CENTRAL THAILAND: KHAO YAI NATIONAL PARK, PHETCHABURI AND LOP BURI

CENTRAL THAILAND

CENTRAL THAILAND is dominated by rice-paddy-filled plains watered by the Chao Phraya River and its tributaries and surrounded on three sides by mountains and plateaus. Considered the heartland of Thailand and focal point of Thai cultural development, it was inhabited around 2500 B.C. by Neolithic tribes, who lived in the area around Kanchaanburi. In the first century B.C., Dvaravati and Lop Bur people lived here.

The Thais didn't enter the area until the 13th century, when they migrated here in large numbers from present-day Burma to escape the Mongol hordes of Kublai Khan. In the 14th century, the great Thai city of Ayutthaya rose on the Chao Phraya and dominated Thai culture for the next 400 years. Afterwards the Thais were defeated by the Burmese, the Thai kings moved their capital to Bangkok where it has remained for the last 200 years. In 2010 the region suffered from severe flooding.

Twenty provinces make up central Thailand, stretching from Lopburi in the north to Prachuap Khiri Khan in the south to Kanchanaburi in the west to Trat in the east. The presence of large amounts of flat land, good soil, warm weather and rain and a multitude of rivers, canals and irrigation systems makes this one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world and one of the most flood-prone too. Rice, sugar cane, pineapples, cassava and a variety of fruit are among the crops grown here. The Thai dialect spoken in central Thailand is similar to “standard” Thai spoken in Bangkok. Many Lao live in north and many Burmese live in the west. Chinese are found throughout the region. Many travelers take in the sights on day trips from Bangkok.

Made up primarily of a a vast flatland around the Chao Phraya River. Central Thailand River lies in a natural self-contained basin a fertile basin perfect for crop cultivation. The complex irrigation system developed for wet-rice agriculture in this region provided the necessary economic support to sustain the development of the Thai state from the thirteenth-century kingdom of Sukhothai to contemporary Bangkok. Here the rather flat unchanging landscape facilitated inland water and road transport. The fertile area was able to sustain a dense population, 422 persons per square kilometer in 1987, compared with an average of 98 for the country as a whole. The terrain of the region is dominated by the Chao Phraya and its tributaries and by the cultivated paddy fields. Metropolitan Bangkok, the focal point of trade, transport, and industrial activity, is situated on the southern edge of the region at the head of the Gulf of Thailand and includes part of the delta of the Chao Phraya system.

The central plain and the East of Thailand cover an area of 103,947 square kilometers. The 26 provinces in the region are: Ang Thong, Bangkok Metropolis, Chachoengsao, Chai Nat, Chanthaburi, Chon Buri, Kanchanaburi, Lop Buri, Nakhon Nayok, Nakhon Pathom, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Phetchaburi, Ayutthaya, Prachin Buri, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Ratchaburi, Rayong, Sa Kaeo, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon, Samut Songkhram, Saraburi, Sing Buri, Suphan Buri, and Trat.

Several of the country’s major rivers flow within the central region. They include the Chao Phraya, the Mae Klong, the Tha Chin, the Pasak, and the Bang Pakong, all contributing to the fertility of the region. Also, as the region where Bangkok, the nation’s capital, is situated, the central region is the focal point for many facets of the nation’s prosperity, contributing to agriculture, the economy, trade, and foreign contacts.

Season periods: 1) Summer – February to April; 2) Rainy – May to October; and 3) Winter – November to January. Major festivals in the central region evolve around rice farming and waterways, such as the Blessing of Rice Fields, to show gratitude to the environment and the weather, as well as the Goddess of Rice, in the hope to bring in good harvests. Another is the making of a Magic Rice Meal, involving grains of young rice, cooked in milk with other cereals, contributed by villagers as tributes to the Lord Buddha, and consumed as auspices for the new harvest. After the rice planting season, rivers and canals overflow, and people enjoy long-boat races and singing boat songs while waiting for the ripening of the rice in the fields.

LOP BURI

LOP BURI (155 kilometers north of Bangkok) is an ancient city that dates back to the 9th century and a modern town with 40,000 people. The capital of the Dvaravati kingdom and later a major Thai city, it is the home of Ramarachaniwet Palace, a summer palace built by King Narai the Great of Ayutthaya between 1665 and 1677.

