Recognising the cultural and natural diversity of Thailand, UNESCO has designated seven locations in the country as World Heritage Sites. The locations in Thailand include three natural attractions and four sites of historic and cultural significance.
UNESCO World Heritage
UNSECO is an abbreviation of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Their World Heritage listings recognise places in the world that “are of outstanding universal value to humanity and as such, have been inscribed on the World Heritage List to be protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.”
Ayutthaya Historical Park
Out of all the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Thailand, the one at Ayutthaya is the easiest one for tourists to reach. Close proximity to Bangkok means that Ayutthaya can be visited on a day trip from the Thai capital. However, to really do the ancient temples and historical sites justice, spend at least two days here exploring.
In its heyday, the ancient kingdom of Ayutthaya (1350-1767) was a regional powerhouse. Following the fall of Sukhothai (also on the UNESCO World Heritage list), Ayutthaya rose to prominence and became the second capital of Siam before falling to Burmese invaders. The city of Ayutthaya was looted and subsequently abandoned. The UNESCO listing is for the “Historic City of Ayutthaya” with the ancient ruins now incorporated into the Ayutthaya Historical Park.
Ban Chiang Archaeological Site
Located in Udon Thani province in the north-east of Thailand, Ban Chiang is home to one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in Asia. The UNESCO website describes the site as, “the most important prehistoric settlement so far discovered in South-East Asia. It marks an important stage in human cultural, social and technological evolution. The site presents the earliest evidence of farming in the region and of the manufacture and use of metals.”
If you’re in Udon Thani, the informative Ban Chiang National Museum is the best place to learn more about the Bronze Age burial sites, ceramics and artefacts that have been made in this area. The village of Ban Chiang is an interesting destination in its own right and if you’re travelling in Udon Thani, one which is well worth a visit.
Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex
This vast natural site spans six provinces in north-east Thailand: Buriram, Nakhon Nayok, Nakhon Ratchasima, Prachinburi, Sa Kaeo and Saraburi. Within the site are a number of protected areas and parks including Khao Yai National Park.
UNESCO highlights that Dong Phayayen – Khao Yai Forest Complex is, “Internationally important for its biodiversity and the conservation of globally threatened and endangered mammal, bird and reptile species.” Among the animals that find refuge here are the Siamese crocodile, Asian elephant, and leopard cat. The area contains important tropical forest ecosystems which are vital in supporting the hundreds of species of animals which live here.
Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex
If you’re planning a trip to Hua Hin or Cha Am, pay a visit to Kaeng Krachan, the largest national park in Thailand.This protected corner of Phetchaburi province includes the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex.
UNESCO says of Kaeng Krachan, “A number of endemic and globally endangered plant and wildlife species have been reported in the property, which overlaps with two Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and is noted for its rich diversity of birdlife, including eight globally endangered fauna species.”
Animals living within the boundaries of the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex include the Asian elephant, Asian giant tortoise, Asiatic wild dog, fishing cat and clouded leopard.
Si Thep Ancient Town
The ancient town of Si Thep in Phetchabun province was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in September 2023. The official listing by UNESCO is for “The Ancient Town of Si Thep and its Associated Dvaravati Monuments”.
The Dvaravati Kingdom thrived between the 7th-11th century in an area that now encompasses central Thailand. Established by the Mon ethnic group, Dvaravati also refers to the art style and culture of the ancient kingdom. Si Thep was an important Dvaravati site which served as a commercial hub and was renowned for its distinctive art and architecture.
Sukhothai Historical Park
The Sukhothai kingdom rose to prominence in the 13th century with Sukhothai regarded as the first capital of Thailand. This was a golden period in Siamese history which helped shape the language, culture and religion of Thailand.
The UNESCO listing is for the “Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns”. This includes not only Sukhothai Historical Park, but also Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet. Sukhothai is located approximately halfway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai and a wonderful addition to a Thailand itinerary for anybody interested in history or Thai culture.
Thungyai–Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries
Located north-west of Bangkok, this UNESCO World Heritage Site contains two wildlife sanctuaries: Thungyai and Huai Kha Khaeng. The natural attraction spans the provinces of Kanchanaburi, Tak and Uthai Thani. In its listing, UNESCO describes the sanctuaries as “the largest conservation area in mainland Southeast Asia and is one of Thailand’s least accessible and least disturbed forest areas”.
It’s thought that Thailand has the largest number of wild tigers in South-East Asia. However, they are still extremely rare with an estimated population of under 200. Up to half of that figure inhabits the Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries.
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