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Many of the great tourist attractions of Thailand are its monuments to history, including the ruins and temples of its former capitals Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, both of which include former palace grounds and many old temples. Both former capital cities have even been granted UNESCO world heritage status for their historical significance, cultural relevance, and architectural beauty. However, Thailand history spans thousands of years and the kingdom contains a number of ruins and temples from prehistory to the Khmer empire of Angkor to modern-day Bangkok, all of which are important cultural sites and tourist attractions. While the Ayutthaya Historical Park is a favorite day trip from Bangkok and Sukhothai Historical Park is easily accessible via plane, Thailand’s other historical attractions, which follow in chronological order, are equally fascinating Thailand tourism destinations.
The Kingdom of Ayutthaya reigned over Thailand for more than 400 years until the capital city fell to the Burmese in 1767 and the seat of power was relocated to the Bangkok area, just 76 km south. The proximity of Ayutthaya to Bangkok and the grandeur of its ruins, including Buddhist temples and former royal palace grounds lead millions of visitors to this UNESCO world heritage site. The abandoned brick spires of temple grounds, artistically beautiful Buddhist statuary, and functioning modern Buddhist temples speak volumes of the proud history of this former capital city. Ayutthaya is a popular day trip from Bangkok via car, train, or even boat, up the “river of kings” the Chao Phraya.
Arguably reigning over the apex of Thai artistic achievement, the Kingdom of Sukhothai or “the dawn of happiness” was Thailand’s first independent kingdom. Holding sway over the region from 1238 until its disposition by Ayutthaya in 1378, Sukhothai contains some of the most well restored old temples featuring glorious Buddha statues and magnificent former royal palace grounds. Nearby Khamphaeng Phet Historical Park marks a period of Thailand History when the area served as a Burmese border settlement. Each are fantastic tourist attractions serviceable from the Sukhothai airport or via car along the way from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, itself an important center of Thai history.
Ban Chiang Archaeological Site, also a UNESCO world heritage site, provides the earliest evidence of Thai civilization. Situated in Udon Thani Province, in the Isaan region of eastern Thailand, Ban Chiang was a Bronze Age society whose legacy includes magnificent ceramic pottery.
Also situated in Isaan are a number of ruins from the Cambodian kingdom at Angkor. The Thai countryside near the Cambodian border contains the greatest concentration of these monuments to history. Perhaps the most renowned Khmer temple in Thailand is Phimai, which dates to the 11th and 12th centuries and may even have served as a model for Angkor Wat. Situated in Nakhon Ratchasima Province, Phimai Historical Park contains the largest sandstone temple in Thailand and features amazing carvings of both Hindu and Buddhist iconography. The temple grounds lie at the end of the ancient highway from Angkor and the site served as the centerpiece of a major provincial capital. Today the khmer temple in the phimai historical park continues to be revered as an important Buddhist site because of its importance in both Cambodian and Thailand history.
In nearby Buriram Province, the Khmer temple at Phanom Rung is arguably the most impressive of all such historical attractions in Thailand, having undergone 17 years of thorough restoration. Situated atop a dormant volcano, this Hindu temple was originally dedicated to Shiva, and numerous carvings honor the pantheon of Hindu gods and recount important events from history. The temple is now honored by Buddhists, particularly on several occasions each year when the sunrise and sunset can be seen directly down the corridor that leads to the temple’s central chamber.
Other attractions from this era include Phra Prang Sam Yot in the city of Lopburi and Prasat Muang Singh in Kanchanaburi province, also important destinations for those looking to explore important Thailand tourism destinations exuding the kingdom’s unique culture and history.
Finally, no trip to Thailand is complete without visiting the historical center of Thailand’s current capital Bangkok. Centered around Rattanakosin Island, along the banks of the Chao Phraya River, the Grand Palace, Golden Mount of Wat Saket, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun (the “temple of dawn”), were constructed in Ayutthaya style by those wishing to pay homage to the capital city that they were forced to abandon years earlier. A visit to Bangkok’s monuments, either before or after trips to the kingdom’s former capital cities, is a must for all visitors interested in Thai culture and history.
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