The highlights of historical Thailand

Western eyes are often guilty of ignoring the myriad achievements of the kingdoms that became modern Thailand. Perhaps it’s the complexity of power in these warring kingdoms of Siam that have left its history disregarded, or perhaps it’s simply the fact that it resisted colonisation like no other Southeast Asian nation. In the present day, it’s easy to redress the balance through the power of tourism, and more and more people are heading to Thailand to explore this hidden history for themselves.

Modern Thailand retains many of the finest architectural relics of 750 years of unification in immaculate condition. Thai architecture, particularly in its temples (though much of temple architecture is carried through to palaces and public buildings), is distinct and instantly distinguishable from much of Far Eastern architecture. You will often see multiple tiered roofs and many Buddhist statues. Even depictions of Buddha tend to be unique to Thailand, with tightly curled hair and a compassionate, ‘serene’ expression.

Whilst much of historical Thailand lives and breathes in its modern cities, many will find the alluring mysticism of the ruined historical cities utterly irresistible. Here are three of the best sites, though they may not be accessible within a single trip.

Sukhothai

To begin with Sukhothai is to begin at the very beginning of Thai history. The kingdom that bore the name of the ancient city was established in 1238 BCE. The city itself has been succeeded by New Sukhothai, a small tourist hub which is about 12 kilometres to the east of the ruins of the old city.

The Sukhothai Historical Park includes the original walled city and several outlying wats (temples). There’s an in-depth museum here and guided tours around the significant temples in this central zone, but the outlying temples offer a rather less commercialised and more memorable experience. If you want to see them all, hop on your bike: the sheer size of the site has lead to on-site bike rental services being very popular (and very affordable).

Ayutthaya Historical Park

Ayutthaya was the second and longest lasting of the Siamese kingdoms, and the Ayutthaya Historical Park covers the site of the ruined former capital, as well as ‘associated historic towns’. Like Sukhothai, this is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Whilst a rich vein of Thai architecture runs through all the sites in this article, Ayutthaya is associated most vividly with the Thai architectural style.

Only about an hour from Bangkok, the historical park is just a few kilometres to the west of the modern city of Ayutthaya. The various Wats are all within walkable distance, the historical city on an island which houses a national museum as well as the Royal Palace. Of all the sites on this list, this is probably the most frequently visited. But this is as much down to its profound appeal as it is down to its convenience.

Lopburi

Lopburi is renowned as an unusual city, one that has stood in one form or other for some 1000 years. 150km north of Bangkok, it is most commonly the destination of daytripping tourism operating out of the capital is largely from Thai nationals going to see the extensive sunflower fields. International tourists arrive by train to find this rather obscure town, perhaps drawn by the promise of hundreds of Crab-eating Macaques in the centre of the city. Lopburi’s temples are rather more ruined than immaculate, but the imposing Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahathat is an impressive sight and structures like Prang Kaek are intriguingly scattered throughout the modern city.

Peter Richards is a Digital Marketing Manager at Tropical Sky.

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