, but before you head back make sure you and your date find time to stroll along the riverfront promenade. The riverwalk is a picturesque place to walk close to your date and polish off a shared cup of fresh coconut ice cream from one of the vendors along the promenade.
Not far from the end of the promenade is the impressive Wat Sothon, a beautifully grandiose structure that blends Western
and Thai designs. If you time your visit for sunset, the last rays of the day will set the golden-accented roof ablaze in light. It makes for a stunning last sight before you get back on the train to Bangkok Ban Mai Riverside Market Banmai Rd., Ban Mai, Muang Chachoengsao, Chachoengsao 24000 Wat Sothon Thep Khunakon Rd, Tambon Na Muang, Amphoe Mueang Chachoengsao, Chachoengsao 24000 038 511 048
Ratchaburi – about 100km west of Bangkok
Only about 40 minutes further by car from better known Amphawa, Ratchaburi is an overlooked gem that is worth discovering during the day, after which you could spend the evening in Amphawa to catch the floating markets and ambiance there. Our favourite sight in Ratchaburi was Khao Ngu Stone Park. The park’s pièce de résistance is a Dr Seuss like lake with stone cliffs rising up around it on all sides. There is a walkway that curves around the southern bank of the lake, complete with an arched suspension bridge linking two sections of the walkway.
The place exudes so much romance that on a weekday afternoon we saw not one, but two wedding photo shoots. At the second photoshoot, my boyfriend accidentally interjected himself into one couple’s wedding photos when he came down a stairwell from a viewing platform after the bride had started posing for pictures. The lake itself is home to shimmering schools of goldfish. You can also rent a paddleboat here to explore the lake more.
The drive to the park from the main road takes you through a kilometre or so of what is decidedly monkey territory. Many of the primates were also feeling the romantic vibes as we witnessed several pairings in rather scandalous positions, often in the middle of the road. Use the gas pedal sparingly and keep your car windows up until you are safely out of the monkey zone. Khao Ngu Stone Park Ko Phlappla, Ratchaburi 70000 063 472 5562
Petchaburi – about 130km southwest of Bangkok
With the nearby resort havens of Cha Am and Hua Hin just past it, most travellers whisk pass Petchaburi (town) without stopping, yet the provincial capital offers a lot for couples to explore. On a recent trip to the beach, we decided to give Petchaburi a go for a day on the way back to Bangkok. We are really glad we did, as the city is home to a pair of charming historic palaces.
The first we saw was Ban Pun Palace, built during the reign of Rama V in 1916. It is a pleasant bike ride if you are staying in the central part of Petchaburi. The palace is set in a vast emerald green lawn, surrounded by landscaped gardens on all sides.
The distinctively German look is no coincidence, as it was designed by an architect from Germany. Making a big circle around the palace grounds will whet your appetite to go inside, where you can see the highly skilled level of craftsmanship in each room. Ban Pun is exceedingly romantic to discover, with cherubs playfully positioned on grand staircases that lead to woodencarved chambers illuminated by stained glass windows.
It definitely has a strong European charm – think Neuschwanstein meets the tropics. We enjoyed the feeling of being transported away to a European castle, only reminded of being in Thailand when you spot the palms outside the windows. This is also a lovely place to sneak in a peck on the lips when the guards aren’t looking, which is most of the time.
After Ban Pun, we gave up the bikes and tuk-tuk’ed it to Khao Wang, a.k.a. Phra Nakhon Khiri. Like Chachoengsao, getting there – up there (it’s on top of a small mountain) – is part of the charm. We took the inclined trolley up to the palace grounds, for which my feet thanked me. Once at the summit, you will find several handsomely laid out pavilions dotted
along the hilltop. Get ready for steps and monkeys, both of which there are many. Going with a partner gives extra protection. Squeeze tightly (your date, not the monkeys) and don’t try to feed the primates.
The highlight of Khao Wang is the highest pavilion, from which you get a sweeping view of the impressive chedi on the next hill over, as well as the surrounding city of Petchaburi spreading out in all directions below you.
The entire complex’s terraced walkways are lined with countless hundreds of gorgeous blue and white porcelain flower pots, giving the experience a very imperial feel. Hiking over to the adjacent hill to see the chedi, which in turn provides views back onto the palace, is also worth the extra steps. We saw both and then dashed back to the inclined trolley just as rain clouds broke out above us. We found Khao Wang to be a great bonding activity to see the vistas from above (and survive the snack-stealing monkeys).
Ban Pun Palace
Khlong Kra Saeng, Mueang Phetchaburi District, Phetchaburi 76000
032 428 506
Khlong Kra Saeng, Mueang Phetchaburi District, Phetchaburi 76000
032 425 600
From my love life to yours, perhaps you can take some of these tried and true recommendations next time you want to add some adventure to your dating routine. What we loved about seeing these destinations was that they reminded us why we fell in love with Thailand in the first place – the incredible sights, friendly faces, and tantalising meals that are waiting to be uncovered.
All without the crowds and pressure of big city life. So go clear a weekend to leave the 13 million behind in Bangkok to focus on the one most special person in your life.