With its wild outdoors, Chaiyaphum is a far cry from Bangkok, and that isn’t a bad thing. This small province in the northeastern part of Thailand is one of the country’s best-kept secrets. It offers a lot of attractions for visitors, rewarding those who take the trouble to visit this little-visited area, with a lot of visual treats and experiences they will not soon forget.
1. Discover the distinctive rock formations in Pa Hin Ngam National Park
“Pa Hin Ngam” means Forest of Beautiful Stones, an apt name given that the park is most known for the number of rock formations, in various shapes and sizes, spread across its grounds. Pa Hin Ngam National Park is about 100 km (62 miles) southwest of Chaiyaphum. A tram takes visitors from the park’s welcome center to the different trails and the rock formations.
Those who want to explore each trail but are worried about time need not fear because you can actually rent tents to stay overnight in the park. The best time to visit Pa Hin Ngam National Park is June or July, when the pink Siamese tulips, (locally known as dok kra jiao), indigenous to Chaiyaphum, are in bloom. Aside from this park, these blooms only grow in Sai Ngam and Thepsathit National Parks.
Phu Laen Kha, on the other hand, is considered Thailand’s answer to Stonehenge because of the Mor Hin Khao, or the Hill of White Rocks, which is part of the Seven Wonders of Thailand. They are comprised of large, rectangular boulders, each of which is about 12 meters (39.4 feet) high, found in the middle of a grassy field. While resembling Stonehenge, these rocks formed naturally, unlike the English attraction, which was man-made. Rumor has it that the rocks glow on certain nights, which is why some visitors opt to camp there overnight, to try to catch a glimpse of this event.
2. Bathe in the waterfalls of Tat Ton National Park and Sai Thong National Park
Tat Ton National Park can also be found in the Phu Laen Kha mountain range. The highlight of a visit to this park is seeing the numerous waterfalls, the most popular being the Tat Ton waterfalls. Tourists who want to explore the Tat Ton waterfalls can either visit in the summer, which is when locals also visit the park, to cool off or they can visit during the rainy season, between June and December, when the falls are more powerful.
The other waterfalls in Tat Thon National Park are Tat Klang and Pha Lang. Sai Thong National Park, on the other hand, is home to the Namtok Sai Thong waterfalls, which are 100 meters (328 feet) high.
The park’s high location, being perched on the Phan Hoei mountain range, allows visitors to enjoy the view at Hum Hod Cliff.
3. Find out more about Khmer history in Prang Ku
Prang Ku, found in Ban Nong Bua, was constructed between the 12th and 13th century, during the time of the Khmer empire. The original structure was built with laterite and sandstone. The remnants of a ceremonial pool can be found beyond the wall. Visitors will notice that the stone passageways all face east, toward the rising sun.
Beside the monument, with the central prang rising to about 10 meters (32.8 feet), is a Buddha image which dates back to the Dvaravati period, which took place between the 6th and 13th century.
4. Explore the Chaiyaphum fauna in the Phu Kieo Wildlife Reserve
Wildlife fanatics can visit the Phu Kieo Wildlife Reserve, with its 1560 square kilometers (602.3 square miles) of land and home to different species of animals, including 350 kinds of birds. It is also one of the best areas in Thailand to spot larger animals, such as elephants, tigers, leopards, hog deer, Asian black bears and many others.
5. Go on a boat ride in Chulabhorn Dam
Chulabhorn Dam, formerly called Nam Phrom Dam, is a reservoir resembling a lake and is surrounded by beautiful scenery. Visitors can spend a relaxing day here, simply boating along the water’s surface.
6. Buy silks in Ban Khwao
Ban Khwao, a small village about 13 kilometers (8 miles) away from Chaiyaphum, is known for its silk weaving and produces the distinctive tie-dyed Mut Mi silk. Visitors can buy silks here, or simply observe how the products are made.
7. Visit the monument honoring a Lao Chaiyaphum ruler
Jao Pho Phraya Lae was the ruler of Chaiyaphum in the 18th century. Despite being Laotian, he sided with Bangkok when Vientiane declared war against Siam.
8. Attend a festival
Chaiyaphum has several annual festivals worth checking out. One such festival is the Dok Krachiao (or Kra Jiao) Blooming Festival, which celebrates the period when the Siamese tulips come in full bloom. The festivities may include musical performances, rock climbing rallies, tree-planting activities, and parades. This is held from June to August.
Another activity is the Chao Pho Phraya Lae Festival, or the Chaiyaphum Elephant Festival, an event intended to honor the first governor of the province. A highlight of the festival is an elephant parade and the festival takes place between January 12-20, every year.
The Chaopho Phraya Lae Worship Ceremony, held at the Nong Pla Thao Shrine, is intended to pay homage to Chopho Phraya Lae. Traditional dances are performed at the Nong Pla Thao Shrine, for this event. This is held yearly, for three days, starting from the first Monday in May.
The Candle Festival is held on the first full moon day of the eighth lunar month, every year, which usually falls in July. Candle contests are held, as well as a procession.
9. Say hello to the elephants in their village
Ban Khai on Koh Phangan, otherwise known as Ban Kai Mun Phaeo or simply Ban Kai, is dubbed the elephant village because it is where villagers tame captured elephants.
In January, the villagers go on an “elephant round-up.”
10. Listen to traditional northeastern Thai music
Mor lam is the folk music of northeastern Thailand. It combines Thai and Laotian music to create a distinctive sound. The music is characterized by its fast vocals, coupled with flexible melody. The lyrics usually talk about the life of the rural poor. Mor lam is traditionally accompanied by someone playing the khene, which is a free-reed mouth organ. Mor lam may be performed during festivals.