We’ll start-off with the most famous historical city – Ayutthaya. Located only two hours north of Bangkok, buses and trains come here very regularly and charge quite a low price (under 100 baht). Ayutthaya was the ancient capital of Siam during the period from 1351 to 1767. Around the year 1700 its population rose to close to 1,000,000 inhabitants which made it one of the most populous cities in the world, and it even became known in some circles as the “Venice of the East”. Its rulers constructed elaborate temples and palaces throughout the centre of the kingdom, and these, built in stone, are what remain today. Much effort is expended in the maintenance of the ruins and today they are very accessible. Upon arriving in the city, options are plentiful to hire a private tuk-tuk or taxi, rent a bike for the day, or even to go on a group tour in a bus with a hired guide. If you’re staying in Bangkok, it’s hard to excuse yourself from visiting Ayutthaya – it’s so close and so full of history!
Sukhothai is also very famous, but due its distance from any major cities, it receives fewer visitors per year than its southern counterpart. Located almost halfway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand, Sukhothai is accessed most often by bus. A trip from Bangkok will take approximately seven hours, and one from Chiang Mai might take between four and six hours depending on the stops it takes along the way. Trains also stop nearby after a seven hour commute from Bangkok, and flights arrive at the Sukhothai airport daily but will cost you in excess of 2,000 baht for a one-way ticket – a pretty steep price for Thai travel. But if you can stomach the trip to get here, it is a spectacular destination. Our Senior Teacher, Leslie, wrote about his personal experience to Sukhothai in an earlier blog post from 2016, so if you’re interested in exploring this locale, I’ll let him do the talking.
Departing from the more well-known historical attractions in Thailand, we arrive in the Western end of the country. Here you can find remnants of the supply rail line built during WWII by prisoners of war taken by the Japanese military. In some spots, such as Kanchanaburi, the rail line is well-maintained, cemeteries for the POWs have been erected, and museums are run to display the history of the rail line and memorialize the many tens of thousands of POWs who lost their lives slaving to construct it. It is a moving experience to say the least. As in most other parts of Thailand, the trip and accommodation here is quite cheap, and transportation is easy from Bangkok – 2 hours by bus or 3 hours by train.
In Isaan, which we covered in the last two weeks’ blog posts, you can visit Thailand’s most important Khmer Temple in Phimai Historical Park. It was an important location to the Khmer (now Cambodian) people for religious reasons, and plentiful Buddhist, Hindu, and Animist artwork and writings have been found on and around the premises. You can access the park by bus or taxi from any of the surrounding areas – Khon Kaen, Nakhon Ratchasima, or Buri Ram being the best options.
The last historical attraction we’ll highlight here is Si Satchanalai Historical Park, founded in 1250 as the second centre of the Sukhothai Kingdom. As a result of this relationship, it has much in common with Sukhothai, including a distinct architectural style, similar religious and cultural icons, and proximity to the other. Si Satchanalai is actually closer to Chiang Mai than Sukhothai, but not by much. If you come to visit one and are impressed, consider spending just a day longer to visit the other. Then you’ve seen the majority of the ancient Sukhothai civilization!
Thailand is full of interesting history, and its geography includes the ruins of multiple ancient civilizations. If history piques your interest, come to Thailand and check out a few of these fantastic historical sites!