Among the other interesting buildings are Dusit Sawan Thanya Maha Prasat, a former audience hall; Suthaswan, a royal residence designed by a French architect after the reception of the French envoys at the Royal Palace in Ayutthaya; and Chandrapisan and Bimanmonkut, two structures built by King Rama IV of Bangkok, who stayed there on visits to Lop Buri.

The Lop Buri National Museum contains a large collection of stone Buddha images, and Dvaravati, Lopburi and Thai artifacts. The museum is inside an old palace used by King Narai and designed by French architects, who modeled it after a palace used by Louis XIV of France.

Lop Buri also a has a fomer military base where tourist can be a soldier for a day, and shoot an M-16, jump from a parachute tower, rock climb, maneuver through the jungle, wade through a cave, and learn how to catch poisonous snakes and choose edible plants and vine fin swith water in the forest. The “recruits” are dressed in khaki uniforms and put through some basic training moves by members of the Thai military.

During the shooting session, the recruits are given bullets and some tips on shooting at the paper enemy soldiers. At the end of the day there is small feast with roasted feral pig, rice cooked in bamboo tubes and broiled fish. Recruits that stay for a second day sleep in tents and go on a long wilderness trek and climb a watefall. The leap from the 11-meter parachute tower is regarded as the scariest part of the adventure. The whole thing costs about $50.

History of Lop Buri: Lop Buri province is situated on the western end of the Khorat Plateau and is one of several provinces in central Thailand where many significant historical artifacts and prehistoric settlements have been discovered. Formerly known as La-Wo or Lavo, Lop Buri is believed to have been an important seat of power in Southeast Asia between the 7th and 14th centuries. Excavations in Lop Buri have revealed that the city was clearly a site of strategic significance, with evidence that the city has been inhabited for over 1,200 years. In fact, relics from as early as the Bronze Age chronicle a history that has seen Lop Buri develop into intriguing city with a blend of both eastern & western influences featuring both ancient and modern attractions.

Lop Buri was first developed into a major town during the era of the Dvaravati Kingdom (6th-11th centuries) when Indian culture was influential to the region. However, most historians believed the first settlers of the town were the Lawa (an ethnic group related to the Mons), which may be the reason for naming the town La-Wo. Around the 10th century the town came under the sovereignty of the Khmers and it became one of their outlying provincial capitals, although some have argued that La-Wo was the capital of an empire that ruled for many centuries until relocating its seat of power to Ayutthaya in the late 11th century. Regardless, Khmer Mahayana Buddhism was a major influence on the town’s architecture, a style that has since been commonly referred to as Lop Buri Style. Remains of Khmer-Hindu architectural motifs found in the city include the Shiva’s Shrine (Prang Khaek), San Phra Kan, Phra Prang Sam Yot, and Wat Phra Si Maha Tat.In the late 13th century the Thais, who migrated from the North, fought against the Khmers and declared their independence. Since then, Lop Buri has been ruled by Thai Kings. In 1664, King Narai, a King of Ayutthaya, made Lop Buri the second capital with the help of French architects. Therefore, the architectural style of Lop Buri during the reign of King Narai was half Thai and half western and is best appreciated at his Royal Palace and the Royal Reception House.

Modern day Lop Buri has grown up and, for the most part, enveloped the remains of the old city. In recent years, Lop Buri has been trying to lure tourists with in history, culture and monkeys. Visitors are advised to hide away valuables, including ear-rings and cameras, as the monkeys of Lop Buri are known to steal anything they can get their hands on.

Tourist Office and Website: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Lop Buri Office,Saraburi Ropwat Phrathat Road , Amphoe Mueang, Lop Buri 15000, Tel. +66 3642 2768-9, Fax. +66 3642 4089, E-mail Address: tatlobri@tat.or.th, Website: http://www.tourismthailand.org/lopburi . Accommodation: Lop Buri is actually divided into Old Lop Buri (the tourist area) and New Lop Buri (the commercial center). While there are some accommodation choices in New Lop Buri, there is a greater selection in Old Lop Buri. However, sice there is not much of interest in New Lop Buri except perhaps a better selection of restaurants, try to stay in or near Old Lop Buri. Getting Around in Lopburi: Many of the attractions around the old town are in walking distance of each other. To cross town there are plenty of songtaews running along Wichayen and Phra Narai Maharat Roads connecting the old and new towns. The cost is 5 baht per person. City buses are also available. It costs 4 baht per passenger. Samlors, bicycle-pulled carriages, will go anywhere in the old town for 30 to 50 baht.

