Viewing the Ancient Kingdom through Thailand’s Historical Sites

Thailand historical site of a Buddha statue tangle in trees. In Thailand, historical sites such as Ayutthaya can have centuries of history behind them.

There are quite a few things that Thailand is famous for—beaches, its world-class hospitality industry, and even its shopping. But there’s so much more to the country than all of that.

Thailand is a country with a rich history. It’s encountered empires such as the Khmer Empire and it’s been an empire such as when it had the Ayutthaya Empire within its borders. The many historical sites and monuments scattered around the country speak to the hundreds of years of recorded history in Thailand, spanning many kings and dynasties.

So, which of these historical sites in Thailand should travelers make it a point to visit when they find themselves in the country?

Ayutthaya

The physical manifestation of Thai heritage that should not be missed is Ayutthaya Historical Park. This was the location of the Ayutthaya Kingdom (or Empire) and is nearly 3 million square meters of space full of ancient ruins from a palace to a variety of temples. The ancient city was destroyed in 1767 by Burmese invaders and what remains would become Ayutthaya Historical Park.

The city was founded in 1351, but Khmers occupied the area as early as 850 and named it Ayodhya, after the legendary city that was the birthplace of Rama, a major deity in Hinduism.

Wat Pho

If you’re looking for one of the most spiritual places in Thailand, look no further than Wat Pho (also spelled Po). This is one of the oldest temples in Bangkok and was built before the city was established as the country’s capital by Rama I, founder of the Chakri dynasty that still reigns over Thailand to this day.

It became Rama I’s main temple and some of his ashes are enshrined there. It was later expanded by Rama III. The temple’s most notable feature is undoubtedly its 46-meter-long and 15-meter-high statue of the reclining Buddha. In Buddhism, this image represents the historical Buddha about to enter Nirvana and end all reincarnations.

Exterior of Wat Pho in Bangkok. The temples of Bangkok have centuries of spirituality housed within them.

The statue was commissioned by Rama III in 1832.

Wat Pho is also notable for being the first public university in Thailand, where students learned religion, science, and literature. It currently houses the Wat Pho Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School, the first school of Thai medicine that was approved by the Ministry of Education.

Temple on the grounds of the Royal Palace. The Royal Palace isn’t just a palace, it’s a series of temples, palaces, and residence halls.

The Grand Palace

Just a stone’s throw away from Wat Pho lies another of the many landmarks in Bangkok, the Grand Palace. The name might be something of a misnomer, as it’s not a singular palace but rather an eclectic mix of halls, pavilions, and other buildings set across open spaces such as lawns, guardians, and courtyards. This is because after it was initially built during the reign of Rama I, successive kings made a number of additions to it.

Historically, the Grand Palace was the residence of the Royal Family, though reigning monarchs have favored Dusit Palace over the last few years. Still, the Grand Palace is still used for symbolic purposes such as state functions and royal ceremonies.

It also operates as a museum, and many royal offices still work out of it, however government agencies have not operated within the palace since 1932 when the country transitioned from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.

Wat Phra Kaew

One of the most popular historical places in Bangkok is situated on the grounds of the Grand Palace: Wat Phra Kaew, otherwise known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Construction of this temple began in 1783 because the Royal Family needed a temple for their personal use. No monks were lodged there and instead, monks from nearby temples made their way over to perform rituals. The temple has gone through a number of renovations as monarchs made a number of changes over the years.

Today, Wat Phra Kaew is still the royal temple and is still where religious rites by the King and his family are undertaken.

Exterior of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Spiritual symbols are incredibly important for a country as religious as Thailand.

But the most notable thing about the temple might be the Emerald Buddha from which it gets its name. The statue of Buddha made from jade or jasper is about 26 inches tall and depicts Buddha in a meditative posture. This image of Buddha is the sacred palladium of Thailand. A palladium is an object of antiquity on which the safety of a nation is thought to depend on.

Phra Pathom Chedi

Phra Pathom Chedi is located in Nakhon Pathom. This is supposedly one of the oldest, if not the oldest, Buddhist structures in a country that is now almost entirely (Therdava) Buddhist. Built in the 3rd century, the temple was supposedly part of the efforts of an Indian ruler named Asoka to spread Buddhism all through Southeast Asia.

The landmark is revered by locals and non-locals because it houses a number of relics of Buddha.

Doi Suthep

Some of the landmarks in Thailand have more to do with mythology than any recorded history. Take Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, located in the mountain named Doi Suthep. There’s no exact history of the temple. The consensus is that it was founded in 1383 when the first stupa was erected, but there’s nothing that’s definite.

Green Buddha statue in Doi Suthep. Doi Suthep’s importance has more to do with folklore than history.

There is, however, a legend surrounding the temple’s origins. The legend goes that a monk from Sukhothai named Sumanathera had a dream in which he was told to journey to Pang Cha. There, he found a bone, supposedly from the shoulder of Siddharta Gautama. The bone displayed a number of magical properties such as glowing, being able to vanish, move on its own accord, and replicate itself.

Sumanthera then took the bone to King Dhammajara, ruler of Sukhothai. When the bone displayed no magical properties at a feast, he told the monk to keep it. King Nu Naone of Lan Na heard of the relic and asked the monk to present it to him.

Once the monk arrived, the bone broke into two pieces. The smaller piece was enshrined in a temple. The larger one was placed on the back of a white elephant. The elephant then climbed Doi Suthep. It then stopped, trumpeted three times, and dropped dead. King Nu Naone took it as an omen and had a temple constructed on the site.

There are a multitude of Thailand historical sites. Some of them are centuries old, so ancient that their histories are either lost completely or unclear. Some are relatively new, constantly being updated for a world that’s kept on changing.

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