The Central Plains and the West , The Heart of the Kingdom
Thailand’s Central Plains form the heart of the kingdom both physically and historically. It was in this fertile, well watered lands that the Thai people become united as a Nation, and where life was amply sustained by agricultural abundance. Stretching from the northern hills to the gulf of Thailand to the south, the plains are dominated by the Chao Phraya, the country’s major river formed by the confluence of several streams flowing out of the north.
In the course of their historical development the Thais expanded the natural waterways with a network of canals which served as both irrigation channels and communication links for what has traditionally been a waterborne society.
The flat, featureless landscape has thus been transformed into the archetypical image of Thailand, patchwork of paddy fields producing the bulk of the country all-important rice crop. Scattered through the rural scene are villages as well as several sizeable towns, making the region the most densely populated in spite of its agricultural base.
The fertility of the land and the ease of communication given by the Chao Phraya river system made the Central Plains a natural site for settlement, and the region encompasses virtually all the most important monuments that signpost the evolution of Thai civilization.
On the northern end stands the ruins of Sukhothai, the nation’s first capital founded in the 13th century, and its historically satellite cities of Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet. These ancient centers form the cradle of Thai civilization, and the art and architecture evolved here constitute the first flowering of indigenous cultural forms, along with religious, social and political systems which set the pattern of nationhood.
Th political power and influence of Sukhothai, lasted no more than a century , yet boasts 100 historical sites preserved in manicured historical parks, including the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Sukhothai Historical Park and Si Satchanalai Historical Park. It is also one of the most ambient spots to soak up the magical candlelit floats that glisten in the moonlit water during the annual Loi Krathong Festival, as it is where the festival originated many centuries ago.
For further reading about the role of the ancient capital of Sukhothai , go to our section: Thai History .
Si Satchanalai Historical Park covers the ruins of the ancient city of Si Satchanalai and Chaliang. Si Satchanalai, which means ” City of Good People”, was founded in 1250 and when Ban Mueang ruled the kingdom, he gave his brother Ramkhamhaeng control of the town of Si Satchanalai, and it was in this way that it became a Sukhothai Kingdom’s royal succession tradition to have a crown prince or heir to the throne to rule the city of Si Satchanalai.
Si Satchanalai Historical Park is maintained by the Fine Arts Department with the help from UNESCO, which declared it a World Heritage Site, along with Sukhothai and Kamphaeng Phet‘s. Similar to Sukhothai Historical park, Si Satchanalai Historical Park attracts thousand of visitors each year, who marvel at the ancient Buddha’s images, palace buildings and ruined temples. A great idea would be touring the park by bicycle or just by foot.
To the west of Sukhothai lies Tak, the gateway city to the North and, beyond, Mae Sot on the Burmese border. The western edge of the Central Plains remains comparably untouched. The flat lands give way to hills, the tail end of the northern highlands, and the countryside presents a picture of untamed jungle and prime forest cover. This is the location of Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the largest and most important nature reserves in the country.
Going South from Sukhothai, is Nakhon Sawan, a populous center on the north-south trade route, while below is the focal point of Thailand’s most formative historical development. Here is the site of Ayutthaya, the capital of the kingdom officially founded in 1350 until its destruction at the hands of the Burmese in 1767, and Lopburi, the second capital during Ayutthaya’s 17th-century golden era.
Both towns are somewhat today shabby provincial centers, although the ruins within their boundaries have been preserved as well as possible to offer an intriguing window on to the past.
Ayutthaya is both an exceptional province of the central region and in many ways the most typical. The flat, monotonous landscape is characteristic of the flood plains, which still support extensive rice cultivation in spite of creeping urbanization and the construction of multiline highways. The city of Ayutthaya, however, is distinguished as the site of the nation’s capital from the mid 14th century until 1767.
Topographical reasons accounted for Ayutthaya’s founding and its long-sustained prosperity. The fertile plains ensured a plentiful food supply, while the surrounding low land, subject to a seasonal flooding afforded the city a degree of natural protection. Standing on the banks of the Chao Phraya river, at its junction with the Lopburi and Pa Sak rivers, Ayutthaya enjoyed the further advantage of an outlet to the sea , a vital factor in the age of water- borne commerce which coincided with Ayutthaya’s rise.