Getting to Lop Buri: Lop Buri has a train station that is in walking distance to the citiy’s major attractions and accommodation options. By Train: Most people arrive in Lop Buri via train from Ayutthaya or Bangkok. Trains heading south toward Ayutthaya (1 hour) and Bangkok leave throughout the day, roughly every hour between 5am and 9.00pm Rapid and express trains between Lop Buri and Bangkok take about three hours, while ordinary trains take about 4½ hours. Trains heading north from Lop Buri stop at Phitsanulok on their way to Chiang Mai. There are roughly hourly departures between 8am and 3pm and again from 8.00pm to 11.00pm For more updated schedules and reservations, call 1690, 0 2223 7010, 0 22237020 or visit www.railway.co.th .

By Car: From Bangkok to Lop Buri, it is a two hour drive either along Highway No.1 via Saraburi (total distance is 153 kilometers) or Highway No. 32 to Ayutthaya and then along Highway No. 347 to Lop Buri via Tha Ruea District. By Bus: From Bangkok there are air-conditioned and non air-conditioned buses that leave from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2) every 20 minutes between 5.30am and 8.30pm The journey takes 3 hours. Call 02 936 2852-66 for more information. From Ayutthaya, buses leave every 10 minutes from Ayutthaya Bus Terminal to Lop Buri. The price is half of the fare from Bangkok. Lop Buri can also be reached by bus from Kanchanaburi, Suphan Buri, Sing Buri, Ang Thong, and Nakhon Ratchasima.

TEMPLE MONKEYS AND OTHER SIGHTS IN LOP BURI

Lop Buri has a large population of pesky monkeys, most of which are a species of macaque called the long-tailed, or cynomolgus, monkey. Many are also rhesus monkey hybrids, which are the result of unions between local monkeys and pet monkeys that have been released after they became to big.

Long-tailed macaques that live atop of Wat Prang Sam Top in Lopburi descend from the temple at dawn to search for food and antics. They fan out in the roads, causing drivers to swerve and slam on their brakes to avoid hitting them. Some venture into shops and hotels and swing on power lines and have to be shooed away. Occasionally they steal purses and attack people passing by. On a stretch of sidewalk where cycle drivers hang out a meal of fruit and vegetables is left out by an elderly woman. They monkeys squeal and howl and fight for the choicest pieces when the food basket is left out for them.

Pra Prang Sam Yot (on Vichayen Road, approximately 200 meters from the railway station) is Lop Buris best known landmark. Considered one of the best examples of Khmer architecture in Thailandm it consists of three laterite and sandstone prangs linked by a central corridor typical of the early 13th century Bayon style. In Wat Maha That there are several other Wats with strong Hindu and Khmer influences. Prang Prathan has fine lintel and stucco decorations.

Phra Prang Sam Yot means "Pagoda with Three Sacred Temples," A former Hindu Shrine built in the 13th century in the classic Bayon style of Khmer architecture, the three prangs are decorated with classic stucco reliefs that are believed to have originally represented the Hindu Trimurti; Brahman (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver) and Siva (the destroyer). During the reign of King Narai, the shrine was converted into a Buddhist temple when a brick viharn located to the east which houses a grand U-Thong-Ayutthaya style Buddha image was probably built. Buddha images were later added to the two prangs. The temple is open everyday from 6.00am to 6:00pm. It is located on a mound on the west side of the railway near San Phra Kan. The admission fee is 30 baht.

Phra Buddha Bat (on the road from Lop Luri to Saraburi) is a beautiful set of shrines built around a spot where Buddha's footprint was found over 350 years ago. Identified by 108 distinguishing marks, the footprint was discovered, according to legend, by a hunter who had just shot a deer that went behind some bushes and emerged completely healed. Behind the bushes the hunter found a pool of water in the shape of Buddha's foot. The oldest shrines were built during the reign of King Songtham of Ayutthaya at the beginning of the 17th century. Others were added by King Rama I of Bangkok and the subsequent Chakri Kings.

Wat Phra Phutta Sothon (Chachoengsao) contains a stucco Buddha image that, according to legend, was one of three sacred images that floated down the Bang Pakong River. One of the most venerated images in Thailand, it is honored with two annual fairs.

