Sunday, November 9, 2008

A new —ancient—destination in Thailand

MANILA, Philippines - Thailand’s cradle of learning and civilization, the place believed to have given birth to the blueprint of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, is a mere three-hour drive from busy Bangkok.

Immerse yourself in ancient architecture, travel in time via centuries-old ruins, even opt for outdoor adventure and wine-tasting in the northeastern part of Thailand, known as I-San.

I-San, on the Khorat Plateau, is near the borders of Laos and Cambodia. It occupies one-third of the country’s total land area. One of its most popular attractions is the Phimai Historical Park.

Bearing a stunning resemblance to the architecture style of Angkor Wat, albeit on a smaller scale, its structures are believed to have been built in the 16th century.

Built to face the route the Khmers traveled, with laterite structures, rugged steps and carved sandstones, the castle erected at its center is Thailand’s only sanctuary facing the south. (Castles/sanctuaries all face the east).

When visiting this place, wear ultra light clothing, as the park can be extremely hot and humid.

Forest trek

Tourists are in for a different treat at the World Heritage Sites Dong Phaya Yen-Khao Yai National Park in Nakhon Ratchasima, which offers a walking tour, bird and butterfly watching, cycling, and camping.

You may encounter snakes, leeches, scorpions or large cats in the trek in the thick forest, but your guide will give you a quick lesson on which snakes to avoid, which snakes to fear, and which snakes to just shrug off.

Right. Like you actually have the presence of mind to check out if a snake is a king cobra or not when you see one slithering across your way.

“You’ll know it’s a king cobra because it can stand very tall, sometimes as tall as a human being. When you see one, don’t run; it will chase you. Don’t move; it could be threatened and bite you. Don’t make any noise; be absolutely quiet. Just shout for help and call my name,” said our guide Simon.

It’s a good thing none of us encountered a king cobra. Aside from a tour guide, a park ranger also walks with the group.

A shopping destination in I-San is the Pak Thong Chai Thai Silk village and Dan Kwean pottery village. Witness how women weave the finest Thai silk using traditional instruments, and watch how potters make clay vases huge enough to fit a full-grown person.

I-San also produces Thailand’s homegrown wine at the PB Valley Khao Yai Winery. Open for vineyard and cellar tours and wine-tasting and meals, PB Valley wine is Thailand’s pride and was served during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Bangkok.


Return to nature in Farm Chokchai, a boutique camping destination. Going back to nature is made more comfortable with boutique tents with air-conditioning.

Simplicity and nature are key words. All toilets and bathroom cubicles face the woods; one side of the wall is floor-to-ceiling glass with no curtains.

The person taking a shower next to you will not see you stark naked, but the trees and its creatures certainly will.

A touch of Western cowboy greets visitors at Thong Somboon Club, with activities suited for families. I-San’s playground offers go-cart, cart-cross, bumper boat, luge, ATV and cowboy and Indian shows. Sleep in traditional Western traveling caravan tents or Indian huts.

If that’s not enough, head back to the city to the new Siam Ocean World in Bangkok, which boasts the largest aquarium in Southeast Asia. Dive with sharks or walk with sharks in frog suits. There are 30 shows daily, including shark feeding. Or watch a 4D movie and feel the ocean move under you or splash on your face.

In the evening, you can enjoy a spectacular show on the history of Siam and the Thai’s belief in the three realms of the after-life (hell, forest of Himapaan and heaven). Listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the tallest theater stage in the world, “Siam Niramit: Journey to the Enchanted Kingdom of Siam,” with 150 performers in over 500 costumes, is a must-see for every visitor in Thailand.

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