Mountain ranges dominate the western flank of Thailand, from the far north to the peninsula. Accessibility still remains restricted by the physical conditions that are characterized by high altitude, steep mountain slopes, mostly narrow valleys, brooks, creeks and rivulets gushing like torrents through waterfalls and rapids, dense vegetation, and wildlife including predators that pose a threat to human habitat. Cross-sections look like staggered silhouettes of mountains – hills – valleys – hills - mountains – hills in the interior, and like tapering silhouettes of mountains – hills – valleys – hills – mountains – coastal plain – estuaries – islands at the latitudes of the Gulf of Thailand, with the coastal plain forming a very long and, in parts, extremely narrow strip.
The largely rugged terrain has fewer sites that are suitable for human habitation than do by far most other parts of the country. Settlements, past and present, have existed along few routes that have been trodden in linking the vast plains, the Central Plain of Thailand and the plain beyond the mountain range and present-day international border, toward the west. The remoteness of the typically narrow valleys, best described as glens, secluded by high ridges is perhaps the major cause of their sparse population density, since historical times.
The best known among prehistoric settlements was discovered at a site named Ban Kao in the Khwae Noi River Valley. In 19431, the Dutch prisoner of war by the name of van Heekeren stumbled across some Neolithic artefacts, while digging the track for the railway line built by order of Japanese occupation forces in the direction of Myanmar. Systematic excavations yielded Stone Age tools such as axe-blades and utensils made from gravel, accessories made from shells, some earthenware, and human skeletons. There is evidence that there had been a dwelling of prehistoric human beings some 500,000 years ago, and onward into the Neolithic Period. This period is designated as “Feng Nio Culture” or “Khwae Noi Culture”. The archaeological finds are preserved and displayed at the Ban Kao National Museum, constructed beside that Neolithic burial site discovered first, in Kanchanaburi Province. Among other traces of early settlements in the same province are the cave paintings which depict people and animals, in either hunting or agricultural scenes. Western cliffs in the Khao Pla Ra No-hunting Zone of Uthai Thani Province are known for their prehistoric paintings in red colour depicting human and animal life.
MONUMENTS AND ARTEFACTS TRACED TO THE 5TH UNTIL 9TH CENTURIES DVARAVATI CULTURE
Remains of the earliest civilization are the ruins of settlements and monuments from the Dvaravati Period in the two-pronged river basin of the Khwae Noi and Khwae Yai rivers, whose upstream reach in Umphang District of Tak Province is called Mae Klong, which is also the name of the river formed upon the confluence of the rivers known as Khwae Yai and Khwae Noi.
Between the Three Pagoda Pass in the headwater area of the Khwae Noi River, in Kanchanaburi Province, and the ancient site of Khu Bua, in Khu Bua Sub-district of Mueang District in Ratchaburi Province, a Dvaravati realm existed, whose culture was deeply influenced by Buddhism. The Mon people built the three pagodas which mark the pass across the watershed, the present-day border between Thailand and Myanmar. Towns such as Sangkhla Buri are located at the site of ancient Dvaravati settlements. Precious Dvaravati artefacts such as statues of Lord Buddha and the Hindu deity Vishnu, dated as of the 5th and 6th centuries, are preserved and displayed at the National Museum in Bangkok. Their blend of Brahmanism and Buddhism shows the influence of India’s Gupta Period [320-650]. They were excavated at the site of Phong Tuek in Tha Maka District of Kanchanaburi Province.
Khu Bua, an ancient site near modern Ratchaburi Town, was the social, cultural and economic centre of communities in the two-pronged river basin, during the Dvaravati Period. Its inhabitants were Buddhists. Remains total 44 structures inside and outside a rectangular moat. Artefacts include Buddha images as well as human, giant and animal figures, all made from terra-cotta. Considered as the oldest archaeological evidence of the Dvaravati Period found in Ratchaburi Province is the 2.5 metre-tall, bas-relief Buddha image in the posture of giving a sermon in the Ruesi Cave at Khao Ngu in Chedi Hak Sub-district of Mueang District. To the south, in the old centre of Phetchaburi Town, the vihara of the monastery named Wat Maha That Wihara Vihan has a large Dharma Chakra (Dharma Wheel) created in the Dvaravati Period.