Phra Narai Ratchaniwet Palace (near the Lopburi town center, between Ratchadamnoen Road and Pratu Chai Road) was built in 1665 and 1677, when King Narai the Great decided to make Lop Buri the second capital of the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Although the buildings were designed by with the contributions of French architects, Khmer influence remained strong and the palace became a blend of Khme and European styles. After the death of King Narai the Great in 1688, the palace was deserted. It was not until the reign of King Rama IV during the Ratanakosin era, that the Palace was restored and renamed Narai Ratchaniwet.

LOP BURI NATIONAL MUSEUM

LOP BURI NATIONAL MUSEUM (commonly known as King Narai National Museum) is the name by which Phra Narai Ratchaniwet is called today. It embraces all the buildings, compounds and pavilions within the complex, some built during the reign of King Narai and others constructed during the reign of King Rama IV. The Palace is be accessed through the Pratu Phayakkha, which is currently a town park, located off Sorasak Road. It is closed on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday through Sunday it is from 7.30am to 5.30pm.

Important Structures include: 1) Phra Khlang Supharat (the Twelve Treasure Houses), a compound built to store royal treasures and royal goods sold to foreign merchants during the late 1600s; 2) the Elephant and Horse Stables, compound located close to the wall separating the outer and middle sections of the Palace; 3) Phra Prathiap Building, a group of eight two-story buildings built behind King Mongkut's residence (Phiman Mongkut Pavilion), which were used as residences for inner court officials; 4) the Royal Guards Residence, located at the entrance of the middle court; and 5) the Water Reservoir. Constructed during the reign of King Narai the Great, the reservoir stored water which came from a freshwater lake Tale Chupsorn, through the well designed terra cotta pipes. Tale Chupsorn was the main lake supplying drinking water to Lop Buri residents.

Chantara Phaisan Pavilion was the first Palace of King Narai the Great in Lop Buri. The Pavilion was subsequently turned into an audience hall after he moved his residence to the Suttha Sawan Pavilion. The fact that the building is of pure Thai architectural style indicates that no French architects were involved in the design and construction process. King Rama IV (King Mongkut of the Ratanakosin era) restored the building in 1863. The Pavilion was once used by the privy-council as a meeting hall. Now, it serves as a hall displaying archaeological and art objects, especially the Lop Buri-style stone Buddha images, historic paintings from the era of King Narai the Great and Buddhist art objects from the Ayutthaya and Ratanakosin period.

The Dusit Sawan Thanya Maha Prasat Hall was constructed under the royal command of King Narai the Great. The Hall was formerly used by King Narai as an audience hall receiving high-ranking foreign ambassadors. This was the place where the King received Chevalier de Chaumont, the representative of King Louis XIV of France. The Hall was built in a perfect blending of French and Thai architectural styles. The Suttha Sawan Pavilion was once located amidst a beautifully decorated garden with ponds and fountains. This was the place where King Narai the Great resided and died on 11 July 1688. Apart from the Pavilion, which had been restored by King Mongkut, only the remains of man-made hills and fountains can be seen.

Kraison Siharat Hall (commonly known as Phra Thinang Yen) Hall is located on an island in a dried up lake, Thale Chupson, which once supplied fresh drinking water to the people of Lop Buri. Kraison Siharat Hall was used as the residence of King Narai, Jesuits and envoys of King Louis XIV of France when they came to witness a lunar eclipse on 11 December, 1685. Phra Chao Hao Building was built by King Narai the Great south of the outer section of the palace. Serving as the Kings private audience hall, the building featured Thai-style architecture of which it is currently possible to see only the remains of wall sections with visible decorative motifs at the doors and windows.

The Banquet Hall is surrounded on three sides by ponds. It was built to entertain important foreign visitors. One of the remains includes a brick platform facing the Hall, which was used as a stage or theater possibly for shadow plays or dances indicating that the place was once used as an entertainment compound. Phiman Mongkut Pavilion was a three-story brick building where King Rama IV (King Mongkut) resided when he visited Lop Buri during the renovation of the Palace. Connected to the pavilion are three other buildings namely Suttha Winitchai Pavilion, Chai Sattrakon Pavilion and Akson Sattrakhom. All of these buildings are now being used as the offices of the Lop Buri National Museum.

