Introducing Central ThailandView Gallery
The entire central plain - cutting a 100-mile-wide swathe 250 miles upcountry from Bangkok - forms the cradle of Thai civilization. Ruined cities, temples and fortresses, museums filled with antiquities, and the remains of several great civilizations await the visitor. The abandoned capital of Ayutthaya is here, as is Sukhothai - the ancient city the Thais consider represents their 'Golden Age' - while the exquisite ruins of Si Satchanalai nestle nearby. Take time out to explore the forests of Sukhothai and Si Sat and you'll discover revered Buddhas and chedis lost amongst thick foliage. Don't forget the diamond citadel of Kamphaeng Phet, built to protect Sukhothai from attack, the assortment of monkey-colonized ruins of Lopburi and the spiritually uplifting, living temple of Wat Phra Sri Ratana Mahathat in Phitsanulok. The vast plain finally gives way to ridges of forested hills. These are relatively remote areas with trekking centres in the affable western towns of Mae Sot and Umphang.
Head north and west from Bangkok to the frontier with Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand's history takes on a different complexion. It was through this thin slice of western Thailand that the Japanese built their infamous 'death railway'. It's not only this dramatic history that attracts visitors to the region and its hub, Kanchanaburi. Add wonderful cave complexes, jungle trekking, waterfalls, river trips, elephant rides, raft houses and a host of national parks and you have an important centre of ecotourism. Venture north of Kanchanaburi towards the Burmese border and you'll reach Sangkhlaburi and the Three Pagodas Pass. Ethnically, this is an incredibly diverse area with minority peoples, such as Karen, Mon, Burmese, Indian and Chinese all living side by side. It is a wild natural forested area with fantastic trekking and rafting and it is also possible, when the Thai and Burmese authorities are on good terms, to enter Burma.