Uday K Chakraborty finds out that Thailand’s history and cultural legacy live in its Northern provinces.
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Northern region is home of Thailand’s earliest civilization and is famous for many sites of archaeological and cultural interest. As we move north from Bangkok, we start feeling as if you are in some kind of wonderland with its green hilly terrain, women in colourful dresses, and profusion of golden pagodas and brightly coloured and intricately carved temples with their ornamental Lana style design….. Stopping at various places en-route to Chiang Mai allowed us to observe and absorb Thai cultural legacies and lifestyle better, while avoiding rush of tourists..
Just 72 Km north from Bangkok, the ancient city of Ayutthaya (Ayodhya) was Thai capital for 417 years. Today, the Phra Nakhon Si Ayuttaya Historical Park, a vast stretch of Historical site is a UNESCO world heritage Site. Wat Phra Si Samphet is one of the most important temples in entire Thailand, which contains a magnificent 16-mtr high golden Buddha image. There are many other temples, palace ruins and folk arts and crafts centre with this complex.
Many of these sites are in a bad state of repair and are currently being renovated. Many more however have been brought back closure to their earlier state. This relatively deserted park offered a few gems. I thanked myself for hiring the tuk-tuk for the whole day as the park and other areas are quite spread out.
My next halt was at Phitsanulok, treated as the cross-road between northern and central region of Thailand. It has long been an important centre both for political and strategic reason. Here Wat Phra Si Tatana Mahathat is the home of the famous gold plated Phra Buddha Chinarat that is regarded as the most beautiful Buddha image in Thailand.
Sukhothai, our major halt on the next day, was the first kingdom of the Thais. The former greatness of Sukhothai has been preserved at the Sukhothai Historical Park which contains ruins of the Royal Palace, Wat Mahathat, city gates, canals and the water dyke control system. We also visited nearby Phra Mae Ya shrine where the stone idol is dressed like an ancient queen. Wat Mahathat contains a 8 meter high Buddha image in a separate building.
Here again I hired a scooter-taxi to save time exploring the huge historical park, particularly in the mid-day sun. Restoration efforts here were more or less complete, which brought it back to relatively pristine state. In comparison to Ayutthaya, this place offers better idea about the atmosphere in that bygone era. Away from the core historical park, in the surrounding grass fields and forests there were quite a few interesting temples and other religious structures. Some of them could be termed as hiddn gems. One such place is Nearby Wat Phra Phai Luang which is second in importance to Wat Mahathat. Recently a Shivalinga was also unearthed in the compound of this sanctuary.
After lunch at Sukhothai, we continued to Uttaradit which is a naturally beautiful town and is the location of the world’s largest teak tree. We visited Wat Phra Dhat Tung Yang with its Laotian style chedi, Wat Phra Taen Sila Art and decided to take our night halt here.
Next day, we toured Lampang, center of the Burmese forces in Northern Thailand from 16th to 18th centuries. First thing one would notice in Lampang is horse drawn carriages that are still in use. Later we also came to know it has a world known training center for baby elephants. Here the elephants are trained for forest work. At the centre elephant’s activities such as bathing, working, log pushing etc are held for show.
Moving on, we stopped at Lamphun to visit a White Karen hill tribe village. And then we also visited Wat Hariponchai; with its fine lacquered doors. Lamphun, formally Hariphunchai, is another historical site. The pagoda of Wat Phrathat Haripunchal have nine tired umbrella made of 6.5 kg gold. Here, we take a detour to visit Mae Hong Son, Thailand’s second northernmost provincial city, which is sheltered by several high mountains and enjoys a cool climate almost all year round. It is bordered by Myanmar, and a strong Burmese influence can be seen in the provincial capital’s temples and buildings.
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Finally we arrive at Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city. Cooler and calmer than cities on the plain, the city is known as the rose of the North. The city can captivate any visitor and carry him back through centuries to a golden age in Thai history. The city’s prime attraction is Phrathat Doi Suthep temple complex set in a nearby hillside with magnificent view. Its focus is a large golden pagoda containing a part of the holy relics of the Lord Buddha. In Chiang Mai, you may also visit many other wats and pagodas and at least one of the many handicraft villages scattered in the outskirts. With a bustling night market, hotels and recently developed night spots, one usually stops for a few days before returning or exploring the country further.
How to Go: Bus travel is cheap and comfortable enough for local travelling.
Accommodation: Except Christmas and New Year period, hotels in all price range can be booked on the spot.
Special Tips: If you can ride bicycle or motorcycles, then you can explore at your own pace.