One of the oldest religious structures is the monastery of Wat To Phae in Khun Yuam District of Mae Hong Son Province. It is believed to have been built by Lawa people, at the time when Queen Chammathewi ruled the Haripunchai Kingdom from its capital city, Lamphun, at the turn of the 7th century, as evident from a Dvaravati-style pagoda. Thanks to its maintenance by Thai Yai villagers, this ancient monastery has been preserved.
MONUMENTS AND ARTEFACTS TRACED TO THE 9TH UNTIL 14TH CENTURIES KHMER STYLE
Khmer conquerors occupied the river basins as far as to the downstream area of the Khwae Noi River, where they had a fortress built, known as Mueang Sing. Situated in Sing Sub-district of Sai Yok District, to the southwest of Kanchanaburi Town, it is believed to have been the westernmost outpost of the Angkorcentred Khmer Empire, from the middle of the 9th to the beginning of the 13th century. The total area size, consisting of four groups of ruins built from laterite, is 1.03 sq km. Its central complex, a square site surrounded by laterite walls, 880 metres in length, on an earthen embankment, with a moat alongside, covers 0.77 sq km. Prominent among the edifices in the Bayon style is the principal shrine, Prasat Mueang Sing. This grand Khmer temple complex and the military outpost were constructed during the reign of King Jayavarman VII [1181-1220]. The interior of the sanctuary houses a sculpture of Avalokitesvara. This is evidence that it was a Mahayana Buddhist complex. Among the other sculptures found at the site is the statue of Pratchaya Paramita, a female manifestation of the Avalokitesvara in the Mahayana Buddhist tenet. Moreover, there is a wide range of artefacts such as stone carvings adorning the buildings of the sanctuary, religious statues, implements, and pottery shards. The site was likely inhabited until into the 14th century.
Other ancient Khmer monuments in the area include the circumferential wall and 24-metre high tower or prang erected on a square base and built in the Bayon style inside the monastery of Wat Phra Si Rattana Maha That Wora Wihan, locally called Wat Na Phra That, in Ratchaburi Town. Its prayer hall or vihara, situated near the ancient prang houses Buddha images of the Dvaravati, Khmer and Ayutthaya periods.
Another such ancient monument is the monastery named Wat Maha That Wora Wihan in the historic centre of Phetchaburi Town. Construction of this monastery was begun during the period of Khmer rule. The ensemble of the cloister with one tower or prang and one small chapel each to the north, west and south, a high ornamental gateway, gopura, to the east, and a central prang, though half-finished by then, was the work of Khmer artisans. It is an edifice characteristic of Mahayana Buddhism to which King Jayavarman VII [1181-1220] had erstwhile Hindu sanctuaries converted. Completed several centuries later, the central tower or prang rises to a height of 62 metres.
Of the same origin is the monastery named Wat Kamphaeng Laeng, also located in Phetchaburi Town. It was built as a Khmer sanctuary with five towers or prang laid out in a quincunx, of which four are left. They were dedicated to the Hindu deities Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu and Uma. Constructed in the Preah Rup3 style (early 11th century), known in Thai as Prae Rup style, and dedicated to Brahma, that Hindu sanctuary was transformed into a Mahayana Buddhist monastery in the 13th century
CONSOLIDATION OF THAI POLITY AND CULTURE
The oldest, existing settlement in the mountain range probably is Ban Wiang Nuea, also known as Ban Don, in Mae Hong Son Province. It was founded in 1317 and served as an important outpost of the Lan Na Kingdom of Chiang Mai. Another such outpost in the same province is Wiang Yuam where, however, only its moats remain.
The oldest monuments, built in the Chiang Saen style, exist in the northern part of the mountain range. The monastery of Wat Mani Banphot in Tak Town houses a Buddha image that is dated as of the late 13th century. Of the same period is the lotus-bud shaped stupa with a multitiered umbrella, named Chedi Yuthahatthi. It is believed to have been erected to commemorate a battle won by the then Prince, later King Ramkhamhaeng. Further south, in present-day Kanchanaburi Province, there in the Khwae Noi Valley, King Maha Chakraphat [1548-1569] had a garrison constructed, following the successful campaign against Burmese invaders.