Saraburi (30 kilometers southwest of Lopburi) is the home of Samnak Song Tham Krabawk, a 784-acre heroin detoxification center. This monastic residence was established by a Buddhist nun, Mian Panchan in 1957. After her death, Luangpho Chamrun Panchan, her nephew, has continued the mission. He was awarded the “Magsaysay Award” on 10 September, 1975. Additionally it was the last of the Hmong refugee camps in Thailand. See Drugs. See Hmong.

KHAO YAI NATIONAL PARK

KHAO YAI NATIONAL PARK (205 kilometers northeast of Bangkok) is the premier wildlife park in Thailand. Only three hours by bus from Bangkok, it is relatively easy to get is located on a 540,000 acre piece of land, encompassing rain forests, grasslands and mountains—the highest of which are about 4000 feet high. The park has numerous hiking trails that lead through rain forest and along rivers with spectacular waterfalls.

Thailand's oldest park, Khao Yai is one of the best places in Asia to view wildlife. It is home to over 1000 species of animals including tigers, pythons, elephants, gaur (wild cattle), Great pied hornbill, cobras, jungle fowl, sambar deer, wild boar, Asiatic black bears, eagles, grebes, bitterns, and silver pheasants. Two species of endangered gibbon are commonly seen, sometimes even from the road. Elephants periodically walk through the parking lot of the visitors center. Sometimes they sleep in the road at night. Gaur are spotted less often. Generally you have to hire a tracker-guide and trek deep into the forest to find them.

Tigers are even rarer. Tigers used be seen every week or two at by the park rangers. Now they are rarely seen. It believed that few than a dozen a remain. About a week before I was there in the 1990s some tourist saw one in the tall grass chasing after a sambar deer which are plentiful in the park. In the 1930s, a small girl was killed and eaten by tiger when she left her home to look for a lost pen. Although seeing large animals other than deer is uncommon, you can see sometimes see tiger-scared trees and bark torn up by the claws of the Asiatic black bear. Poachers in the parks have been shot and killed. .

The best time of the year to visit the park is in the dry season from December to March when the temperatures are reasonably comfortable and there aren't any leaches. The best time to spot wildlife is early in the morning in the hot months of April and May, when animals often gather at water holes and salt licks. The cool season or is from October to February. In the rainy season, the area is refreshingly green with overflowing waterfalls.

Most of the trails begin near the Park Headquarters, which has 33 bungalows, some modest motels, camp sites, a museum, restaurants, bungalows and six dormitories for hikers with sleeping bags. Some of the trails are difficult to follow. "Night shining" tours are offered. Usually you only see a lot of deer. There are

also salt licks and watch towers for wildlife viewing. Parts of the Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach were shot in Khao Yai.

Khao Yai National Park covers an area of 2,168 square kilometers (about 800 square miles) in the Phanom Dong Rak mountain range and stretches over 4 provinces including Nakhon Ratchasima, Nakhon Nayok, Saraburi, and Prachin Buri. The park is comprised of mixed forests and rainforests with some wide plains and grasslands interspersed with verdant forests. There are many valuable plants, including commercial plants, scented plants and herbs. In addition, there are several mountains with peaks ranging from 800 to 3,000 meters above sea level making Khao Yai a cool climate area, even in summer.

Khao Yai National Park became Thailand’s first national park in 1962. Popular activities in the park include butterfly and bird watching, animal watching and trekking. Numerous species of butterflies and birds live in the park. Surveys indicate that 293 species of birds use Khao Yai as a feeding ground and over 200 species live there. In addition, the park is home to an abundance of wildlife. The most frequently spotted animal are the deer that grazes on grass plains and sometimes come to be fed around the park office.

To facilitate animal watching the park built two wildlife watchtowers—at Mo Singto and Nong Phak Chi—which visitors are allowed to use between 8:00 am and 6:00pm If you want to join one of night safaris you must contact the park office before 6:00pm. Khao Yai has over 20 trekking trails. While some trails like the Kong Kaeo trail and the Kilometer 33 trail (Thanarat Road-Nong Phak Chi) take one to two hours to complete, other trails like the Nang Rong-Khao Yai trail, Samo Pun trail or Kho Yo 4 Unit-Wang Heo waterfall trail require overnight stays. Information and guides can be obtained from the tourist service centre. Accommodation: There is a campsite at Pha Kluai Mai that can accommodate up to 1,000 visitors. The fee is 10 baht for children and 20 baht for adults per night. There is a restaurant and tents and sleeping bags for rent. Moreover, there are 2 more service areas at Kong Kaeo and Yaowachon that can accommodate up to 250 tourists. The fee is 30 baht each, though sleeping gear is not provided. Visitors can obtain permission from the park before 6pm For more information, call the National Parks Division, Royal Forest Department, Tel. (66) 2579-7223 and (66) 2579-5734, or contact the Park Office at P.O. Box 9, Amphoe Pak Chong, Nakhon Ratchasima 30130.

