Thailand is a rapidly developing modern country, with glistening cityscapes and sky-high buildings hinting at its tangible prosperity. But through the busy streets and noisy cities, lie decaying structures harking back to Thailand's glorious history. Thailand's past is replete with royal kingdoms, ancient settlements, early Buddhism and historic temples. Artefacts from this time still remain, categorised as protected sites since they form part of Thailand's rich heritage. Each place has a unique history and interesting information which can teach you something new about this country.
1. Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Stepping into this temple, you may find yourself transported to Cambodia's Angkor Wat, since the Khmer architecture of both places is very similar. Wat Chaiwatthanaram, however, actually stands on the banks of the Chao Phraya River in the historic city of Ayutthaya, and was once used by the Royal Family. The temple has a large central shrine, richly carved, which is surrounded by many smaller chedis. Galleries containing majestic images of the Buddha and walls narrating stories from his life decorated the temple grounds. But most of it has weathered or was plundered during the war with Burma.
Location: Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya Timings: 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM Entry Fee: THB 50
2. Wat Chedi Luang
Known as the Temple of the Great Stupa, Wat Chedi Luang is among the most famous temples in Chiang Mai. It is most symbolically identified by its incomplete pagoda, that was brought down from a lofty 85 metres to 60 metres after an earthquake in 1545, and now remains partly destroyed. Nevertheless, it is an enormous structure engraved with mythological motifs and enshrining several Buddha images. A replica of the revered Emerald Buddha of Wat Phra Kaew rests inside the temple, and the compound also houses the sacred city pillar, making it a highly venerated religious site.
Location: Muang District, Chiang Mai Timings: 6:00 AM - 5:00 PM Entry Fee: Free entry
The Sukhothai Historical Park, located in the Sukhothai province, is a historical site containing the marvellous remains of the Sukhothai Kingdom from the 13th century. The architecture of the temples, statues, and town structures reveal significant influence from Khmer and Singhalese traditions. The town, which was once walled, is now adequately preserved, restored and portioned off into different zones, with the surrounding lakes, gardens, and trees amping up its rustic beauty. The Royal Palace, with all its grandeur, is unfortunately long gone since it was supposedly made of wood. The Ramkhamhaeng National Museum however, contains exhibits upon exhibits of excavated artefacts and antiques that shed ample light on the prosperous past of this royal capital.
Location: Mueang Kao, Mueang Sukhothai District, Sukhothai Timings: Sunday - Friday: 6:30 AM - 6:30 PM, Saturday: 6:30 AM - 9:00 PM, Northern Zone: 7:30 AM - 5:30 PM, Western Zone: 8:00 AM - 4:30 PM Entry Fee: THB 100
4. Wat Umong
Wat Umong is a concealed, yet renowned Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai. It is also commonly referred to as the "Tunnel Temple", due to its elaborate layout and concealed location within the forests of the Doi Suthep mountains. It is these very conditions that make Wat Umong one of the most peaceful temples in the world, furthering its identity as a fine meditation and Buddhist studies centre. The 13th-century structure was built by the first King of the Lanna Kingdom, to accommodate a revered monk. Several relics and murals have since eroded and vanished, but a large chedi and many scattered Buddha images still remain. The temple hosts monk chats every Sunday from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM, where visitors can learn more about Buddhist traditions from practising monks.
Location: Su Thep, Chiang Mai Timings: 6:00 AM - 5:00 PM Entry Fee: Free entry
5. Wat Phra Sri Sanphet
Since Ayutthaya was the Thai kingdom's ancient capital, it is now the historical metropolis of the country with many ancient relics and buildings, Wat Phra Sri Sanphet being one of them. This 14th-century temple was regarded as the holiest religious site in the kingdom, structured with the grandest architecture anyone had ever laid eyes on. It formed part of the Royal Palace complex of King Ramathibodi I and his successors. There are three towering bell-shaped stupas, standing beside mondops of which only the bases remain. The temple one housed a 16 metre tall gilded Buddha image, which was destroyed during the Burmese invasion.
Location: Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya Timings: 8:00 AM - 6:00 PM Entry Fee: THB 50
6. Phra Prang Sam Yot Temple
Phra Prang Sam Yot Temple, perhaps the best-known monument in the ancient city of Lop Buri, was built in the 13th century as a religious site for Hindu worship. The name, which literally means "three holy prangs" refers to the three laterite structures built to commemorate the holy trinity of Hinduism. During the 17th century, King Narai converted it into a Buddhist temple and constructed a prayer hall with a Buddha image, now partially eroded. The ruins are commonly known as the Monkey Temple, due to the rampancy of monkeys in and around the temple. Be ready to change hands with them because they are known for making merry with snatched food from the visitors.
Location: Amphoe Mueang Lop Buri, Chang Wat Lopburi Timings: 8:30 AM - 5:00 PM Entry Fee: THB 50
7. Phanom Rung
Another impressive feat of the tradition of Khmer architecture, Phanom Rung is primarily a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and his abode, Mount Kailash. The structure of the shrine, made out of pink sandstone, is engraved with motifs and symbols from Hindu and Thai traditions, such as Nagas, scenes from the epic Ramayana and the Hindu Trimurti. The layout of the complex and buildings is made to resemble stories from ancient scriptures. Today, the enshrined linga and much of the gallery have disappeared, yet the corroding temple is nothing short of a marvel.
The Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park is the site of relics and ruins of Kamphaeng Phet, an important town in the ancient Sukhothai Kingdom. The walled settlement was well-provided with fortresses and moats, being a prime garrison town during the Burmese war. Today, the Historical Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as the destroyed monuments contribute significantly to the country's illustrious legacy. The Park includes many temples found around the Ping River, some debris of the Royal Palace, and stunning images of Buddha and Lord Shiva from different centuries.
Location: Nong Pling, Kamphaeng Phet Timings: 8:00 AM - 6:00 PM Entry Fee: THB 100 for each zone
It is considered disrespectful to enter temples wearing short, revealing or indecent clothes. Wear clothes which cover your shoulders, legs or stomach.
Do not hesitate to slip some money into donation boxes wherever you can.
Be courteous and respectful to monks and priests.
Do not make noise inside prayer halls.
Some sites may have a strict no photography policy. Respect it.
Do not vandalise or litter any monuments.
Visiting these cultural sites is a fun way to gather practical knowledge about this grand nation's past. Let your eyes wander freely, over every nook and corner of every beautiful, dying relic, and who knows, you might just discover something entirely new.