Thereupon, sites along the Mae Klong River such as Ban Rai Na Thi and Khu Bua, both in Ratchaburi Province, were resettled with groups of Thai Yuan, also known as Thai Yonok. They were originally from Lan Na, where they had been taken captives during a campaign to repulse a simultaneous Burmese thrust in the north. Examples of religious edifices restored or built by such new settlers include monasteries famous for their Buddha images and mural paintings such as Wat Maha That Wora Wihan in Ratchaburi Province; Wat Maha That Wora Wihan and Wat Yai Suwannaram in Phetchaburi Province; and Wat Ko Lak in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province.
In Mae Hong Son Province of the north, the expulsion of the Burmese forces was followed by reconstruction. Examples are the fortification of Wiang Yuam Town on the order of King Kawila of Chiang Mai and the reconstruction of the monastery named Wat Chong Kham in Mae Hong Son Town, originally founded in 1827 and built by Thai Yai artisans.
Upon the foundation of Bangkok as the capital city, the rulers of the Royal House of Chakri placed emphasis on the reinforcement of territorial integrity at the country’s western flank. On the order of King Rama I [1782-1809], a fortified town was built at the ancient site of Mueang Sing in Kanchanaburi Province, to serve as an administrative and strategic centre of the area stretching toward the border with Burma, present-day Myanmar. There and in the surrounding area, particularly in the plain of the Mae Klong River in Ratchaburi Province, Mon refugees from the neighbouring Hongsawadi Kingdom were settled. During the Third Reign [1824- 1851], the town of Prachuap Khiri Khan, abandoned after the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767, was re-established.
On hilltops above the town of Phetchaburi, known as Phra Nakhon Khiri, King Mongkut, also known as Rama IV [1851-1868], had a palace and temples built. In the town, the old monastery of Wat Yai Suwannaram with its unique, 300- year old mural paintings featuring mythical angels was chosen to resurrect a hall once standing in Ayutthaya’s Grand Palace. This hall is entirely built of teak wood and has exquisite wood carvings, especially on its door panels.
At great distance to the north, in Tha Sai Luat Sub-district of Mae Sot District, Tak Province, on the border with Myanmar, the unique Mahayana Buddhist monastery of Wat Thai Wattanaram, also known as Wat Mae Tao Ngiao or Wat Thai Yai, was built in the Thai Yai architectural style, in the year 1857. It houses a highly revered Buddha image which was transferred from Mandalay in Myanmar.
At the mountainside of Khao Sattanat in Ratchaburi Province, widely known as Khao Wang, situated in Don Rae Sub-district of Mueang District, King Chulalongkorn [1868-1910] had a palace built, in the year 1873. There, the King received the emissary of King Luis I of Portugal, in 1877. In the Seventh Reign [1925-1935], the existing monastery of Wat Khao Wang was built in the former palace grounds. Two more palaces were built in the coastal area of Phetchaburi Province, during the Sixth Reign [1910-1925]. The seaside palace named Hat Chao Samran, constructed at the beach of Laem Phak Bia Sub-district of Ban Laem District in 1918, was dismantled soon after and re-assembled to construct the Maruekhathaiyawan Palace, the “abode of love and hope”, further south in Cha-am Sub-district of the district of the same name. In the neighbouring Hua Hin Sub-district, part of the district of the same name in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province, King Prachathipok, also known as Rama VII [1925- 1935] had a sea-front residence built. Construction of this residence, named Klai Kangwon Palace, began in the year 1926. It has served as a royal residence throughout the present reign, from 1946 onward. An entirely different structure built in the Sixth Reign [1910-1925] is the Hua Hin Railway Station, one of the most attractive such stations in the country.
AMAZING NATURAL ENVIRONMENT
High mountain ranges run almost in a straight line, from the northernmost point in Thailand down south onto the peninsula. The westernmost range named Tanao Si is shared between Thailand and Myanmar. Running parallel in Thailand are three ranges. They are called, from the west with most of the high mountains, the Thanon Thong Chai Tawan Tok, Thanon Thong Chai Ton Klang and Thanon Thong Chai Tawan Ok ranges. Overall, the ruggedness of the terrain is greatest in the north where Mae Hong Son Province is located, and somewhat balanced by the coastal plain along the Gulf of Thailand, with its mountainous hinterland in the provinces of Ratchaburi, Petchaburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan.