Hours and Contact Info: Khao Yai National Park is open everyday from 8:00am -5:00pm. Contact: Amphoe Pak Chong, Nakhon Ratchasima 30130, Tel. 0 2562 0760 or Khao Yai National Park, Mu Si sub district, Pak Chong district, Nakhon Ratchasima 30130. Tel. 037-356033, 044-249305

Due to over capacity and to protect the environment of Khao Yai National Park, Royal Forest Department began limiting the number of visitors to the park in 2008. Visitors should inquire Khao Yai National Park directly before travelling at tel. 08 1877 3127 , 08 6092 6531 which operate 24 hrs. or visit website www.dnp.go.th . Admission fee: Adult 400 baht and Child 200 baht and the fee of one car is 50 baht.

Getting to Khao Yai National Park: Khao Yai National Park is only about 205 kilometers from Bangkok. From Bangkok, take Highway No.305 (Rangsit-Nakhon Nayok) for around 75 kilometers. Then turn right to Highway No. 33 for around 20 kilometers. Turn right again to Highway No.3077 for approximately 40 kilometers, and finally turn left to Highway No. 2090 for around 3 kilometers to reach Khao Yai National Park headquarters.

If traveling by bus, get off at Amphoe Pak Chong and continue on a mini-bus up to the gate of Khao Yai National Park. The fare is 15 baht and services are provided between 6am and 5pm From there, visitors should flag a passing car to the park office or rent a car directly from Pak Chong.

PLACES OF INTEREST IN KHAO YAI NATIONAL PARK

Kong Kaeol Waterfall (Namtok Kong Kaeol) is a low waterfall, which is especially lovely in the rainy season, Originating from Huay Lam Takhong, which divides Nakhon Nayok and Nakhon Ratchasima Provinces, the waterfall can be reached by a walking distance of 100 meters from the tourist service center. Visitors can enjoy swimming at the waterfall or taking short nature trips on nearby nature trails. Pha Kluai Mai Waterfall (Namtok Pha Kluai Mai) is a medium-sized waterfall in Huay Lam Takhong with two separate bodies of water flowing down rock levels to merge at the bottom. In the area visitors can find the Red Dendrobium orchid. The waterfall is about 7 kilometers from the park office and can be reached by car and on foot. In addition, there is a trail from the waterfall that leads to Heo Suwat Waterfall. Heo Suwat Waterfall (Namtok Heo Suwat) is a famous waterfall that cascades from a 20-meters high cliff. The waterfall, which is located at the end of Thanarat Road and thus accessible by car, is only 100 meters by foot from the parking lot or a 3-kilometer walk from Pha Kluai Mai Waterfall. Visitors can view the falls from a distant viewpoint that offers a high-angle view of the waterfall through the trees or from the waterfall itself. However, please note that in the rainy season the water flows rapidly and caution should be taken.

Heo Narok Waterfall (Namtok Heo Narok) is the largest and highest waterfall in the park and has three 3 levels. The first level is about 60 meters high and water from this level flows straight down to the second and third levels, with a total drop of at least 150 meters. The water has considerable strength in the rainy season and is quite dangerous, but refreshing, when it comes splashing down on rocks at the bottom. The area around the waterfall is the usual feeding grounds of wild elephants. There have been occasional accidents when elephants drop from the cliff and die. For a beautiful view of the waterfall, visitors can walk 1 kilometer from the main road to a viewpoint. The waterfall itself is located to the south of the Park Office on the way to Prachin Buri. There are also other lesser waterfalls in the park like Namtok Mai Plon, Namtok Heo Sai and Namtok Heo Prathul. For more information, contact the Parks tourist service centre.

