Known as Thailand‘s “Great Rice Bowl” (owing to its agricultural abundance), the central plains of Thailand are an excellent destination for visitors to the country who are more interested in the history and culture than its sparkling beaches and nefarious nightlife.
It’s not uncommon for tourists to make the trip (typically by train or boat) up the Chao Phraya River to the ruins of Ayutthaya, but committed sightseers will be richly rewarded for eschewing the coastal regions and continuing on northward into the interior. The countryside is a marvelous patchwork of rice paddies and fields (once referred to as “the Land of Ten Thousand Rice Fields”), many appearing virtually untouched by the Industrial Revolution or influences from the outside world.
Along the route to Chiang Mai in the north, you’ll pass a number cities, villages, ruins, and former capitals, including Lopburi (home of the Khmer temple at Prang Sam Yot), and the ancient architectural wonder that is Sukhothai, the latter being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. The lesser known ruins (relatively speaking) at Si Satchanalai are some of the most lovely and evocative in the country.
From Phitsanulok (the commercial hub of the region), travelers can opt to continue on north by road or rail to Chiang Mai, or head west to the refugee camps surrounding the border town of Mae Sot to participate in or simply observe the work of humanitarian aid workers administering to the needs of the Burmese.