In the limestone mountain areas, caves abound. In some caves, cliff drawings or paintings, archaic tools, fragments of earthenware or human skeletons are evidence of how important caves were as shelter, very early in the history of humankind. In the mountains of Mae Hong Son Province with such important caves [ tham in Thai] as Lot, Tukkata, Sao Hin Luang and Phi Maen, the Tham Lot National Speleological Research Institute was established, situated in the Pai River Basin Nature Reserve and located in Pang Mapha District. The Lot Cave complex is a subterranean wonderland through which a brook runs that carries visitors on rafts from one mountainside to the other. In close vicinity are many more caves, including those named Pha Phueak, Pha Daeng, Pang Dam, Nam Tok, Su Sa, Pha Mon and Mae Lana.
In the south of the high-mountain range, there in the Chaloem Rattanakosin National Park, Kanchanaburi Province, several such caves have streams flowing through. Between Tham Lot Yai and Tham Lot Noi, the former and larger cave has limestone formations onto which worshippers had miniature shrines built and Buddha images placed. The Sai Yok National Park has a rather small cave, which is the habitat of the smallest subspecies of bats, weighing two grams and named Kitti Bat. Two more rather unique caves are situated in the mountain of Chong Phran, situated in Tao Pun Sub-district of Photharam District in Ratchaburi Province. The one named Phra Non houses more than one hundred Buddha images. The other named Khang Khao shelters an estimated three million bats which, at sunset, make the mountain look like a volcano spewing thick, black smoke.
Naturally, this mountain terrain forms numerous watersheds and headwater areas. There are three large, though not equally extensive river basins in Thai territory. One such basin of tributary rivers is part of the eastern basin of the Salawin River in the provinces of Mae Hong Son and Tak. The largest basin of all is formed by the Mae Klong River, which originates in Tak Province, flows through Kanchanaburi Province, where it is known as the Khwae Yai River, and heads through Ratchaburi Province, where it is again known as the Mae Klong River, to empty into the Gulf of Thailand in Samut Songkhram Province. Of great importance is the Khwae Noi River, running the length of Kanchanaburi Province. It is the major tributary of the Mae Klong River. The third and smaller basin is that of the Phetchaburi River with its broad delta and estuary.
Plenty of brooks, creeks and rivulets run down the mountain sides, in many spots gushing across steep slopes and forming spectacular waterfalls. Few examples only are called up. The huge Mae Surin Waterfall in Mae Hong Son Province cascades over one hundred metres. Although in both Mae Hong Son and Tak provinces 70 percent of the area is at altitudes above 300 metres, Tak Province has many more spectacular waterfalls [nam tok in Thai].
Examples worth describing are many. Three are truly exceptional. Thi Lo Su is considered the most beautiful waterfall in Thailand and among the six largest in the world, flowing from the altitude of 900 metres and gushing down some 300 metres across a width of some 500 metres. Phra Charoen is a breathtaking sight, cascading across 97 tiers. Thi Lo Cho, also called Sai Fon, has an upper cliff that is 80 metres high and creates a spray that veils its lower falls like rain. Other waterfalls called up here include the Se Pla, Pha Lat, Lan Liang Ma, Lan Sang – likely the most popular owing to ease of access -, Pha Ngoep, Pha Phueng, Pha The, Mae Ramoeng, Nang Khruan, Pa Wai, Sai Fa, Sai Rung and Thi Lo Re.
The southern reaches of the mountain range, in Kanchanaburi Province, have likewise well-known waterfalls. Examples are the tiered Erawan over a total length of over 1,500 metres, with one of Thailand’s stunning cascades. The seven tiers of the Huai Mae Khamin create high cascades that are most powerful and distinguished as follows. The first cascade is called “fern thicket” [dong wan], the second “turmeric curtain” [mankhamin], the third “palace fronting the cliff” [wang na pha], the fourth “diamond umbrella” [chat kaeo], the fifth “fascination” [lay chon long], the sixth “Desmodium grove” [dongphi suea], and the seventh “deep shade” [rom klao]. Other waterfalls in Kanchanaburi Province worth mentioning are Kroeng Krawia with a most beautiful cascade, the large, cascading Dai Chong Thong, the huge Pha Tat, and the small but very pretty Sai Yok.
