The most famous historic ruins in South East Asia are justifiably the magnificent and extensive ruins of more than three dozen often ornately decorated Temples found amidst the dense jungle at Angkor Wat, near Siem Reap in Cambodia. And as a result Angkor Wat is a heavily visited destination, attracting visitors from all around the world. Indeed when I first visited Angkor Wat in 2006, I was also fortunate enough to visit the Great Pyramids in Egypt and Machu Pichu in Peru, also both for the first time the same year, and it was Angkor Wat that for me was by far the most impressive.
What is less well known is the fact that extensive Khymer ancient ruins are also found in Cambodia’s neighbours Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. Indeed whilst Thailand is usually often primarily associated with sun and sand vacations on idyllic islands, it contains a truly impressive range of historic monuments and temples spread throughout the country.
The most famous of these are perhaps the complexes found at Ayutthaya, easily accessible from Bangkok, and at Sukothai in the north of Thailand. In 2017 I had visited the Historical Parks at Phanom Rung and Prasat Muang Tam close to Buri Ram in the Isaan region, and thought they were almost as impressive as the temples at Angkor Wat.
As a result of the Covid – 19 pandemic I had stayed at my home in Pattaya in Thailand for 7 months, indeed I had not ventured more than 10 kilometers from my home and sleeping 7 months in the same bed was probably not something I had done for 20, 30 maybe 40 years or more. You can read an account of life under lockdown in Thailand here but by August life was very much back to normal in Thailand except for an absence of international tourists as the borders were closed. And when I decided not to return to either Switzerland or the UK, where it seemed a second wave of Covid – 19 and further restrictions and lockdowns were inevitable, I decided I should really take the opportunity to explore more of Thailand.
A September road trip was considered and then moved to early and then mid October and it was not until October 22, after hiring a late model rental car for £7 ($10) a day, that my friend Ampai and I finally set off, heading for Phitsanulok and the Historical Parks at Phimai, Sukothai, Si Satchanalai and Kampaeng Phet.
Our first night’s stop was at Nakhon Ratchasima (better known as the abbreviated Khorat) by which time Ampai had asked me on several occasions why we were not visiting Lopburi which she had spotted on several signposts during the day.
Given that I wanted to be back in Pattaya by November 4 to watch the US Presidential election results unfold (Good Luck with that Michael – it took weeks!) and the hoped for demise of Trump (Thank God) we were already under some time constraints and more so as I also wanted to visit Ampai’s home village to buy some furniture for the extension to her house before we planned another visit there with friends later in November.
I explained to Ampai that as a Geographer and experienced tour operator I had planned the itinerary in the most logical way to make the maximum use of the time available, but once in the hotel I checked the calendar, the maps and found that maybe it made sense to backtrack 40 miles or so, reverse our itinerary and head towards………………………Lopburi!
Ampai was indeed correct that it should have been included in our plans from the beginning as the guide books confirmed there were a number of interesting attractions to visit, as well as a gazillion of monkeys roaming around parts of the city!
For the next 8 days we dined on an unrelenting and never ending feast of interesting historic monuments and ruins by day and then often driving anything between 50 and 150 miles to our next destination during the late afternoon and early evening.
By the time we got to Ampai’s village for two days of furniture shopping and then a 300 mile drive back to Pattaya I was as tired as I have ever been from travelling, but that was my fault and mine alone for delaying our departure. In truth I would return to any of the destinations in a heartbeat and certainly all would benefit from more than the one day we spent at each, two days at Sukothai being the exception.
An added bonus for visiting any of the Thai monuments is that Thais have a great pride and awareness of their history and, as Thailand is one of the most developed of the Tiger economies of South East Asia, there has been significant government investment in the management and landscaping of all the historical parks that we visited with impressive signage and access.
I am already planning another trip to include some of the historic monuments we have yet to visit, a return to Ayutthaya which we did not include this time as we had spent a weekend there in 2013 and Yes a return to Lopburi!
Meanwhile I hope the images that follow will give you a taste of what Thailand offers to aficionados of ancient cities and civilizations.