Travel opens up your eyes to a variety of different experiences. It offers the opportunity to learn about various cultures and their history. Wouldn’t it be great to have the option to expand this experience even more during a trip?

Disclaimer: Participation in these excurisions was provided complimentary from Gate 1 Travel. We thank them for their generosity! This post also contains ads and affiliate links.  If you make a purchase, we might make a little extra travel money, at no extra cost to you. As always, all opinions are our own.

Recently, we visited Thailand for the first time. We went on a group tour with Gate 1 Travel. It was a wonderful experience and the tour was the perfect fit for us. You can read more about it HERE if you are looking for an excellent group tour for yourself.

Many forms of travel offer the opportunity to add on various activities and excursions. We are no stranger to participating in these extra ventures. Signing up for two optional items on our Thailand trip only enhanced our experience and offered completely different views of this country!

The Grand Palace and Temple of The Emerald Buddha

Prior to visiting Thailand, I never felt much of a connection with much of Asia’s art. I was excited to see everything with my own eyes for the first time.

Spending the day at Wat Pho was my first experience with really exploring Thai art and architecture. It was fantastic. I loved the intricate tile work, bright jewel tones, and shimmering golds.

Wat Pho was just an appetizer to what we would see the next day!

The Grande Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) nearly blew Wat Pho out of the water. This palace much grander in scale with over 100 buildings to take in. Rounding every corner holds something more spectacular than the last!

The grounds of Wat Phra Kaew are filled with vibrant colors.

Visitors here see impressive structures, deep colors, intricate work, and multiple statues representing different characters from Thailand’s past. The grounds even hold a replica of Cambodia’s Angor Wat However, most impressive statue on premises is the Emerald Buddha.

Photography is not allowed inside the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

This Buddha is sure to catch onlookers off-guard. Carved from a single piece of jade, it is mesmerizing! Depending on the time of year, the Buddha will be wearing different costumes. We saw it cloaked in its full gold shawl, representing the rainy winter season. Not only is this Buddha stunningly beautiful, but also surprisingly small! The Buddha is only 25 inches tall, but absolutely stands out in the crowds.

To navigate this top temple more easily, get there early to beat the lines. Be sure to dress appropriately to ensure admission. Make sure everything is properly covered! Plenty of people are turned away or made to don additional clothing items prior to entry.

This temple left a lasting impression on me as we departed Bangkok and headed west for a new adventure. We traveled on to something very opposite from the grandeur of the palace we just explored.

Hellfire Pass and Death Railway

The visit to Hellfire Pass and the Death Railway actually began a day early. Making our way west across Central Thailand, we started to learn about some of the country’s dark history in times of war.

The cemetery in Kanchannaburi

A stop in Kanchanuburi led our group to the Thailand-Burma Railway Center and adjacent cemetary. Visitors see the struggle the men involved with the death railway endured. Continuing on took us directly to the bridge spanning the River Kwai Noi, made famous in the movie Bridge Over The River Kwai. The craftsmanship was remarkable! Tourists covered this bridge, all whistling that same Colonel Bogey tune that forever gets stuck in your head!

The bridge over the River Kwai Noi.

The actual excursion to Hellfire Pass and Death Railway museum began the following day. The museum was somber and immaculate. It is easy to see the pride the Thai people of the region share in maintaining this important place.

Get ready to head outside

After spending time learning more about the plight of the POW’s we headed out explore the area. Seeing the landscape these men were forced to work in under deplorable conditions was harrowing. The trenches the men were force to dig were inconceivable. But the time in the Kwai Noi Valley wilderness gave us a great look at another side of Thailand. The journey didn’t end there.

POWs dug this trench for the railway.

We made our way to a roadside lunch of traditional Thai food. Experiencing this local flavor is key to having a great travel time. With a few spare minutes, we found ourselves alongside the locals, climbing a nearby waterfall in the rain. It was a spectacular moment!

Climbing a waterfall with some local children was a fun afternoon experience.

Finishing off our day-long excursion was a trip down the State Railway of Thailand. While much has changed in its modern day operation, this was a great way to reflect on what happened so many years ago. As the train pulled away, we were able to snag a great photo opp!

The train pulling away, along the River Kwai Noi, is such a great photo opp!

Just when we thought this day couldn’t get any better, it did! Before heading back to our hotel, we made one last stop. In Thai culture, the monks believe in taking care of animals. We visited an old Buddhist temple that was home to hundreds of monkeys!

