Photo: Time to eat.

Introduction

As green rice paddies slide by on the way to Chaiyaphum, you may well be hit with a strong sense of venturing into the middle of nowhere. The small provincial city has no train station or airport and is by and large off the radar for both foreign and Thai travellers. Few people come this way. If you prefer the path less taken, that may be a reason to come.


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Chaiyaphum surfaced as a Khmer vassal state in the Angkor period as evidenced by Prang Ku, a minor Khmer-style sanctuary to the east of town. In the early 19th century, a Lao nobleman named Lae settled here and began paying tribute to King Rama III in Bangkok. In a rebellion against Siam, Lao forces attacked and briefly seized Chaiyaphum (and Nakhon Ratchasima), and Lae was killed next to a tamarind tree now marked by a shrine. Collecting offerings of flower garlands and miniature horses, a monument to Governor Lae stands at the centre of a traffic circle in the heart of Chaiyaphum town.

Chaiyaphum: It's sleepy.

Chaiyaphum: It's sleepy. Photo: David Luekens

Wedged between the North, Northeast (Isaan) and Central regions of Thailand, Chaiyaphum province appears to enjoy a prominent position when viewed on a map. In reality, it’s an obscure area bypassed by major highways and railways. The picturesque Petchabun mountains rise in the west side of the province, while the east is an endless sea of paddies stretching into Khon Kaen and Nakhon Ratchasima provinces.

Many Thais know Chaiyaphum for the Siamese tulips that blanket parts of the countryside in June and July. The best place to see them is Pa Hin Ngam National Park, named after its mushroom-shaped rock formations in the far southwestern corner of the province. Nature lovers can also cruise north to Tat Ton Waterfall and Phu Laen Kha National Park, featuring another set of strange rocks.

Chaiyaphum revolves around the Chao Por Phraya Lae Monument.

Chaiyaphum revolves around the Chao Por Phraya Lae Monument. Photo: David Luekens

For its part, Chaiyaphum town has a lively night bazaar, a large community of expat English teachers and a modest downtown area where you can glimpse everyday Isaan-Thai life untouched by tourism. Pick up some fresh fruit, grilled chicken and sticky rice for a picnic in a relaxing park tucked off Sanambin Road on the west side of town.

Located 10 kilometres west of the provincial capital off Route 225, the town of Ban Khwao is renowned for producing fine mut mee silk and cotton fabrics. Wander the narrow lanes and you’ll find studios where old women weave ravishing scarves and sarongs on traditional wood looms.

Very little English is spoken anywhere in the province; do bring a phrasebook.

The shrine at Prang Ku.

The shrine at Prang Ku. Photo: David Luekens

Low-key Chaiyaphum wakes up to host the elaborate Chao Por Phraya Lae Festival every year from January 12 to 20. A raucous elephant procession pays homage to the province’s martyred 19th-century governor.


Orientation
Home to around 50,000 people, Chaiyaphum town is located 330 kilometres northeast of Bangkok. Nakhon Ratchasima is 120 kilometres to the southwest, while Khon Kaen lies around the same distance to the northeast. These two much larger cities offer the most reliable transport to Chaiyaphum.

The town is centred at the Chao Por Phraya Lae Monument, which stands at the centre of a large traffic circle at the junction of south-to-north-running Haruethai Road and east-to-west-running Bannakarn Road. The downtown commercial area stretches to the north and west of these two roads, with Nonmoung Road and Sanambin Road striking north from Bannakarn on either side of the large Dee Prom Hotel.

Peak hour, downtown.

Peak hour, downtown. Photo: David Luekens

Chaiyaphum Hospital is located a few hundred metres east of the traffic circle on Bannakarn, while the police station is found just north of the traffic circle on Haruethai. You’ll find banks and ATMs on Haruethai and at the Tesco Lotus shopping centre on Sanambin.

Open from 08:30 to 16:30, Chaiyaphum’s small Tourism Authority of Thailand office hands out maps and brochures just southwest of the traffic circle on Haruethai. If you need to get online, Kid Internet operates on the north side of Bannakarn, just east of the Dee Prom Hotel. Another internet shop is found just north of Pocket Park Minitel on the east side of Haruethai.






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