Today, a dull provincial market city has grown up around the crumbling temples and other remains of what has been once of the largest and grandest cities in Southeast Asia. The old Thai capital of Ayutthaya , a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of the most impressive ruined cities in Asia, and a must-see for history fans and a photographers’ dream.
The Menam, Lopburi and Pasak rivers ring the island of ruins. Wandering through this once -thriving place, enjoying the sight of Wat Si Samphet , Wat Ratchaburana or Wat Mahathat among many others, will make one feel that we have stepped back through time,.
But the visitor won’t find only Thai temples in ruins, but as in its glory days Ayutthaya drew settlers from all over the world, making the city a diverse and cosmopolitan one. Therefore, you could visit the old French, Portuguese, British, Dutch and Japanese quarters, and if you like, it is possible to hire a bike and go sightseeing through the area. The European influence is responsible for the number of Catholic churches in the area, including St Joseph’s Church, which was built in 1666.
Read more about Ayutthaya’s history in our Thai History section.
Bangkok and the surrounding Area , Gateway to the Nation
Bangkok is the country’s international gateway, seat of the government, business, and the monarchy. This is a city that bears little relation to the rest of the country, which is a patchwork of rice fields, villages, plantations and forests and which second largest city, Chiang Mai, is just a fraction, nearly one-fortieth the size of Bangkok. In terms of population, the second largest is Nonthamburi, which is nearly one – sixtieth of Bangkok’s. This is just to have an idea…
Thailand’s capital, the first sight of the country for most visitors, scarcely scratches any preconceived ideas of a fabled city of the Orient, “The Venice of East” as it was once known. A few canals do survive, but today Bangkok is one of the most confounding cities in the world. Amidst its traffic-clogged roads which were built following the old canals, and towering buildings we can discover some of the most exquisite historical edifices anywhere.
At first glance, this metropolis of over 15 million people appears as a bewildering melding of new and old, traditional an modern, wood and steel and glass, exotic and commonplace and indeterminate, all tossed together into an expansive urban fuss. If Bangkok seems to lack order, it is only because it has never had one, or said in other way, there was not a clear master plan to guide its never ending growth, save for the royal core of the city, Rattanakosin island, where the kings of Chakry Dynasty built their palaces.
Bangkok offers to the visitor scores of historical or religious sites that would take several days if not weeks or months to know all, but there are places that no visitor should leave Bangkok without giving them a visit. For us, ex-pats living in the country, Bangkok is always a motive for a one -day or a two-days trips, or a long weekend; there is always a new place to visit and it is always worth going. Bangkok won’t disappoint you. Never.
Starting with Royal Bangkok, what means visiting the Grand Palace, which includes Wat Phra Kaew, or Temple of Emerald Buddha, considered the palladium of the kingdom of Thailand. Then, crossing the Chao Phraya River from the Grand Palace, is Wat Arun, one of the river’s oldest and most distinctive landmarks dating from Ayutthaya period.
Not so far from The Grand Palace, is Wat Po, Bangkok’s largest and oldest temple which houses the Reclining Buddha. Without leaving Rattanakosin island, it is Wat Ratchabopit, on of the most beautiful temples, and one that has an unique layout, with its wiharn and ubosot joined by a circular courtyard, at the center of which stands a gilded chedi covered with orange – coloured tiles; the interior of the temple is gilded Italian architecture, a vivid reminder of Europeans churches.
But have in mind that Bangkok not only surprises us with the meticulous beauty of Thai temples, it does also with a great number of European – style palaces, bridges, monuments built mostly during the reigns of King Rama V and king Rama VI. Because of this rich history of European-Thai heritage, the European Union National Institutes for Culture in Thailand ( EUNIC Thailand) is launching free – to download mobile application, the “European Heritage Map and Cultural Calendar of Thailand” app that includes over 250 sites illustrating common heritage resulting from centuries of Thai-European interactions.
