This is a guest post from Ferenc Elekes of Overland Site.
Thailand has seen the rise and fall of a variety of kingdoms over the millennia. While it is very much a modern country, the past is still ever-present and, if you want to take a trip into history, it is the ideal destination. Here are some of the ancient cities of Thailand where you can experience the best of its long and varied past.
Nakhon Pathom (Nakhon Chai Si)
Nakhon Pathom dates back to around 500-1000 CE. Its name translates as “first city,” putting it firmly in the origins of Thailand. About half an hour away from Bangkok, it is an ancient oasis brimming with history as well as modern civilization.
There are many things you can do here. You have a variety of Dvaravati-era ruins to see, all of which can show you a piece of history. The Phra Phatom Chedi is also a breathtaking attraction – a gorgeous golden stupa built by the Dvaravati.
The accommodations have that historical feel to them, and there are also several resort-like campsites for the outdoorsmen. You have various places to buy food, but also multiple options to cook your food at a campfire. Make sure you bring a pocket knife with you as well, just in case you need to cut any vegetables.
Wiang Chet Lin (Wiang Misankorn)
Wiang Chet Lin is home to what historians consider the original inhabitants of the country – the Thai natives who were there before the Chinese arrived and formed today’s Thailand. It is commonly known as the Lost City of Lawa. The city saw a lot of conflict with the immigrants, who pushed for modernity while the locals preferred to stick to their roots.
There are many things to see here. You have the Southern City Wall that borders on Huay Kaew Arboretum park; the Wat Ku Din Khao stupa, found at the Chiang Mai Zoo, right next to the elephants’ habitat; and the Wat Moo Boon altar, one of the oldest temples in Thailand. If you ever wondered what a temple would look like in ancient Thailand, visiting this area would probably give you a good idea. (And have a look at this post on the Cave Temples of Southern Thailand.)
Nakhon Si Thammarat (Tambralinga)
The Thai mainland is packed with Buddhist cities, but Nakhon Si Thammarat has a Hindu heritage. There are more than 40 Hindu shrines to visit, and the ancient feel of the city transports you right back to 500 CE. While there are many modern establishments, Nakhon Si Thammarat has still managed to maintain its ancient vibe.
The Kanom National Park is one of the first places that you will want to go to, especially if you fancy some quiet time at the beach, perhaps even some camping on the white sands. The Khao Luang National Park is also a good place to stop by if you are in the mood for some hiking. It is not as well known as the other attractions, but it’s certainly loved by the locals.
Chiang Saen (Hiran Nakhon Ngoenyang)
Dating back to 600-1300 CE, Chiang Saen is one of the very first ethnically Thai settlements. Surrounded by a walled city shaped like a conch and featuring dozens of ancient temple ruins, both inside and outside the city, Chiang Saen is a historical gem. It is more or less a river town, so you will have a variety of things to see here.
Very famous is Chiang Saen Lake, a place that packs a whole lot of natural beauty. You can enjoy bird watching, or you may simply sit back and relax a bit. You’ll be away from city strife, making it the perfect spot for those who wish to reconnect with nature. The Wat Pa Sak historical site is also a must-see, featuring stunning ancient ruins that date back to the 14th century.
If you are a fan of history, Lopburi is also a great place to go. The city is known as the “City of Monkeys” – and there’s a good reason for that. Suffice to say, if you are going to Lopburi, you might want to keep your belongings close to you. It won’t be thieves that you’ll have to worry about, but curious monkeys!
The Sap Langka National Forest is a nice place to go to if you are in the mood for some camping. The Prang Sam Yot, also known as the “Monkey Temple,” is a go-to if you want to see more monkeys. A good tip here would be to take no food with you – unless you want the monkeys to be all over you. Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahathat temple is also spectacular, a must-see if you are traveling to this area.
The Bottom Line
This is a place where history is never quite forgotten, and there are many things for tourists to enjoy. Whether it is history or nature, outdoor pursuits or indoor activities, you’ll find something to suit you in the ancient cities of Thailand.
Author bio: Ferenc Elekes has been a devout overlanding enthusiast for many years. During that time, he has explored 75 countries on six continents, with overland travel involved in 40 countries on three continents.