A World Heritage Site is a landmark or area which has been selected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) unique as a cultural, historical or natural site that shows “outstanding universal value” and is legally protected by international treaties. There are currently five World Heritage Sites in Thailand and six other sites on the tentative list considered for nomination. Out of the 11 sites listed below, we have visited three (those with a checkmark), meaning we have lots of interesting places yet to explore.
WORLD HERITAGE SITES
1. Ayutthaya Historical Park ✓
Ayutthaya was the second capital of Siam and considered the most spectacular place on Earth with 1,700 temples and over 4,000 golden Buddha statues. But in 1767, all this came to an end during the Burmese invasion, and the city was almost completely destroyed. The spectacular ruins that now remain were granted World Heritage status in 1991.
2. Sukhothai Historical Park
Sukhothai was the first capital of Siam between the 13th and 14th centuries. The historical park, which used to be the capital of Sukhothai Kingdom, includes a great number of historical sites and four large lotus-covered ponds within the old walls once built to defend the city. The ruins and monuments which were given the World Heritage status in 1991 are one of the most impressive in Thailand and illustrate the beginnings of Thai architecture.
3. Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex
The Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex stretches 230 km between Ta Phraya National Park on the Cambodian border in the east and the hugely popular Khao Yai National Park in the west. Granted World Heritage status in 2005, this forest complex is home to more than 800 species of fauna, including 112 mammal species, 392 bird species, and 200 reptile and amphibian species.
4. Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary
Stretching over more than 600,000 hectares along the Burmese border, the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary contains examples of five forest types undisturbed enough to support the survival of elephants and tigers and were given World Heritage status in 1991.
5. Ban Chiang Archaeological Site
Declared as a World Heritage Site in 1992, Ban Chiang Archaeological Site is considered the most important prehistoric settlement so far discovered in Southeast Asia. Researches have revealed that the site dates from 1,495 BC (3,500 years ago) and contains early evidence of wet rice farming along with the use and manufacture of metals.
1. Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan ✓
Constructed at the time when the town of Nakhon Si Thammarat was founded, about 800 years ago, Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan is the most important temple in southern Thailand. The 78 meters high stupa, which was built by King Sri Dhammasokaraj, is surrounded by 173 smaller stupas. The temple was submitted to the tentative list of World Heritage Sites in 2012 and is believed to house a tooth of Buddha.
Suggested read: 7 Reasons Why You Should Visit Nakhon Si Thammarat
2. Phu Phrabat Historical Park
The site of Phu Phrabat Historical Park in Udon Thani Province is a landscape of a wooded sandstone hill dotted with huge boulders in strange balancing positions on smaller rocks due to slow-moving glaciers millions of years ago. This spectacular nature — which has been on the tentative list since 2004 — has since prehistoric times had a spiritual effect on humans and some formations feature rock paintings and carved Buddha images.
3. Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex
Kaeng Kratchen Forest Complex (KKFC) consists of three protected areas — one wildlife sanctuary and two national parks — along Thailand’s border with Burma at the very top of the Malay Peninsula. Added to the tentative list in 2011, KKFC covers a vast rain forest area of three western provinces and chances are excellent to see several mammals such as Malayan porcupine, white-handed gibbon, dusky leaf monkey, and elephants. Also, KKFC is the only place in Thailand where Ratchet-tailed treepie can be spotted, and the white-fronted scops owl is another rare bird loved by birdwatchers.
4. Chiang Mai’s Monuments, Sites and Cultural Landscapes ✓
With cultivated terraces on beautiful hills and mountains, exotic hill tribes, impressive rivers and waterfalls, stunning temples, and its exciting history as the former capital of Lanna Kingdom (1296–1768) Chiang Mai in northern Thailand is one of the most incredible destinations in the country. And since 2015, Chiang Mai is on the tentative list of World Heritage Sites.
5. Phimai Historical Park
Phimai was a large rectangular Khmer city with walls and moats as protection from possible invaders. Located 260 kilometers northwest of the famous Angkor Wat of Cambodia (crowned the Best World Heritage Site), Phimai Historical Park is comparable with buildings and temples built in the Baphuonm, Bayon and Angkor Wat style between the 11th and 12th centuries. Even though the Khmer were Hindu at the time, the temples are Buddhist since the inhabitants of this area were Buddhists. Phimai and its associated temples have been on the tentative list since 2004.
6. Phra That Phanom and its related buildings
Wat Phra That Phanom is the most sacred Buddhist temple in northeastern Thailand with a 57 meters high stupa topped with 110 kg of gold. Archeologists say this Laotian-style stupa was originally constructed between the 7th and 9th centuries and according to legend, the temple was built by Monk Maha Kassapa on the place where Buddha’s breast bone was found eight years after Buddha’s death. Submitted in 2017, Phra That Phanom is the latest Thai site added to the tentative list.