“…Early this month the Delegation of the European Union to Thailand, with the support of the European Union National Institutes for culture (Eunic) launched the 2016 version of its european Heritage map and new app, which for the first time, includes four thematic European Heritage Trails: Royal Palaces and Royal Mansions; Religious Heritage;Technologies and transportation; and commerce and trade.
Each route covers about 12 to 18 sites in Bangkok, easily taken either by foot, bicycle, or public transport. With a total of 217 listed sites and monuments in 25 cities throughout Thailand , The European Heritage Map and App project is one of the largest sources of free information on Thai-European common heritage.It highlights the deep-rooted cultural ties between Europe and Siam.
“…Many sites may come as a surprise, palaces designed by Italian and German architects, churches established by the French and Portuguese, trading posts left by the Danish and Dutch businessmen, bridges of Belgian and British made diplomatic missions and others”, Luc Citrinot, a Frenchman who worked on the map project said.
According to him, Thailand has one of the most interesting heritages. Back in the 1900s when colonization was at its peak in Southeast Asia with Burma under the British rule and Indochina going by the name of French Indochina, Siam sought to negotiate and preserve its sovereignty and image. From 1860 to 1930, the Siamese monarchy brought engineers and architects all the way across Europe to Bangkok. Around 1905, there were about 200 European expatriates employed by the Public Works department Citinot claimed the Western-style buildings mushroomed in Bangkok mostly during the reigns of king Rama V and king Rama VI, since both monarchs carried a vision that Siam’s modernity should be reflected in European-style architecture.
However, Vasu Poshyanandana, senior architect of the Fine Arts’ department’s Office of Architecture, argued: “We feel our country is civilised. It is true that it was Western architecture, but this “civilised culture” was started by our kings, not Western generals”. Ponkawan Sukwattana Lassus, an architect and member of the Association of Siamese Architects, added that European architecture is just a part of Thailand Heritage, because Thais have absorved all good cultures.
“There is a Thai touch that is different from the original one. For example, the Chakri Maha Prasat Throne Hall was designed by a British architect but topped with a Thai – style roof that makes it unique”…*
* You could find the the full “A Shared Thai – European past,” article visiting Bangkok Post website:
North to the Royal old city, the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, is a masterpiece of Italian Renaissance and neoclassical architecture, was commissioned by king Rama V in 1907 and completed , after his death, by Rama VI in 1915. It has served as the Parliament House from 1932 to the 1960s. It is now the Exhibition Hall dedicated to the art of the reign of Rama IX, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
It is a place really worth spending a long morning or a whole afternoon walking its corridors and halls while observing its design and especially the painting of the ceilings and the dome. Not so far from the Ananda Samakhon Throne Hall, you will find Vimarnmek Palace, said to be the world’s largest golden -teak building.
A short distance, and very easy to note, is the ground of the Chitralada Palace, the official palace of the late Rama IX, King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit.
After enjoying Thai and Thai-European architecture which involves so much of Thai history and beliefs, no one could leave Bangkok without visiting Chinatown, Little India and Chatutak Market…without mentioning Khaosan Road.
At the centre of Chinatown, is Sam Pheng Market, packed with market stalls, street-side restaurants and a dense concentration of gold shops, to that you should add hordes of shoppers descending upon. Sam Pheng Lane, numbered Soi Wanit 1 , a 1-km strip adjacent to Yaowarat Rd, to get a day’s worth of staple, or buy just everything you could imagine, starting with a huge array of fabrics, linen that are offered in shops after shops, stones for those who love making their own jewelry, kitchen ware, buttons,’first brands” shoes and trainers which are incredibly arranged among scores of food stalls, fresh seafood and fish, fruits, and whatever it might occur to you.
Smells, colours, people, in only one mix that only China Town is able to produce.The energy that oozes from its endless rows of wooden shop-houses is really contagious, it will keep you wanting to come back for more. Planning your visit for Chinese New Year, and you will see Chinatown at its best. Chinatown is an experience not to miss
We would like to share with you some pictures of China Town, so you would be aware of what awaits you. Enjoy the tour…
Little India, or Pahurat Market is the area bounded by Pahurat Road, Chakraphet Road and Triphet Road, but to make it easy, it is just west of Yaowarat, Chinatown, so you could end the day going there just after Chinatown. It is wise to keep this in mind when planning your day out.