Hot springs exist throughout the mountain area. Examples are those in the Pha Bong and Huai Pong sub-districts of Mueang District and Mueang Paeng Sub-district in Pai District of Mae Hong Son Province; in Mae Kasa Sub-district of Mae Sot District and Huai Nam Nak Subdistrict of Phob Phra District in Tak Province; in Hin Dat Sub-district of Thong Pha Phum District in Kanchanaburi Province; and in Bo Khlueng of Suan Phueng Sub-district of the district of the same name in Ratchaburi Province.
PLANT AND ANIMAL WILDLIFE
Forests are the most expansive natural cover of the western mountain ranges. In the provinces of Mae Hong Son and Tak, major types are coniferous mountain forest and virgin, evergreen mountain forest. The latter also covers mountains in the west of Uthai Thani Province. In these three provinces, there are valuable hardwood forests of sal (Shorea) trees. Some mountain areas in Tak Province are covered with virgin jungle and deciduous tree forest. There, the tallest trees of Thailand grow, known as krabak, the lofty, hardwood (Anisoptera) trees. Some mountain areas of Uthai Thani Province have evergreen dry forests. The mountain ranges stretching from Mae Hong Son across Tak and Uthai Thani down south into Kanchanaburi provinces also have many areas covered with mixed forests of a great variety of trees. Deforested areas in the mountains of Uthai Thani Province have become degraded to savannahs. Mountains in Phetchaburi Province are covered with evergreen, tropical rainforest. Along the coast, particularly in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province, casuarinas are common. The shoreline of the provinces of Phetchaburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan is the natural setting of mangroves.
Examples of the many valuable trees growing naturally in the mountains are teak, with species whose colours range from golden to dark brown, and a very tall variant of Dipterocarpus, known in Thai as phluang, both common in Mae Hong Son Province. Valuable forest trees found in Kanchanaburi Province include redwood; ironwood (Hopea) used for the largest dugouts such as the royal barges; ingrin [known in Thai as rang], a very hard, very strong and very durable wood; a Bridelia species, named maka in Thai, which is rare and, hence, most valuable; and the tree called pradu in Thai (Pterocarpus macrocarpus), with dark red heart-wood that is durable and not attacked by termites. Few examples give an impression of the rich and varied wildlife. In the mountains of Mae Hong Son Province lives the rare serow, an ungulate with round antler tips. Further south, in Tak Province, roam the clouded leopard, civet, tapir and goat-antelope, also known as scrow. This animal also grazes in the mountains of Uthai Thani Province, together with the gaur, wild buffalo and red ox. They are prey to the leopard and hyena. The mountain ranges in Kanchanaburi Province are home to one of the largest animals of all, the elephant, and to the smallest known mammal, Kitti’s hog-nosed bat, which weighs only two grams and is one of the twelve most seriously endangered species in the world. Among other animals are the gaur, deer, tiger, Sumatran serow, bear, giant Asiatic tortoise and Malayan giant frog, and a newly discovered crab species named purachini in Thai. As for birds in the mountain ranges, of the great variety few are called up here including hawks, partridges such as the Chinese Francolin, gallopheasants, peacock-pheasants such as the green peafowl, bulbuls and vultures.
Deposits of minerals in the upland areas are not yet fully investigated, owing to the physical nature of the terrain which would require big investment into infrastructure development. Given the government ruling that decreed the area south of the11.N latitude an “open area” “for mining ventures with foreign majority shareholding and reserved the ”closed area“ to the north for Thai nationals, the bulk of investment and by far most mining enterprises have been concentrated in the south. In the mountain ranges from Prachuap Khiri Khan to Mae Hong Son provinces, mineral resources are, indeed, proven to exist. To a limited extent, though, only some are exploited.
Metallic deposits include tungsten, also known as wolfram, tin, zinc, antimony, lead, iron, copper, manganese, gold, and copper-sulphur compounds. Deposits of tungsten or wolfram, tin, antimony, iron and gold are known in Mae Hong Son Province. In Tak Province, tungsten, tin, zinc, antimony and cooper-sulphate compounds are found. The west of Uthai Thani Province has tin deposits. Tungsten, tin, zinc, antimony, lead and iron are found in Kanchanaburi Province. In nearby Ratchaburi Province are deposits of tin, antimony and lead. Tin, lead and manganese are found in Phetchaburi Province. Deposits of gold and tin exist in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province.
Non-metallic mineral resources include barites, fluorite, dolomite, feldspar, phosphate, gemstones, gypsum, marl, oil and oil shale. In Mae Hong Son Province, there is fluorite. Tak Province has deposits of barites and fluorite. In Kanchanaburi Province barites, fluorite, dolomite, feldspar and gemstones are found.
