Thailand’s tourism industry thrives on its beautiful, serene beaches, amusement parks, national parks, and above all, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)-classified five World Heritage Sites. They include natural parks, ancient cities, and prehistoric archaeological sites.
The Thai culture is influenced by Cambodia, India, and China and has been based on Theraveda Buddhism. Coupled with a tropical climate and hospitable traditions, this unique blend is on display through Thailand’s traditional architecture, including administrative and religious structures.
By classifying these five World Heritage Sites, UNESCO has underlined its natural, historical, and cultural value for the world.
Top 6 BEST UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Thailand
Khao Yai National Park
Khao Yai National Park in Thailand is among the best and the first national park in the country. It is spread over 2,168 sq km and has a rich biodiversity, including wild animals, rain forests, and grasslands.
Located in Nakhon Ratchasima Province, some park areas also fall under Saraburi, Nakhon Nayok, and Prachinburi provinces. The highest mountain peak in the park is Khao Rom at 1,351 m, while the average altitude ranges between 400 and 1,000 m.
The National Park is a part of UNESCO-recognized World Heritage Site, the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex, which has five protected areas, including Thap Lan National Park, Pang Sida National Park, Dong Yai Wildlife Sanctuary and Ta Phraya National Park.
The ideal months to visit the national parks are from November to February when the weather is pleasant, with an average daily temperature of 22 °C and night temperature around 10 °C.
How to reach the park:
Being popular among local and foreign tourists, the park is busy on weekends and holidays.
The Khao Yai National Park’s main entry point is 180 km away from Bangkok. It is on the north side of the park with Pak Chong being the nearest town.
The second entry point is on the south side of Nakhon Nayok province. Most people prefer to arrive here from Bangkok, which takes about 2.5 hr by car.
Public transport from Bangkok is also available but consumes up to 5-6 hr. There is no access to public transport within the park. The visitor center is 14 km away from the entry point, while other attractions are far away further. Hence, they cannot be reached by walk. It is impossible to tread trails without a guide.
Once inside the park, you would spot elephant, barking deer, sambar deer, northern pig-tailed macaque, porcupine, gibbon, and civet. Among the rarely sighted mammals are Asian black bear, sun bear, otter, gaur, jackal, and dhole. However, you won’t come across a tiger in the park.
For bird watchers, March-April is the ideal time to visit the Khao Yai National Park. You would spot numerous Oriental-pied hornbills and Great hornbills. Rarely sighted Rufous-tailed robin has its habitat in the park. Around 85 species of reptiles, including pit viper species, have been recorded in the park.
A wildlife tour needs to be booked in advance. This facilitates walking longer trails and spot elusive animals. The seven official trails have to be covered with the help of a guide or a ranger. Tour operators help you arrange them.
There are many guesthouses, a hotel outside the park. Consult your tour operator before booking a hotel. Confirm with the tour operators whether the pickup facility is available from a hotel before booking. The two campsites within the park provide tents and sleeping gear on rent.
There are also bungalows on rent inside the park. Their booking must be made on the DNP website. The park has several cafés, restaurants, and food stalls.
Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns
The historic town of Sukhothai, the ancient Siamese architectural wonder, is located in Historical Park of Sukhothai, spread over 3.38 sq km. It has three associated towns.
During the 13th-15th centuries, Sukhothai was the capital of the Kingdom of Siam. Si Satchanalai had many Buddhist monasteries and temples. It was also known for its ceramic industry. Kamphaeng Phet was a military camp meant to protect the kingdom from invaders and the trade routes.
The three towns had a well-planned civic infrastructure, such as water supply. They were connected with each other by a highway named after Thanon Phra Ruang, who built it.
These towns had a common language, alphabet as well as judicial and administrative systems. The very well-known sculptures and monuments were built in the ‘Sukhothai architectural style.’
How to reach the park:
One can reach Sukhothai by road from Bangkok or Chiang Mai or by air from Bangkok. Many tourists use motorbikes, bicycles to visit the vast area. The Ramkhamhaeng National Museum has numerous artifacts found during excavations from this area.
Ayutthaya Historical Park
Once upon a time, Ayutthaya was Thailand’s capital and was the largest city in the world, with over one million population about 300 years ago. Trains and minivans are available from Bangkok to travel to Ayutthaya.
The World Heritage Site today is famous for its 67 temples and ruins. It is advisable to visit five select temples in the sequence listed below for the ease of cycling, walking.
- Wat Ratburana: King Borommarachathirat built the temple in 1424. The temple features mythical three-headed Naga (a serpent) and the Prang (sanctum sanctorum) built after the Cambodian (Khmer) style. It has original Buddha images on its walls.
- Wat Mahathat: Wat Mahathat is at the walking distance from Wat Ratburana. It houses the world-famous image of Buddha’s head tangled in a Banyan tree roots.
- Wat Phra Si Sanphet: The largest temple in the park has three big chedis (stupas) in a row, also known as the Grand Palace (there is a famous one in Bangkok too). Adjacent to this temple, there is modern-day temple Wihaan Phra Mongkhon Bophi, housing a big golden Buddha idol.