Khao Samo Pun (in Khao Yai National Park) is a vast plain combined with grassland and stone fields with marshy capillary water on sandy soils. Many tiny plants such as ueang nuanjan, ma wing, soi suwanna, yard namkang, dusita, and sarat chanthon burst with flowers at the beginning of winter with particularly areas having their ow distinct combinations of flows. Widely scattered ueang nuanjan and ma wing are found in the na pha fields. Crowded dusita and dok ya khao gum are found in the prommajan field. The ngorn nak field is adorned with ngorn nak thriving amid tall plants and grassland while a plains blackfoot carpet spreads all over the tarn thai field. The suriyan field is a not-to-be-missed sightseeing spot. In addition to blooming flowers, the park also boasts a number of fine cliff-top viewpoints. There is also a campsite with small streams providing water. In the cool season the mountain are sometimes shrouded in mist.

PHETCHABURI

PHETCHABURI (160 kilometers southwest of Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand) is situated on the northwestern shores of the Gulf of Thailand and borders Myanmar (Burma) to the west, where the dense jungle peaks of the Tanaosri Range serve as a natural division between Thailand and Myanmar. Petchaburi is a reasonably nice town with peaceful seaside resorts. Petchaburi province is known for its splendid historical park, ancient temples, wonderful beaches and caves, superb natural reserves and great variety of local foods and fresh seafood. Petchburi’s custard pudding is famous for its rich and sweet palm sugar taste. There are several flavors available, such as original, lotus seeds, and taro. Cha-am is the premier beach resort in the province.

Well connected by road or rail, Petchaburi is a stop for people heading to Hua Hin or beach towns in Southern Thailand. Within the town samlors and taxis (motorcycles) charge about 20 baht to go anywhere in the center of town for 20 baht. It is possible to charter a vehicle for the whole day for 150 baht. Shared songtaews cost 6 baht around town including to and from the railway station.

History of Phetchaburi: A very old city, Phetchaburi (also called Phetburi or Petburi) is believed by some historians to have Indian roots for its name, as the Indian influence over a millennia ago was quite strong. Archaeological findings even indicate that the city may date back to the Dvaravati Period, sometime between the 6th and 11th centuries C.E.During both the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya Kingdoms’ eras, Petchaburi was the locale of a strategic royal fort and only a lineage of kings had the rights to rule this historical city. That is why Petchaburi has been called by some scholars as the "Living Ayutthaya.” The prosperity of the Ayutthaya Kingdom can be seen and appreciated in Petchaburi's wealth of fine old temples, many of which were constructed during that period.In the current Ratanakosin Era.

Three kings of the Ratanakosin Period—King Rama IV, V, and VI—established their rainy season retreats here, each building a palace respectively named Phranakhonkhiri, Phraramrajanivet, Phrarajnivesmarugadayawan. Consequently, Petchaburi is also known as Muang Sam Wang, the city of the three palaces.

Tourist Office and Website: Tourism Authority of Thailand , Phetchaburi Office, 500/51 Phetkasem Rd. Amphoe Cha-am, Phetchburi 76120, Tel. +66 3247 1005-6, Fax. +66 3247 1502, E-mail Address: tatphet@tat.or.th, Website: http://www.tourismthailand.org/phetchaburi . Accommodation: Cha-am features the largest selection of accommodation options in the Petchaburi areas. Many people visiting Phetchaburi do so on day trips from Bangkok or nearby Hua Hin. There are a few places to stay in Petchaburi town but not a wide selection.

Sights in Phetchaburi include Khao Wang, a beautiful white palace built on a 300-foot-high hill in 1860 by King Rama IV as a place to observe the stars. A series of ramps, bordered by fragrant frangipani trees, leads up to the palace which features buildings constructed in European, Thai and Chinese styles. Recently restored by the Fine Arts Department, it now serves as the provincial National Museum.

In Phetchburi you can also find Baa Puen, a palace built for King Rama V, and Marukkhathayawan, an eccentric palace constructed on the beach in Cha-Am for Rama VI. Completed in 1924, the later embraces 64 blue and yellow buildings with 23 staircases, 64 rooms and a mazelike network of open corridors, The teak structures were built without using any nails.