Mom and baby greeting the visitors.

Without participating in these optional excursions, we would have missed some great experiences. These two activities allowed us to see a broader spectrum of Thailand. We experienced a bit of bright and superior Thai royalty, as well as the dark atrocities of the past, natural landscapes and animals. Could you ask for more during a trip?

Like this post? PIN IT for later!

We’d love to hear from you! Share your thoughts or questions on this post in the comments below.

Let’s get social! This post is shared in supportive Facebook Groups.

We would love it if you would share it too!

Thanks for visiting By Land and Sea!

You might also enjoy:


  1. Fabulous pictures of the beautiful architecture. Also love the monkeys, and even the cemetery is very cool. Thank you for sharing your adventrues.

    1. Isn’t the palace pretty? Such intricate work! Yes, this was a pretty cool experience – I’m glad we got to go! Thanks for commenting!

  2. I love the contrast between the different places that you visited here! It sounds like you really went to some unique places that maybe aren’t the most visited places for tourists there. I loved all the nature shots!

  3. I’ve never been to Thailand. To be honest, I never really even THOUGHT about going to Thailand. Then my daughter picked it for a two week solo trip to get over a broken heart, and it has skyrocketed up my bucket list. It seems like an almost magical place!

  4. What an amazing sounding experience. As uncomfortable as it is, it is always enlightening to learn about the not so shiny history of a place to really connect with the people. This whole experience sounds good for the soul. Your pictures are also fantastic. #WeekendWanderlust

  5. I love how unique your experience is, going beyond the touristy places. This is the type of travel I like and want to experience. I have never been to Thailand but it’s very high on my list. I would love to get to the River Kwai Noi. As you mentioned, the scene with the train above it is a great photo opportunity! Thanks for sharing!

  6. I have never considered Thailand until I read this, and now, I think it would be an amazing trip! From the waterfall to the monkey, it all seems to unique and beautiful!

    1. Thailand is wonderful! We wanted to visit for years and I’m so glad we finally went. The diverse experiences made it even better!

  7. Thailand is somewhere I hope to visit. I love the architecture of the Palace and the Temple. Is the Buddha really carved from a single piece of jade? There is lots to appreciate here. And of course the Thai food would be amazing.

    1. Yes – from the craftsmanship of the buildings to the beauty of that little jade Buddha – Thailand has wonderful things to see, do and eat

  8. Sounds like a great tour in that you saw a variety of places and attractions. Would love to go back to Thailand and explore more of the country outside of Bangkok.

  9. Wow! I have never heard of the Death railway before. I have been to Thailand several times, and visited the palaces so many times. Actually I would have preferred to do the Hellfire Pass and the Death Railway if I had known that. Thanks for sharing these tours – truly not to miss

  10. The Bridge on the River Kwai is one of my favorite movies! I would be thrilled to see the area where the events depicted in the movie took place. What an adventure!

    1. I haven’t seen the movie, but I know that little whistle song. It is still stuck in my head from everyone whistling it while at the bridge!

  11. What an incredible experience visiting the River Kwai Noi must have been. The dark history behind it contrasts starkly with the beauty in your photos. Definitely putting it on try bucket list.

  12. I was married to a Thai person for awhile and his family was from Bangkok and Chang Mai – they were wonderful. I wish we had had an opportunity to visit whiel we were together and before the divorce, Thailand is such a beautiful country!

  13. Wish we could have done this too during our trip to Thailand. It is so important to understand the history of a place you are visiting and not just visit the instagram spots.

    1. It was so hot, we were grateful for the cloud cover! Other than our time at the waterfall, we didn’t encounter rain on this trip. It is possible we had perfect weather!!

    1. Yes! It was a great way to mix and match experiences in Thailand! We loved the contrast. Thanks for commenting!

  14. Looks like a great trip! I like that picture of mom-n-baby monkeys. I would love to go on the River Kwai bridge hearing or whistling the popular ‘bridge on the River Kwai’ tune! I have seen that movie a couple of times. 🙂

  15. When people usually think of Thailand, they think of beaches, and it has some spectacular ones, but I loved exploring the rural areas of northern Thailand when I visited. I so wished I visited the River Kwai .. the film and the story behind that bridge is so iconic, it would have been wonderful to explore that area of the country.

    1. I would love to return to Thailand and relax at the beach. But, I’m so glad we experienced a different side of this incredible country.

Comment on this post!