Road Trip from Korat to Chiang Mai in the delivery truck

Korat-Nakhon Sawan-Sukhothai-Lampang-Chiang Mai

In May 2021 my girlfriend and I visited her parents while there were increased travel restrictions. As on previous trips to Korat we firstly flew to Don Muang, Bangkok. Our plan was to drive one of the family delivery cars to Chiang Mai, useful given uncertainty over domestic flights. This post recounts the main highlights on the road trip including places we stayed and cultural insights.

The superb Wat Thep Phithak Temple a few minutes from the family home.

Klang Dong, Korat

Viewpoint in the Khao Yai National Park.

We stayed with my girlfriends parents for a week, during which took a road trip through Khao Yai National Park. Our encounters included stopping at breathtaking viewpoints, where mountains rise to 1200 metres, trekking to waterfalls and witnessing wildlife. In addition, we frequented several cafes around the Pak Chong District and inside the National Park. I was treated to fantastic home-cooked Thai food and helped to collect various fruits from the family garden to sample.

Haew Narok Waterfall we discovered whilst driving through part of the National Park.

Road Trip Leg 1 – Korat – Nakhon Sawan

The first part of the road trip involved travelling through the Provinces of Saraburi, Lopburi, Singburi, Chai Nat and Uthai Thani. In Lopburi we again saw monkeys in the city centre and around Phra Prang Sam Yod. Then, as we passed Chai Nat I noticed roadside stalls selling field mouse, the OTOP (and delicacy) for the province. I’ve recently learned about OTOP, a stimulus project with the goal to market unique local products of each Thai sub-district. After driving 4 hours, we arrived at Nakhon Sawan, staying at the Hop Inn, before leaving for a hike the next morning.

Nakhon Sawan Attractions

Phrachulamanee Pagoda at Wat Kiriwong

The central chedi is surrounded by 4 smaller chedis built on the second level and another 4 at ground level.

After we checked in, we drove up to Wat Kiriwong, a central landmark and the highest point of Nakhon Sawan. The temple is located on Dao-wa-dung hill where we parked and admired Buddha images, statues and the ubosot. In addition, Wat Kiriwong comprises the exquisite gold Phrachulamanee Pagoda, built in the 19th century. This is approximately 1.5km from the main part of the temple but well worth experiencing. All tiers of the Pagoda contained shrines and statues, and the top tier offered us spectacular 360-degree views of the city. Also on this level were stunning wall paintings about the life of Buddha and statues of Bronze and Emerald Buddhas.

Khao Nor Limestone Mountain

Although slightly misty on the day, the panoramas at the summit were still fantastic.

We arrived to Khao Nor, 45km road trip from Nakhon Sawan, at 6.30am and parked in an enclosed area. This was a measure to protect your car from the monkeys that frequent the grounds of the temple location. A man accompanied us to the foot of Khao Nor where steps ascended into the forest. Indeed, he led us right to the top, taking 30-40 minutes and involving several ladders, rocky trails and many steps. The hike was really enjoyable, if quite energy sapping, with exceptional views and photos at the 250-metre summit. We could see far into the horizon, making out Nakhon Sawan city, Huay Kaa Keng National Park and the Burmese border. Huay Kaa Keng, in Uthai Thani province is featured on the BBC program Thailand: Earth’s Tropical Paradise.

Feeding the monkeys nuts, although hungry they were friendlier than the ones in Lopburi.

Road Trip Leg 2 Nakhon Sawan – Sukhothai

I found the road trip from Nakhon Sawan to Sukhothai particularly fascinating and a contrast from previous parts of the journey. For instance, the roads were noticeably less busy and narrower, including less trucks, than in the Central provinces. Our one stop was at Kamphaeng Phet city to share some Grass Jelly, Kamphaeng Phet provinces own OTOP. Approaching Sukhothai, I discovered there are two Sukhothai cities, the ancient one and the modernised one. On route to the former we passed through modern Sukhothai and stopped for the famous Sukhothai Noodles. We drove to our resort, Scent of Sukhothai before visiting a section of the Sukhothai Historical Park on the first afternoon.

Sukhothai Day 1 – North of the Town Walls

The ancient capital of Thailand was founded in the 13th century AD and encompasses an area of 70sq/km. Meanwhile, there are 193 monuments, 60 inside the town walls, 27 outside to the north, 37 south, 19 east and 50 west. Several of these are of Khmer architecture from the early Sukhothai period, displaying similarities to temples (or prasats) at Angkor Wat (1107-1157). In 1988 the Historical Park was unveiled and in 1991 it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Wat Phra Phai Luang contains a range of Khmer style structures, some of which are still intact.