Pahurat Road was constructed in 1898 and named after Somdet Chaofah Pahurat Maneemai, son of King Rama V. The Indians moved into this area shortly after the road was built and soon grew into an Indian community.
In the heart of the community, you will find a six story Sikh temple, Gurdwara Siri Guru Singh Sabha, built in 1932 and believe to be one of the largest Sikh temples outside India. You will easily recognise it because regardless which alley to take, you always will have the view of a a huge white building trimmed in gold and topped with a glittering golden dome.
Bangkok’s Little India is well known for its wide range of textiles, silk, cotton, wool and cashmere sold in shops along Pahurat Road, Triphet Road and Chakraphet Road. Besides textiles, these shops sell a wide collection of statues and pictures of Indian deities, Indian CDs, VCDs, bracelets, trinkets and sandals…again whatever you like, but with an Indian touch.
What’s more fascinating is the area behind Pahurat Road; an area about 200m by 100m, packed with stalls selling more of what’s displayed in the main streets. In this labyrinth of narrow lanes, barely wide enough for a person to pass through, is the Pahurat textile market.
Strains of Hindu music and the piquant aroma of Indian herbs, spices and food fill the air all mixed with sweet, unique aroma of incense sticks …one has to be careful here, just for not getting lost when walking through these shops…we could enter a shop on one side and emerge into a complete different lane.
Though Pahurat Little India is predominantly Indian, mainly Sikh, there’re also several Thai shops. The sounds of fluent Thai, Punjabi and other Indian dialects provide a harmonious cultural blend. Little India, another experience not to miss.
To end the day, after touring China Town and Little India, it would be a great idea to go to a Khaosan Road, which is not so far , so you could take a tuck-tuck, adding a new experience to the day. Khosan , teeming with young tourists sporting hair of various shades and lengths, dozens of bars, restaurants, hostels, massage shops, neon signs that are a little bit eye-scorching, but there’s no better place for taking the pulse of Bangkok.
“Khaosan” translates as “milled rice”, a reminder that in former times the street was a major Bangkok rice market. A Buddhist temple under royal patronage, the centuries- old Wat Chana Songkram, is directly opposite Khaosan Road to the west, while the area to the northwest contains an Islamic community and several small mosques.
In the last 20 years, however, khaosan Road has developed into a world famous ‘backpacker’ place, into a new sort of place, not really Thai anymore, barely Asian, overwhelming young, palpably transient, and anchored in the world by the Internet, where there is no actual time and no actual location. If you like to read, well, have in mind that Khaosan has the best foreign bookstores in Thailand thanks to the books that backpackers sell before heading home…and if you are not in a backpacker- age any more, do not worry, just head towards Khaosan Rd, you will also find fun…
Walking along Khaosan one can find all sort of handicrafts, paintings, clothes, local fruits, plus many useful backpacker items. During the late evening, the street turns into bars and music is played. The area is internationally known as the center of dancing, partying and a special place to celebrate j the traditional “Songkrang”, Thai New Year Festival, of 13 April to 15 April, with water splashing that usually turns into a huge water fight.
Khaosan, an experience not to miss, it doesn’t matter whether you were young or not, backpacker or not, it is just the experience that is worth living.
Living Khaosan area, heading north, you could visit an unbelievable shopping experience: Chatuchak weekend market, considered the major market of this type in the world.
Chatuchak weekend Market
Chatuchak Weekend Market , once only popular among wholesalers and traders, Chatuchak Market has reached a landmark status as a must – visit place for tourists…and ex-pats living in Thailand. So when planning a weekend in Bangkok, reserve a day for this great place. Its sheer size and diverse collections of merchandise will bring any seasoned shoppers to their knees, this is a place where you can, literally, shop “until you just drop”. It is home to more than 8,000 markets stalls. And on a typical weekend, more than 200,000 visitors go to look at the goods on offer…just for you to have an idea …
Everything is on sale, from used vintage sneakers to baby squirrels. Once you are deep in the bowels of Chatuchak, it will seem like there is no order and no escape, but the market is arranged into a relatively coherent sections: Antiques, Handicrafts & Souvenirs, Clothing & Accessories,Housewares & Decor, Pets, Plants & Gardening.
