Never heard of Chaiyaphum? That's little surprise, as few people have. Tucked up in the northeastern Isaan region and bordered by Khorat and Khon Kaen, this largely untouristed province barely registers a foreign face. Still very Thai in appearance and character, the main industries here are rice and sugar production, while the province is also renowned as a silk centre.
Chaiyaphum is believed to have first surfaced as a Khmer vassal state during the peak of the Angkor period and this is evidenced by a series of ruins in the province. Later, during the reign of King Rama II and then King Rama III a Laotian nobleman by the name of Lae wandered around in this area with his people. When Lae broke with his Lao overlords and began to pay offerings to Rama III, he was given the city of Chaiyaphum in reward. Responding to this the Lao forces attacked and took both Chaiyaphum and Nakhon Ratchasima. After failing to convince him to join a greater Lao rebellion, the invaders killed him under a tamarind tree. A shrine to Lae still stands three km from town.
Today, Chaiyaphum is the capital of an otherwise largely rural province shows the signs of some limited urban development. Venture here and you will still discover somewhere pleasingly quiet and low-key, the perfect antidote to the Bangkok lifestyle. Grab some gai yang and some fresh pineapple, hop on your bike to our favourite little spot of serenity, a fair-sized lake with grassy banks hidden behind Tesco Lotus on Sanambin Road. You'll likely have only a few kids and the odd fisherman for company.
Chaiyaphum makes a good base for exploring nearby Tat Ton national park, with its stunning waterfalls that swell to 50m width in the rainy season. The primary attractions in the city itself, the Jao Pho Praya Lae monument and Prang Ku, are largely unimpressive and at most worth a passing glance. In fact, you will probably pass the former several times before even realising what it is. But for a dose of a rural greenery, a slower pace of life and a glance of local Thai life that is largely unaffected by the swarms of tourists elsewhere across the country, it's worth the trip.
Internet cafés are dotted all around town, including several at the eastern end of Bannakan Road. The majority also offer printing and copying services. Most hotels have free WiFi for guests, otherwise expect to pay around 15B per hour to get online.
All the major Thai banks are represented in the provincial capital and ATMs are not difficult to find.
By Stuart McDonald.