Wat Phra Phai Luang (Royal Temples)

We started by visiting Wat Phra Phai Luang comprising 3 Khmer style prangs, north of the Mae Chon moat and ancient wall. Further, Wat Phra Phai Luang consists of several chedis (stupas) with Buddha images sitting inside the pagoda arched altars. Other structures include the mondop, reclining Buddha statue and many bases of small viharns (assembly halls) and bell-shaped chedis.

WAT SRI CHUM

This temple has a vast mondop with a giant seated Buddha image called Phra Achara. The image is 11 metres in width and 15 metres high and fills the total space of the shrine. Further, there are remains of chedis and viharns on the site which was deserted in the late Ayutthaya period.

The amazing Buddha image at Wat Sri Chum.

Thuriang Brick Kilns

The Thuriang kilns are about 2-3 metres in width and 5-6 metres in length, and many visible from the main moat. Further, we were able to examine kiln features such as the updraft and large tunnels close to the moat. I learned that Sangkhalok ceramic ware from the Sukhothai period (13th to 16th centuries) were produced here.

More than 200 separate kilns were unearthed during 20th century excavations and several are still intact.

After exploring this group of temples and structures we returned to Scent of Sukhothai right on the edge of the ancient city. We walked to have dinner with the nearby backdrop of monuments glistening as the sunset.

Sukhothai Historical Day 2 – Inside the Town Walls

The subsequent morning we started early to cover as much of the inside of the ancient city as possible. You can hire bicycles or board a golf cart to see the monuments but we decided to walk for the experience. Overall the Historical Park contributes a remarkable amount of history and certainly ranks highly on my list of most incredible trips.

Wat Mahathat (Temple of the Great relic)

Wat Mahathat contains numerous monuments including the main chedi in lotus bud shape which symbolises common Sukhothai architecture. Likewise, there are many chedis in various styles, viharns, prangs, mondops and an ubosot with large Buddha images. Buddha images, notably standing Buddhas, are fairly unique to Sukhothai and were certainly prominent during the Sukhothai period. In my opinion, Wat Mahathat was the most spectacular and historically prominent temple at the Historical Park.

Wat Si Sawai

Wat Si Sawai contains important ancient monuments, namely three Khmer-style cone shaped stupas or prangs. Further, remnants of images of Hindu gods enshrined at the middle stupa indicate that the monuments were associated with Hinduism. The temple was subsequently converted into Buddhist style by adding a viharn to the front. Meanwhile, there are superb mural paintings inside the eastern prang at Wat Si Sawai.

Wat Traphang Ngoen

This smaller temple includes a principal chedi, a viharn, an ubosot, a smaller chedi and an image of a walking Buddha. The principal chedi is similar to the main chedi at Wat Mahathat and the viharn is in front of this. However, only the base and laterite columns that supported the roof of the viharn remain today. Further, the remains of the ubosot stand on a islet surrounded by a small lake. Many temples as well as outstanding panoramas are visible from Wat Traphang Ngoen.

Wat Sa Si

This eye-catching temple is set amidst a pond graced with lotus flowers, surrounded by trees and a larger lake. Significant buildings comprise a Sri Lankan style bell-shaped chedi, a viharn and a ubosot connected by bridge. Additionally, a larger bridge runs from the main pagoda to the area around Wat Chana Songkram and Wat Mahathat. Given its attractive location, Wat Sa Si is the centrepiece for the annual Loi Krathong festival.

Statue of King Ramkhamhaeng the Great (1279-1298)

Our final sight was the King Ramkhamhaeng statue, opened in 1976, the King who popularised and sustained Theravada Buddhism. He was a powerful king who applied the Buddhist teachings, supported the arts and created the Thai alphabet in 1283.

Road Trip Leg 3 – Sukhothai – Lampang

Stopping for views of the mountains in the Den Chai area of Phrae Province.

Lampang was our last stop and my first experience of the city having previously passed through by train from Bangkok-Chiang Mai. To reach Lampang we drove through Uttaradit and Phrae, with a lunch stop at a fascinating noodle restaurant in Uttaradit. We stayed one night, at Ma Chic and Cozy (below image), exploring a night market before a brief stroll the next morning. Finally, we completed this fantastic few days by driving from Lampang to Chiang Mai which took around 2 hours. Certainly, the final road trip was beautifully mountainous and at times the highways were steep but spectacular.

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