With a rich, exotic history and bountiful natural beautiful, it’s a wonder why more people don’t visit Thailand for its UNESCO World Heritage sites. The country is home to just a humble handful, but all are worth taking a closer look at
One of the most significant areas in Thailand for wildlife, Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex spans over 200km jut northeast of Bangkok. This protected area is listed as a UNESCO site because it’s home to hundreds of flora, mammal, bird, reptile, and amphibian species, several of which are under threat. The critically endangered Siamese Crocodile, and endangered species of elephant, tiger, leopard, and banteng can all be found here.
There are five protected areas you can visit. Khao Yai is one of the most popular, covering a large part of the western section of the complex. This is the oldest national park in Thailand and undoubtedly beautiful, but it can get busy, especially in peak season. For something a little quieter, head to Pang Sida National Park, where you’ll find waterfalls to be explored and 400 species of butterflies.
Frequently praised as one of the most beautiful historic cities in Thailand, Ayutthaya is a must-visit for crumbling temples and a glimpse into the opulent Thailand of years gone by. The city was founded as the second Siamese capital in 1350 and played host to major international trade for centuries until it was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767. The residents were driven out and the city was abandoned, but what remained of the Ayutthaya still stands here today as a reminder of its great significant in Thai history.
The city is under two hours by train from Bangkok, making it apt for a day trip but you may need to linger here longer to take it all in. You could easily potter around the many temples and rows of stone Buddhas here for a couple of days.
Inaugurated into the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1992, Ban Chiang is one of the most important archaeological sites in Thailand – and the whole of South East Asia, for that matter. The site, which is located in the country northeastern Udon Thani province, was discovered back in 1966 and excavation has since discovered that the human activity here dates back around 3,500 years ago.
Items found at Ban Chiang include pottery and bronze tools, indicating the settlement of some of Southeast Asia’s earliest farmers. A visit to the site will connect you with these fascinating prehistoric people and their way of life. There is a museum on-site where you can peruse collections of artefacts uncovered here – the patterned pottery is particularly well preserved.
Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries are among the most untouched areas in Thailand, and most important conservation areas in mainland Southeast Asia. The two regions, Thung Yai Naresuan and Huai Kha Khang, have been working sanctuaries since the 1970s and were given UNESCO status in 1991. Tucked up by the border with Myanmar, this part of Thailand is characterised by peaks and valleys, waterfalls, and various types of lush forest. The scenery is reason enough to visit, but the hundreds of mammal, bird, reptile, and freshwater fish offer extra allure – tigers and elephants roam freely here.
However, as a protected area there are limits as to where visitors can set foot. Use Huai Kha Khaeng Sanctuary’s headquarters as your base; here there is a visitor’s centre and a few walking trails which allow you to get out into the park. Enquire with staff at the centre about the longer hikes as it’s possible to organise these with a Ranger upon request.
Noted for being ahead of its time in terms of art, architecture, urban infrastructure and more, the Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns are among the most fascinating historical sites in Thailand. These settlements dates back to the 13th and 14th century, and Sukhothai was the first capital of the Siam Kingdom. The towns of Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet were built closeby, and all three worked together in harmony.
The monuments and architecture of these towns were pioneers for the kind of architecture found around Thailand today – so much so that it’s been labelled “Sukhothai style”. A visit will connect you with some of the Thailand’s first examples of those tall, pointed temples and buildings that capture travellers and foreigners alike across the country to this day.