“I’ve visited Thailand many times – stayed at the beach, saw the main attractions, and did a lot of shopping – but I never really saw this amazing country until I travelled along the Mekong.”
Thousands of years of migratory movements have shaped Thailand. First, the Mon swept in, giving rise to Suvarnabhumi, “The Land of Gold”. This evolved into the Dvaravati Kingdom by the 6th century, and their northern expansion bumped into the Nanchao near Chiang Rai 400 years later. Later, the Sukhothai and Lanna Kingdoms developed prosperous cultural industries and Buddhist monuments that can still be seen today.
Beginning in the mid-12th century ancient Thailand, then known as Siam, was centered in Ayutthaya. The capital moved to Bangkok in the late 18th century, coinciding with the founding of the Chakri Dynasty.
You can relive Thailand’s fascinating history at well-preserved historic sites along the Mekong and beyond, while visiting proud ethnic groups and immersing yourself in nature. Step away from the tourist trail and into Amazing Thailand.
The Northern Mountains…Hidden Mekong History
“Thailand did a brilliant job in devising six bite-size Mekong Riverside tours. I rarely saw another tourist and felt I had all these unknown ancient temples and villages to myself. Plus, I could jump into Laos at several bridges.”
Start your northern Thai travels where others stop, and experience three distinct Mekong circuits: “River of Three Cultures” in Chiang Rai, “A Bond between Two Cities” in Nan, and “The Pact of the River” in Loei.
Leave Chiang Rai for the “River of Three Cultures” at the Golden Triangle in Mae Sai. Hop on a boat and cruise the Mekong or view Myanmar and Laos from Wat Phrathat Doi Wao pagoda. Head downriver to the Lanna Kingdom capital at Chiang Saen with historical sites inside its imposing city wall, and continue to Chiang Khong and the new bridge to Laos.
Venture into Nan, founded in 1257, and behold a rarely-visited mirror image of Luang Prabang on “A Bond between Two Cities” tour. Cycle around Nan town, explore well-preserved Lao-style temples, and ponder the Lane Xang architecture and art. Visit the Ban Si Na Pan tea-growing community that originated in Yunnan. Thrill-seekers can tackle the Nam Wa River’s rapids by raft.
Experience a hidden frontier at Loei Province’s Hueang River. Travel to the 450-year-old Phrathat Si Song Rak chedi, which seals “The Pact of the River” between Thailand and Laos. Journey to ancient mountaintop temples and stupas, drive up to the Phu Hua Hom viewpoint, or relax in solitude at the 30-meter-high, three-tier Tat Hueang Waterfall.
Unexplored Isan…Step into the Unknown
“Nobody explores Thailand’s southern stretch of the Mekong, and they’re missing it. I stayed at ethnic villages and fished, saw Ho Chi Minh’s house, and took a boat ride to these bizarre rock formations right in the river.”
Follow the Mekong River from Loei to Nong Khai on the “Small Houses by the River” circuit. Continue on the “Gateway to the Neighbor” trail as the river runs to Nakhon Phanom, and then soak up the “Mystical Mix of Culture and Natural Phenomenon” route in Mukdahan and Ubon Ratchathani.
Immerse yourself in the slow, simple life on the “Small Houses by the River” circuit. Start in the outpost town of Chiang Khan where century-old wooden shop houses line the street, and explore the temples displaying Vientiane-style architecture. Catch an unbeatable Mekong sunrise over the Kaeng Khutkhu Rapids before winding through unrivaled landscapes and idyllic fishing village to Nong Khai.
Trace the Mekong boundary between Thailand and Laos from the Nong Khai-Vientiane Bridge to Nakhon Phanom’s Sannakhet overpass. The “Gateway to the Neighbor” journey begins at Phrathat Bang Phuan, one of three “Satta Mahasathan” depicting the seven sites visited by the enlightened Buddha.
Further along, stop at the Bueng Khong Long and Chaiyaburi wetlands and meet Mekong ethnic groups. Must-sees in Nakhon Phanom include the bullet-ridden 100-year-old St Joseph Church, the simple lifestyle of Ho Chi Minh at his Ban Na Chok house, and the landmark That Phanom on the road to Mukdahan.
Follow the “Mystical Mix of Culture and Natural Phenomenon” circuit on the Mekong’s run to Cambodia with two bridges to Laos. In Mukdahan, explore Kaeng Kabao’s rocky Mekong stretch and the Phu Thai ethnic group in Ban Nong Lom. You’ll be hypnotized by a Mekong boat ride to Ubon Ratchathani’s hypnotic Sam Phan Bok (3,000 Holes), massive boulders and deep abysses sculptured by erosion into an eerie, intimidating moonscape.
Southern Coastal Corridor…Beyond the Beach
- Thailand covers 514,000 square km2, roughly the size of France with a 3,219-kilometre coastline.
- Five bridges currently cross the Mekong from Thailand to Laos, and more are planned.
- Thailand has some 50 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries covering more than 25,000 km2.
- Evidence shows Bronze Age settlers in Udon Thani 4,000 years ago.
- The modern Thai alphabet has 44 consonants, 24 vowels
Escape from Bangkok and Pattaya, and journey along Thailand’s Southern Coastal Corridor. A short drive leads to Rayong’s waterfalls and fishing villages, pristine national parks in Chantaburi and Trat, the springboard to the Koh Chang archipelago and Cambodia’s Koh Kong checkpoint.
Get in touch with your inner self at Rayong’s Khao Chamao National Park. Take an easy forest trek to Khao Chamao’s eight-level waterfalls. A more rugged climb reaches the seven-tier Klong Pla Kang Falls. You can also immerse yourself in the traditional life at the coastal Hat Mae Ramphueng fishing village.
Just west in Chantaburi, enter the tree-covered Namtok Phliu National Park in the Khao Sa Bap Mountains and marvel at the Phliu Waterfall gushing into a fish-filled pool. Examine Khao Laem Sing Park’s 19th century Pom Phairi Phinat Fort overlooking the Gulf of Thailand and Chanthaburi River. Then camp overnight at the 13-step Krathing Waterfall in Khao Khitchakut National Park.
Travel to Trat, where the Koh Chang archipelago splinters away from the gulf coast. Witness ancient Khmer remnants at Wat Thong Thua, with carved columns and sculptures, and ponder Mueang Phaniat’s 12th century town structured around moats. You can stop at Trat’s southern tip, where Ban Hat Lek villagers produce palm-leaf hats, before heading to Koh Kong.
For more information on Amazing Thailand, visit www.tourismthailand.org.