Surprising Cities in Thailand

Is Bangkok the center of the Thai universe? Absolutely. Is Thailand much more than sun, sand and sea? Very much so. Secondary cities in Thailand are becoming larger, more cosmopolitan and youth focused while retaining many local traditions and a strong sense of self-worth. Each is unique and offers something special for visitors. Our selection in this issue of eNews are 3 up and coming Thai cities from north to south.

Chiang Rai,
Jewel of the North

Located at the northernmost point in Thailand, bordered by Myanmar and Laos, Chiang Rai was once the first capital of the Lanna Kingdom. This heritage firmly roots Chiang Rai to the past and a tradition of Buddhist artistry is carrying the city forward in unique ways.

Three of the most popular sites in Chiang Rai are temples, the likes of which are found nowhere else in The Kingdom.

The White Temple or Wat Rong Khun is the creation of Chiang Rai-born artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. An unconventional approach to temple architecture, that combines elements from the artist’s own imagination with Buddhist teachings about heaven, hell, karma and earthly sins, this temple is entirely white and appears like an ice sculpture floating serenely in the lush tropical landscape.

The Black House or Baan Dam is created by another national artist -the late Thawan Duchanee. This is in stark contrast to the White Temple, painted all in black and housing an extraordinarily odd collection of artifacts.

The Blue Temple, or Wat Rong Suea Ten, is adorned in colors of sapphire blue and gold, the structure and artwork exuding a modern touch. This is contrasted with exterior carved statues of the Buddha, Nagas, Garuda and other beings from Thai Buddhist cosmology, truly a feast for the senses.

Apart from these unique temples, the Chiang Rai Provincial Museum showcases local culture and history and the Chiang Rai Golden Clock Tower is a popular destination. Each evening between 7 and 9 on the hour the tower is transformed by a light and sound show changing in color from gold, to pink to green.

After the sound and light performance, the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar offers a dazzling array of handicrafts from surrounding villages: paintings, sculptures and oddities by local artists with street food vendors providing northern snacks to full meals for the complete night bazaar experience.

Chiang Rai is also the departure point for fascinating day tours in the surrounding mountains, including Phu Chi Fa, Mae Fah Luang Gardens, Boon Rawd Farm, Union Hill of Tribe Villages. Each is a leap into nature with fresh local produce, handicrafts and insights into local ways and customs.

Udon Thani,
Gateway to Isan

Udon Thani is not only an important gateway to Laos, but also a big and vibrant city that has been the major transport hub and commercial center of the northeast.

The city is home to the well-known pre-historical site at Ban Chiang National Museum, where there are beautiful intact ceramics and important artifacts related to art and technology. Today Ban Chiang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Phu Phra Bat Historical park is another archaeological wonder for pre-historical enthusiasts as well as Udon Thani Provincial Museum, a must-visit for its architectural heritage and provincial arts, cultural collections.

In Udon Thani, start a day with a relaxing trip to Nong Prachak Park and be surrounded by joggers and families enjoying a picnic with a backdrop of a giant Ban Chiang-style pot and an enormous floating rubber duck that have become icons of the park.

Udon Thani has its own unique hand-woven silk, called ‘Pha Khid’ that is composed of raised diamond shaped patterns. Ban Na Kha village is the center for weavers at their work and for purchasing this fabric much beloved by Thais.

More outdoor activities beyond the city itself include Huay Luang, a large reservoir, to the west of the city ideal for rafting, fishing or cruising, or Phu Foi Lom Eco Park, home to a large diversity of wildlife in virgin forest.

When the day is done nightlife in Udon Thani is second to none. Restaurants, cafes, bars offer local Isan, or north-eastern cuisine that can be often blazingly spicy and amazingly delicious, and often with live entertainment for a fun and lively night out on the town.

the Melting Pot
of Charming Cultures

For centuries, Songkhla has been a major port and primary trading center for Chinese, Indians, Malays and Thai people. This unique multi-cultural heritage has been passed from generation to generation making Songkhla a true melting pot that charms visitors.

Songkhla is also a water city situated between Songkhla Lake, the largest lake in Thailand on the west and the gulf of Thailand on the east. It has a lovely and relaxing atmosphere of a lakeside town with much local flavor.

In and around Songkhla there is much to see and do. Yo Island, the largest island in Songkhla Lake, has become a popular cultural playground among day trippers while a stroll along Simila Beach in the city eventually takes you to the Golden Mermaid, the city’s most famous landmark.

In the Old Town, there are wonderfully restored 19th century buildings that house galleries, local shops, restaurants and cafes, and where street art is always a photo opportunity. The sacred City Pillar or San Chao Lak Muang Songkhla, an ancient and sacred monument in the heart of the Old Town as well as Songkla National Museum housing ancient Srivijaya Kingdom artifacts are sites at the heart of Songkhla’s rich heritage.

Finally, Hat Yai is just 30 kilometers away, a bustling commercial and transportation hub for the deep south and neighboring Malaysia, is far different from its laid back Songkhla. A visit to Kim Yong Market in downtown Hat Yai is a shopper’s paradise for imported snacks fresh or dried seafood and much more. Relaxing and slow, or exciting and fast, the Songkhla area has it all.

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