Nakhon Pathom lies about 56 kilometers west of Bangkok. It sits on the broad flat plain of the Chaophraya Basin. According to legend, the area was once a coastal region when it was first settled around 1,600 years ago, but sedimentation has since moved the coastline almost 50 kilometers away.
The two main sights of interest in the city are the Phra Pathom Chedi and Sanam Chan Palace, both of which are within easy walking distance. With only the two main sights, this is a relatively easy day trip, but with limited transportation options it can still be a long day. This day trip isn't for everyone. While the Pathom Chedi is impressive in size, it doesn't look ancient. The palace is interesting for its "foreigness" and has only a few Thai touches, albeit quite exquisite ones.
Nakhon Pathom Travel Logistics
The easiest way to get to Nakohn Pathom is by train. Trains leave from both the main Hua Lamphong station as well as the Thonburi Station. Unless you're staying on the river, the Hua Lamphong station is easier to get to. All trains on the Southern Line from Hua Lamphong stop in Nakhon Pathom. The best option is the Number 261 train leaving Hua Lamphong at 9:20 am for Hua Hin. There are only two or three trains a day from Thonburi, which have Kanchanaburi as their final destination. The fare to/from Nakhon Pathom is around 14 Baht (0.36 USD). The one drawback to trains is that the options for returning to Bangkok are somewhat limited. The Number 262 train to Hua Lamphong departs Nakhon Pathom at 5:00 pm. There's a slightly earlier train to Thonburi. Check Seat 61 or the State Railway of Thailand sites for current schedule.
Buses are another option. There are frequent buses between Bangkok and Nakhon Pathom, but most of them leave from the Southern Bus Terminal or other parts of the Thonburi area, far away from most of the major hotels and trains. A bus might be a reasonable option for getting back to Bangkok if you are in a hurry to return.
Nakhon Pathom Walking Route
Map of Nakhon Pathom showing suggested walking route
If you arrive by train, you should catch sight of the giant Phra Pathom Chedi as soon as you step outside the train station. Walk down the brick paved road, crossing the canal, until you reach the big Buddhist monument. There's a ticket booth near the base of the stairs that lead up to the open air north chapel holding a highly revered standing Buddha image. I suggest turning left to make your way around the base of the stupa.
At the next access stairway you come to, on the east side of the platform, there's a small museum on the middle platform. After you visit the museum and see the rest of the chedi, exit the compound via the west gate. Walking down the road leading away from the gate (Ratchadamnoen Road), you will come to a traffic circle with a fountain in the middle spinning a big marble ball. At the traffic circle, veer left and take the road that follows the canal, keeping the water on your right (see map). The entry gate to Sanam Chang Palace is a short way down the road.
A visit to the palace will probably take you two to three hours. When finished you can retrace the route back to the train station. If time permits, you may wish to have a look into the fresh markets between the Phra Pathom Chedi and the canal.