- Wat Lokaya Sutha: Wat Lokaya Satha has an 8-m high and 42-m long reclining Buddha idol. Its location is in the city’s northwest on the bank of River Chao Praya.
- Wat Chai Wattanaran: This temple has 120 Buddha statues. A network of secret passages connects the stupas of Chedis. Though its location is on the bank of River Chao Praya, it is far away from the other four temples.
How to reach the park:
The best mode of transport from Bangkok to Ayutthaya Historical Park is by taking the train. The trains are available every hour and from Hualamphong station in Bangkok. The scenic view during the train journey will prepare you in advance to explore the UNESCO world heritage site.
The visiting hours of all the temples mentioned above are from 8 am to 6 pm, except Wat Lokaya Sutha, which opens at 8 am and closes at 5 pm. Temperatures soar during summer in Ayuttaya.
Tuk-Tuk or Songtaews fare per journey is around 100 THB. It may cost you around 500 THB for a trip to the temples mentioned above and back to the station or bus terminal.
If you want a cheaper mode of transport, hire a motorcycle at 200 THB or a bicycle at 50 THB per day.
Ban Chiang Archeological Site
A prehistoric human habitation and burial site, the Ban Chiang Archaeological Site is an oval-shaped mound located in northeast Thailand. It is a part of Udon Thani province.
Since its discovery in 1966, the site has been vastly excavated and studied. It dated back to 1495 BC and was occupied during 1495 BC-900 BC. Evidence suggests that it was among the oldest agrarian society in Southeast Asia. They indulged in paddy cultivation and domesticated farm animals and had technologies to manufacture ceramic wares and bronze tools.
Excavation at the site has revealed that Ban Chiang had a complex social system and was prosperous, which was a result of developing cultural practices.
A museum on the premises of the historical site exhibits the artifacts excavated there. But photography is not allowed in the museum.
How to reach the park:
Ban Chiang Archaeological Site is 50 km away from Udon Thani. The staff at your hotel would help you with transportation to reach the site. You can also fly to Udon Thani from Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Phuket. There is a bus service from Mor Chit station, Bangkok.
Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest
The Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex is a large, protected tropical forest which forms Thailand’s border with Cambodia. There are several endangered species of animal and is important for their preservation.
Though it is spread across six provinces of Thailand, namely — Nakhon Nayok, Saraburi, Sa Kaeo, Prachinburi, Buriram, and Nakhon Ratchasima, most of it comes under Nakhon Ratchasima province.
It was listed as the World Heritage Site in 2005. The complex consists of five adjacent national parks, including Khao Yai, Ta Phraya, Pang Sida, Thap Lan, and Dong Yai.
The Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest has the most pristine wildlife habitats, forests in the country. It is home to 800 species of animals and tropical ecosystems. In 2017, the wildlife reserve was known to have the world’s second-highest population of Indo-Chinese Tigers.
Among the threatened species are Vogel’s pit viper, the pig-tailed macaque, and the Asian elephant. For transport, accommodation, forest trails, campsites, etc., please check the details given under the subhead: Khao Yai National Park in this blog.
Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary
Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary is conducive for wildlife spotting for being the habitat of numerous species of animals. It has the largest tiger population in the country. Among other wild animals are elephants, bantengs, and leopards. It is also among the best bird-watching sites in the country. One has to catch a bus from the Mo Chit bus terminal, Bangkok, to reach the sanctuary.
In 1974, it was declared as the wildlife sanctuary. Located in northwest Thailand in Uthai Thani province, it shares its borders with the Thung Yai Wildlife Sanctuary, making among the largest protected areas in Southeast Asia. It is spread over 2,780 sq km. Thungyai and Huai Kha Khaeng were together declared the World Heritage sites in 1991.
Many animal species spotted here are endangered and rare. One is sure to spot deer species such as barking deer, Sambar deer, Indian hog deer, Eld’s deer. Among other wild animals that may cross your path are long-tailed macaques, boars, and Asian palm civets. Bantengs, elephants can be seen from the first watchtower.
Huai Kha Khaeng is supposed to be an ideal site to spot bantengs. Leopards can be seen frequently. Though it is a tiger habitat, its sightings are rare. People usually visit the Huai Kha Khaeng for studying wildlife.
Hence, it is not popular on the tourist map. This has resulted in better conservation of wildlife in Thailand. There is a visitor center, a canteen, a restaurant, and a campsite. However, the campsite is out of bounds for visitors.
Khao Hin Daeng and Tiger Trails can be explored without a guide; however, for longer trails, one has to take along rangers, which are available at the visitor center. Tourists have to find accommodation at resorts outside the sanctuary.
How to reach the park:
Huai Kha Khaeng has three entry points from where the visitors can enter the wildlife reserve. One can catch a bus from Mo Chit bus terminal in Bangkok to any of these entry gates.
Since the reserve park covers a large area of 2,780 sq km, you can book private tours to explore a certain section of the park based on your interest. The park is home to every type of forest, including dry virgin jungles, pine forests, and mountain forests.
Each forest has its own unspoiled wildlife such as rhinoceros, red gaur, wild elephant, leopard, tapir, and wild bull, etc.