One of the greatest thrills of travel is to be on the move, observing and absorbing a country as you go. By train, bus or motorbike, Thailand’s scenic journeys are to be savoured.
Each adventure is packed with opportunities to sample the wares of hawkers and roadside food trucks or chat with fellow passengers. And don’t forget to smile through any unexpected hold-ups and occasional discomforts because they are part of what makes the journey so much more than the destination. Here are three highly recommended, highly memorable trips.
Mahachai Shortline train
Separate from the main train network, the Mahachai line from Wong Wian Yai station in Thonburi in the western part of Bangkok was originally constructed to transport produce from the ports of Samut Songkhram and Samut Sakhon to the markets in the city. It’s a working train, still used for transporting produce and people in and out of Bangkok.
Sitting among locals on hardback seats, with the breeze from open windows and overhead fans, while passing through the canals of the Bangkok suburbs and salt marshes along the gulf of Thailand is an atmospheric trip that affords a glimpse of both the bustle and humdrum of everyday life.
The first leg of the journey is the one-hour trip from Wong Wian Yai to the fishing port of Samut Sakhon. There the train terminates in the middle of a busy fresh produce market.
Just outside the market, catch a ten-minute ferry ride across Tha Chin river takes you to Ban Laem from where the train leaves for the second leg of the journey, the 90-minute ride to Samut Songkhram, another fishing port at the mouth of the Mae Khlong river.
Again the train goes right into the market at Samut Songkhram, and here vendors make use of the space between the train tracks to lay out their wares, hastily moving it away as the train approaches. At weekends, the Amphawa Floating Market (open Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings) is worth a visit.
Make it happen
Trains run every hour from Wong Wian Yai to Samut Sakhon with connecting trains at 10.10am, 1.30pm and 4.40pm to Samut Songkhram. There is also a bus service between Samut Sakhon and Samut Songkhram and from Samut Songkhram to Bangkok’s south terminal.
Mae Sa–Samoeng loop
The 100km Mae Sa-Samoeng loop climbs, dips and twists its way like a roller coaster through rugged mountains and forested peaks and can be done as a day trip by car, motorbike or scooter from Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. The expansive mountain landscape makes the journey itself the highlight of the trip, although there are plenty of worthy detours along the way.
From Chiang Mai, travel north along Rte 107 towards Mae Rim and then west on Rte 1096. Here the road becomes more rural, following the course of the Mae Sa River. Six kilometres past the turn off for Mae Rim are the Nam Tok Mae Sa waterfalls in the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, a picturesque spot that is popular with locals and a good place for a cooling dip.
After enjoying the falls, keep going until you reach the Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens, 12 km from the Mae Rim turn-off. Thailand’s first botanical gardens opened in 1993 – the glasshouse complex is not to be missed. From here, the road climbs up through the terraced fields of the Mae Sa valley; Mon Cham is a good place to stop for lunch and panoramic views.
The furthest point along the loop is the pretty village of Samoeng. From this point, follow Rte 1269, a winding road that descends from the hills, and then continue along Th Khlong Chonprathan (Canal Road) back to Chiang Mai.
A longer, more adventurous scenic motorbike trip is the Mae Hong Son loop, a 600km journey that takes a minimum of four days to complete.