Ratchaburi Province has deposits of barites, fluorite, feldspar and phosphate. Fluorite and barites are also found in Phetchaburi Province. Deposits of feldspar, phosphate and gemstone exist in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province. Oil shale is found in Tak Province. In neighbouring Kamphaeng Phet Province, oil is extracted from the Sirikit Oil Fields. Gemstones are found at the southern end of the mountain ranges.
These are black spinelles and blue sapphires found in Kanchanaburi and zircon in Prachuap Khiri Khan provinces.
HARNESSING OF WATER RESOURCES
A large proportion of the rich water resources was harnessed through the construction of dams. Some of the newly created reservoirs serve one particular purpose such as irrigation for crop production, while others are of the multipurpose type, mainly for electricity generation and irrigation. In years of extreme rainfall, all reservoirs double as flood water retention basins. Virtually all these human-made lakes foster aquatic life, a resource that is tapped through fishery and used for aquaculture. At scenic spots, local tourism industries have evolved.
Among the many dams, including the so-called mini-hydropower plants, some large ones are named hereunder so as to highlight both the water resource potential and its use far beyond the mountain ranges proper. They include the Pha Bong Hydroelectric Power Station Dam across the Lamat River in Mae Hong Son Province, and the Bhumibol Dam, Thailand’s first and largest hydropower dam across the Ping River in Tak Province. Kanchanaburi Province has several dams, notably the Vajiralongkorn Hydropower Dam built from rock and concrete across the Khwae Noi River; the Si Nakharin Hydropower Dam across the Mae Klong River, known as Khwae Yai River in its respective midstream section; and the Tha Mueang Irrigation Dam across the Mae Klong River in its downstream section, which supplies a cropping area of 4,800 sq km that straddles areas in the provinces of Suphan Buri, Kanchanaburi, Ratchaburi, Nakhon Pathom, Samut Songkhram and Samut Sakhon. The Thap Salao Dam in Ratchaburi Province created a scenic lake against the backdrop of majestic mountains. In Phetchaburi Province, the earthen dam across the Petchaburi River, named Kaeng Krachan, has formed a large reservoir. Its water is also used to irrigate the fields of once poor farmers who were resettled in the area of the Hup Kaphong Rural Development Project, initiated by H.M. the King in 1962, implemented with support of Israel beginning in 1964, and inaugurated in 1966.
NATURE RESERVES AND PROTECTED AREAS
Large tracts of land in the mountain ranges, narrow valleys and plains of the western provinces are parts of protected areas, nature reserves, or national parks. Some of these sites are called up so as to convey an impression of their significance for the preservation of biodiversity and the conservation of the environment.
Examples in Mae Hong Son Province are the Tham Lot Forest Park with a brook running through a cave with access from two mountain sides; the Salawin National Park covering an area of 722 sq km; the Huai Nam Dang National Park straddling the boundary with Chiang Mai Province and covering a highmountain area of 1,252 sq km; the Tham Pla – Pha Suea National Park with virgin mountain forest on 488 sq km; and the Nam Tok Mae Surin National Park with its unique wetland and wildlife reserve at high altitude, called nong khio in Thai. Neighbouring Tak Province has the Lan Sang National Park covering 104 sq km with its eight magnificent waterfalls; the Tak Sin Maharat National Park, formerly known as the Krabak Yai National Park, with evergreen forests and Thailand’s biggest, lofty and hardwood trees of the Anisoptera species, the tree known in Thai as krabak, on 264 sq km; the Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary, 2.589 sq km in size and part of a World Heritage Site, with Thailand’s most beautiful waterfalls; and the Nam Tok Pha Charoen National Park of 855 sq km in mountainous terrain. Adjacent to the east are the Khlong Wang Chao, Khlong Lan and Mae Wong national parks in Kamphaeng Phet Province. The Thung Yai Naresuan - Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary straddles parts of the provinces of Uthai Thani, Tak and Kanchanaburi. It covers an area totalling 5,775 sq km and is the largest, contiguous tract of wildlife sanctuary in Thailand and in Southeast Asia as well. It was registered by UNESCO as a World Natural Heritage Site. Its south-eastern buffer zone of 317 sq km is the Phu Toey National Park with a forest of rare pine-trees, located partly in Uthai Thani and partly in Suphan Buri provinces.