It is advisable to plan in advance what you need to buy, go early ,avoiding in this way the crowds and the heat, ideally around 9,00 am, and head directly to the sections where you would find your planned purchases,then, you would be free to wander and may be, you will get some more interesting surprises…
A short distance to the west of Bangkok lies Nakhon Pathom, formerly situated by the sea, the city prospered during the Dvaravati period. According to archaeological findings, Nakhon Pathom was the first city to possess influences of Buddhism and Indian civilizations.
Beyond any doubts, what makes Nakhon Pathom known, is an ancient religious structure called “Phra Pathom Chedi”, the first religious landmark that signified the influx of Buddhism into Thailand, considered by many to be the tallest Chedi in the world with its more than 120 metres from ground to the top. Nakhon Pathom is also, renowned for its abundant fruits varieties and famous cuisine.
Nakhon Pathon is not the only province around Bangkok that offers extraordinary glimpses of Thailand’s past, history and culture, with are also very well worth visiting, as Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon, Samut Songkhram.
Further west, modern history is vividly recalled at Kanchanaburi where the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai was built by POWs of the Japanese during World War II. It is an evocative spot, the memory of those who have died working on the bridge survive in two immaculately maintained war cemeteries and a museum. Contrasting with the tragic history is the natural beauty of Kanchanaburi province, an area where jungle-clad hills, wooded river valleys, caves and waterfalls offer some of the most picturesque scenery to be found in the country.
East of the capital leads toward the Khorat Plateau and the vast semi-arid region of I-san. Before the scenery gives way to the semi-arid and mostly deforested plateau which comprises the Northeast, you will find Wang Nam Khiao area and then, Khao Yai National Park, which since the last few years, metamorphosed an important touristic destination, especially for locals, what brought as a consequence, an astonishing mushrooming of resorts , many of them built in …Italian style, so you will find yourselves, in a Tuscany village or in a Bali style villa…
In Thai, khao yai means “big mountain”, and indeed Khao Yai is one of Thailand’s largest, most popular, and grandest national parks. Established in 1962, is Thailand’s first officially protected national park and both a UNESCO Natural Heritage Site and ASEAN Heritage Park . Khao Yai spans more than 2,000 square kilometers spread over parts of Nakhon Ratchasima, Sariburi,Prachiburi and Nakhon Nayok provinces.
The park’s vast territory is home to some of Thailand’s last remaining wild tigers, leopards, gibbons, exotic snakes and elephants. It is also very popular destination with bird watchers as it hosts more than 300 species of birds. As its name would suggest, the park is relatively high up in the mountains with it highest peak, Khao Rom, reaching over 1,350 meters. The park has five vegetation zones from grassy plains to evergreen rainforest, and it can get quite cool in the higher latitudes.
Perhaps Khao Yai’s biggest draw are its 44 waterfalls, including a couple considered to be among Thailand’s most impressive. There are also some spectacular viewpoints, wildlife observations towers, roaring rapids, tranquil streams, and rugged trails under thick jungle canopy. If you look for a peaceful, tranquil weekend, have Khao Yai in mind..
You could find more information visiting these websites :
We are inviting you to image that you are traveling to your booked resort in , say, Wang Nam Khiao area…enjoy the journey…
As we have said, the content of this page is the result of our research plus some comments of our own. We gathered and put together interesting information that we thought it would be of help, that we had found while reading the books listed below or visiting the websites which are also included in the list. So you could find all this information and more, reading:
- Insight Guides- Southeast Asia, by Discovery Channel
- This is Thailand, by John Hoskin, Gerald Cubitt
Or visiting these websites:
We just hope that you had enjoyed reading this page, and that we had being of help. If you have some comment, please, lets know. In this way, we would be able to keep linking Pattaya together