The Explore team has traveled the world several times in the past decade, but there’s one place we keep going back to. Thailand is a fascinating country for many reasons, all of which make a visit to this part of the world a special experience you will remember fondly forever. I’m a massive fan of Thai food, so add a rich culture, fascinating history and super friendly people and it would be difficult to find a better travel destination.
The bit I love the most is the dramatically varying landscape. The tropical south is home to pristine, fine white sand beaches to absolutely die for, and the middle of the country is home to tropical forests older than the Amazon. These forests are still home to Asian tigers, Asian elephants and a wildlife mix to rival that of anywhere in the world. A trip to Elephant Hills jungle camp inland of Khao Lak or their floating tent camp on the Sok Lake are experiences few people have, and those that do will never forget.
Isn’t that what a holiday is really about, to experience something you will treasure for the remainder of your life?
My recent journey to Thailand took me north to Chang Mai, in many ways the spiritual capital of the country, set on the edge of the mountains that divide Thailand, Laos and Burma. It is a place that leaves visitors with a sense of tranquility and peace. The east is completely different, probably the least known by tourists. Isan is a region with influences from the ancient Khmer Empire, a Kingdom that once occupied most of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and a small part of southern China. The people of this Kingdom were mainly Hindu, so the 2,000-year-old temples that remain from when the Kingdom was at its peak give fascinating insight into the culture that existed here.
No better example of this is the Cambodian Angkor Wat, built in the 12th century and often said to be the biggest Hindu temple of its kind in the world. This was different to most of the temples that arrived here, as it was dedicated to the Preserver or the Protector, Vishnu, showing a change from ancient tradition of worship to Shiva, the supreme or auspicious god.
Head into Thailand’s eastern heart and you will discover Prasat Hin Phanom Rung Historical Park. The stone city temple here is at least 250 years older than Angkor Wat and quite remarkable. Buriram, the nearest capital city, is a 4.5 hour drive northeast from Bangkok. Its name translates to ‘City of Happiness’ and it is a brilliant base to take in a vision of Thailand not currently shown on the glossy brochures.
The simply incredible stone temple in the heart of the Historical Park is called Phanom Rung. Built in the 10th-13th century, the temple sits atop an ancient extinct volcano elevated over the surrounding plains. This is an amazing travel experience that few can claim to have experienced yet. Take your camera as the restored temple is, simply put, amazing. Looking out over plains tended by farmers for at least 3,000 years, the construction of this laterite and sandstone temple must have been awe-inspiring to the those that tended the land. The gods must have seemed so powerful and the religion irrepressible, as it quickly infiltrated every part of the region’s society.
Today, orange-robed Buddhist monks walk the pathways between buildings, making for some incredible photography opportunities. The library and education centre built 1,200 years ago would have been an amazing source of knowledge for people then. Unfortunately most of the ancient manuscripts are now lost, but the engineering they employed continues to amaze visitors.
Of course, this is just one part of the journey through Thailand, a place of beautiful people, delicious and varying cuisine, a history well worth learning about and a culture that’s truly remarkable.
See more of our journeys through Thailand from our Explore TV website here.
About the Author – Trevor Cochrane
Trevor is a born-and-bred proud West Australian who grew up on a dairy farm in Mundijong, just outside of Perth, WA. He launched the media company Guru Productions in 2002 that has since produced over 750 episodes of television telecast on Channel 9 nationally and is now seen in over 100 countries across the globe in 14 different languages. In the years since creating The Garden Gurus he has created and produced over 50 hours of international travel shows, food and wine programs, local WA food program Our State on a Plate and the Destination WA travel series. All Guru Productions projects appear on Channel 9 and WIN Television, as well as nationally on the popular digital TV channel 9 Life. Trevor’s passion for gardening has seen him write four books and regular columns for the The Sunday Times and The West Australian Newspaper.