Entirely located inside Kanchanaburi Province are 15 national forest reserves, five national parks, and two wildlife sanctuaries. The well-known ones include the Chaloem Rattanakosin National Park, Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary registered as a World Natural Heritage Site, Erawan National Park, formerly known as Khao Salop National Park, Sri Nakharin National Park, Sai Yok National Park covering 958 sq km of rocky mountains, and Khao Laem National Park measuring 815 sq km.
The Sirikit Forest Reserve is a rehabilitation pilot project of H.M. the Queen’s SUPPORT Foundation implemented on 480 hectares of degraded land in Ratchaburi Province. Kaeng Krachan National Park with its unique virgin tropical rainforest on the highest peaks in the mountain area of 2,915 sq km covers parts of Phetchaburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan provinces. The latter, a narrow, elongated stretch of land has nature reserves lined up like beads on a string. Examples are the Pa La-U section of the Kaeng Krachan National Park, the Nam Tok Huai Yang, Hat Wanakhom and Khao Samroi Yot national parks, and the Khao Hin Thoen Stone Park.
As seen from the northernmost headwater areas, non-Thai people living together with Thai people in Mae Hong Son Province include groups of Lisu and H’mong , both settled about one hundred years ago, and various Karen groups including Red , White and Long-necked Karen, the latter settled some twenty years ago. Another such immigrant ethnic group are the descendants of Chinese from Yunnan settled in the province’s tea growing hills. The Karen in Tak Province began to settle one hundred years ago. Soon after, groups of Lisu and Akha made their homes in locations at altitudes above 1,300 metres. Groups of the Yao or Mian settled in hillsides near water courses, at altitudes between 650 and 1,000 metres. Since the Second World War, H’mong and Mussur, the latter also known as Lahu, immigrated. The Karen in Si Sawat District of Kanchanaburi Province are the descendants of immigrants during the Ayutthaya Period. From the same period date the Karen settlements in the western mountains of Suphan Buri Province. Settlements of Mon people granted refuge by kings of Siam are concentrated in Ratchaburi Province. Today, their descendants form large proportions of the population in its Mueang, Ban Pong and Photharam districts. Another prominent group in Ratchaburi Province are the descendants of Thai people from Lan Na, who are known as Thai Yuan or Thai Yonok. Their greatest concentration is in Khu Bua District. Also from the far north hailed the Lao groups who settled in Phetchaburi Province more than one hundred years ago and are known as Lao Song. Karen villages dot the mountain range in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province, where they were established in 1983. As stated in a document published by the Office of the National Culture Commission, “all these Central Plain to the western, mountainous border.
The likely most publicized site is the track of the Death Railway, built by Allied Prisoners during the Second World War, especially the “Bridge over the River Kwai”, a replica of the bridge across the Khwae Noi River that was destroyed in an air raid by the Allied Forces, and the section of the railway track known as “Hell Fire Pass”, a long passage cut through mountain rocks. ethnic groups are fully assimilated and consider themselves Thais.”
CONSERVATION OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
Examples of the conservation of the built environment are taken from the two provinces of Kanchanaburi and Phetchaburi. The landmark of Phetchaburi Province is the Phra Nakhon Khiri Historical Park with the summer palace built by King Rama IV [1851-1868] and religious buildings. Kanchanaburi Province has sites that preserve remains of prehistoric times as well as of the recent past.
The Ban Kao National Museum is located at the site where the earliest traces of human habitat were excavated and preserved. The Prasat Mueang Sing Historical Park was established in 1987 to conserve an ancient built environment. The site with the Three Pagoda Pass has retained its strategic importance over the centuries, which is signified by its preservation. The old town centre of Kanchanaburi has some ensembles that remind of its past as an entrepot along the route from the Central Plain to the western, mountainous border.
The likely most publicized site is the track of the Death Railway, built by Allied Prisoners during the Second World War, especially the “Bridge over the River Kwai”, a replica of the bridge across the Khwae Noi River that was destroyed in an air raid by the Allied Forces, and the section of the railway track known as “Hell Fire Pass”, a long passage cut through mountain rocks.
Taken from: Thailand: Traits and Treasures. The National Identity Board, Royal Thai Government 2005.
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