Nearby is Wat Yai Suwannaram, a 17th century temple with a main chapel surrounded by a cloister built by King Rama V in the late 19th century. It contains some of the oldest and best preserved late Ayuttahya-style murals in Thailand as well as beautifully carved and gilded doors and a fine wooden library in a small building set in the middle of a pond. According to Lonely Planet six or seven temples spanning several centuries can be seen visa circular walk that takes two or three hours. See the Lonely Planet Guide for a map and details.

Phra Nakorn Khiri was the royal summer palace for two former kings of Siam, King Rama IV and V. Now a historical park open to public, it was built under King Rama IV on the tops of three peaks of Khao Samana or Khao Mahai Sawan, locally known as Khao Wang – Palace Hill. The whole compound comprises royal houses, temples, pagodas, and an observatory. Khao Wang combines the elegance of Thai, Chinese and western Neo-classic architectural styles. Within Wat Maha Samanaram, on the eastern hill, there are mural paintings by Khrua In Khong. On the mountaintop sits Wat Phra Kaew, the temple of Phra Nakorn Khiri. On the western hill are magnificent royal houses and several throne halls. The mountain in the middle is the site of Phra That Chom Phet where Buddha's relics are enshrined. This is considered the place with he best view. It overlooks the other two mountaintops, as well as Phetchaburi's beautiful landscape. Phra Nakorn Khiri is open daily from 8.30am to 4.30pm. Admission fee is 10 baht for Thais and 20 baht for foreigners. The mountaintop palaces are accessible either on foot or by cable car.

Getting ro Petchaburi: Petchaburi can best reached via car, bus, or train, either as a destination in and of itself, or as a stopover on the way further south. By Car: Drive along Highway No. 35 (Thon Buri-Pak Tho) passing Samut Sakhon and Samut Songkhram Provinces and then take Highway No. 4 to Petchaburi Province. The total distance is 123 kilometers. Alternatively, it is possible to travel via Nakhon Pathom and Ratchaburi Provinces.

By Train: Trains leave Bangkok's Hua Lumphong Station at 12.20pm (rapid train); 2.15pm and 2.35pm (special express); 3.50pm, 5.35pm and 6.20pm (rapid trains); 7.15pm (express); 10.30 and 10.50pm (express diesel railcar), all of which offer 1st, 2nd, and 3rd class seating except for the 2.35pm special express (1st and 2nd class only) and the 10.30 and 10.50pm express diesel railcar (2nd class only) and take about three hours to reach Petchaburi. Fares are 34 baht, 78 baht and 153 baht, not including rapid or express surcharges. Call 1690 or visit www.railway.co.th for more details. There is no ordinary train service between Hua Lumphong and Petchaburi, but there are three ordinary 3rd class trains daily from Thonburi (Bangkok Noi) Station at 7.45am and 1.30pm and 2.00pm (34 baht, no surcharges).

By Bus from Bangkok: There are buses leaving regularly from the Southern Bus Terminal in Thonburi for 50 baht (ordinary) on the new road, 46 baht on the old road (via Ratchaburi and Nakhon Pathom), 60 baht for 2nd Class air-conditioned and 75 baht for 1st Class air-conditioned. The bus takes about 2 ½ hours to between the two cities. Contact 0 2435 1199-200 or Phetchaburi Tour, Tel: 0 2435 7408 for more details. By Bus to Cha-am and Hua Hin: There are several buses depart from Petchaburi city, fares ranging from 18 baht (25 air-conditioned) to 22 baht (31 air-conditioned). It takes 60 and 90 minutes to reach the destinations respectively.

Kaeng Krachan National Park (53 kilometers from Phetchaburi) is Thailand’s largest national park. Situated along the Thai-Myanmar border and declared a national park in 1981, it occupies a largely unexplored area of 2,915 square kilometers, including the 45 square kilometer Kaeng Krachan Reservoir and lamost half of Phetchaburi Province. Filled with incredible lush rain forests due its location in one of the rainiest parts of Thailand, the park is home to tigers, clouded leopard, Asiatic sun bear, elephants, gibbons, guars, bateng, hornbills, dusky leaf langurs and gibbons. Sakai forest people also live here. So do some Karen hunters. There are some intense hikes. Make arrangements in advance for a guide, The park is located 53.5 kilometers from Phetchaburi and is three kilometers beyond Khuean Kaeng Krachan (Kaeng Krachan Dam). The park is open everyday from 6.00am - 6:00pm. Admission fee: Adult: 200 baht; Children: 100 baht. Bungalows and tent camping are available.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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