Just a 20-minute drive southeast of Bangkok  is Samut Prakan (also called Paknam), at the end of the Chao Phraya where the river empties out into the Gulf of Thailand. Really an extension of Bangkok, this is where the airport is located.
While not historically significant, Samut Prakan has some of the best attractions for children (and adults too) outside of the city and is a good destination if you want to take a break from the intensity of Bangkok for a day and have a look at what normal life in Thailand looks like.
Ancient City (Km 33 Sukhumvit Rd., Samut Prakan, 02/224-1057, daily 8 a.m.-5 p.m., 300B adult, 200B child) is an 81-hectare park shaped like the country of Thailand, with replicas of all of the historically important buildings, including the Throne Hall of Ayutthaya  and even a miniature Grand Palace . There’s also a folk museum dedicated to farming culture, and even a re-created floating market.
You can rent bikes to get around the park, but you may want to hitch a ride on one of the golf carts if it’s too hot. If you plan on spending the day here, there are small cafés serving local inexpensive food on the grounds.
Sure to be breaking some world record for largest elephant-shaped building, the Erawan Elephant Museum (99/9 Sukhumvit Rd., Samut Prakan, 02/371-3135, www.erawan-museum.com , daily 8 a.m.-5 p.m., 150B) is a spectacular, exceptionally well-crafted 15-story three-headed bronze elephant with a museum inside. You won’t be able to miss it; as you approach from Sukhumvit Road the elephant looms ahead. Even if you’re not interested in what’s inside the gigantic creature, it’s worth a trip just to see the structure.
The museum houses a collection of mostly Buddhist artifacts from the founder of the museum, a wealthy Thai who wanted to build a place to house them for the public to see. The interior of the pedestal and elephant are beautifully, intricately decorated, with stairways covered in glittering mosaics, murals on the walls and ceilings depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha, and even stained-glass windows.
The grounds, with lots of vegetation and even a fish pond, are nice to walk around, and there is also a snack bar. Though the museum closes at 5 p.m., you’ll be denied entry if you arrive after 4 p.m.
If you are up for an adventure that may or may not work out, Wat Khun Samut, also called the Temple in the Sea, in Khun Samut Chin village (located southeast of Samut Prakan on the coast) is a fascinating day trip. The temple has been covered by the international media because it’s slowly being subsumed by the surrounding Gulf of Thailand, stark evidence of the effects of rising sea levels.
The wat is located on a promontory that was once connected to a village in an area surrounded by canals and shrimp farms. Much of the village has since been subsumed and villagers are continually forced to relocate further and further inland, but the wat remains. Getting there is a little difficult, as so far there are no organized tours (though no doubt this will come soon) and you need to get to the beginning of the promontory, where the village is, by boat then walk about 1.5 kilometers out to the temple.
There is one daily boat to the village of Khun Samut Chin leaving the Paknam Market pier at 9:15 a.m. and returning at 3 p.m., so if you go this route you’ll have to make a day of it. Plan on bringing a picnic lunch with you, as this may be the one part of the country where you won’t be able to find anything to eat. Another option is to try to hire a longtail boat from Paknam Market pier, though you will have to wing it a bit and ask around for someone to take you and bring you back. You can also get a car to Sakhla, a small town on the other side of the river from Khun Samut Chin and Paknam, and then look for a boat from there.
This day trip is definitely not for those who have limited time, need to follow a set schedule, or feel uncomfortable trying to communicate with people who do not speak English. If you believe that the journey is as important as the destination, you will be rewarded by not only seeing a part of the country few others visit, but also visiting the temple itself.
If you come during low tide, you’ll find a simple temple complex at the end of a long concrete walkway surrounded by mud flats. You’ll notice that the floors have been raised by about one meter, meaning you’ll need to duck quite a bit going through the doorways. During high tide, the water nearly reaches the new floor level, and if you come during a storm, you may see the waves washing into the temple windows.
For some fun and interesting eating experiences, head to Samut Prakan’s neighbor, Bang Na Town, where you’ll find a wet market in the center of the city and plenty of food stalls serving quick, cheap meals. Given the town’s location right on the water, even the simple noodle soups will be filled with fresh seafood instead of the usual pork, chicken, or beef.
A wild, wacky dining option is Suan Aharn Kratorn (99/1 Bang Na-Trad Rd., Bang Na, 02/399-5202, daily 5 p.m.-1 a.m., 200B), sometimes referred to as the “flying-chicken restaurant.” The menu has lots of standard Thai fare, except for the first item on the list—flying chicken. After you order a flying chicken and before it’s served at the table it’s set on fire and then tossed across the outdoor restaurant, to be caught on the spike of a hat worn by a man riding a unicycle. Sometimes there’s a little kid sitting on the shoulders of the man riding the unicycle, and he gets to wear the hat and catch the chicken. It’s totally bizarre but lots of fun. There’s also a small outdoor playground for kids and karaoke stalls if you feel like belting out a tune or two after your meal.
Samut Prakan is south of Bangkok ; you can follow Sukhumvit Road all the way there if you are driving (though Sukhumvit runs northwest to southeast in the city, it turns south later). If you are taking public transportation, buses 507, 508, and 511 run from Sukhumvit in central Bangkok all the way to Samut Prakan, though with traffic in the city the less-than-16-kilometer journey will probably take well over an hour.
A taxi to any of the destinations listed here will cost under 200 baht. Bang Na Town is north of Samut Prakan on the way back to Bangkok by road. To get there, take Sukhumvit Road north to Bangna-Trat Road.