The 13 Thailand Unesco World Heritage Sites and Tentative Sites – How and Why to Visit Each One!

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Last Updated on: 11th December 2023, 01:55 pm

The country of Thailand has some of the most fascinating historical parks and ruins in the world and some of the most bewitching biodiversity, so no trip to Thailand is complete without visiting at least one of the world heritage sites in Thailand.

Unfortunately, it would be difficult to visit all seven in a short trip, so unless you’re planning on backpacking around the country for a longer period, you’ll have to decide which of Thailand’s UNESCO sites are worth putting on your Thailand itinerary.

Below I list out the seven Thai world heritage sites and the six tentative sites, along with a map and the information you need to begin to plan a visit to each. This way you can determine which Unesco sites are right for your visit!

Once you’ve determined which world heritage sites you are going to visit, you should research and book your ferry and bus tickets in Thailand to ensure that your itinerary can be accomplished in the time you have allotted.

Map of Thailand’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Tentative Sites

Map of Thai UNESCO World Heritage Sites

The Seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Thailand

Thailand has both cultural and natural sites on the UNESCO World Heritage site list, so both cultural travelers and wildlife travelers will find plenty to choose from. 

You can probably guess from the name of my website that I tend to choose cultural sites first; however, I also love visiting natural Unesco sites because you get to see an amazing variety of landscapes and wildlife.

Cultural Thai World Heritage Sites

Ban Chiang Archaeological Site 

Located in northeastern Thailand in the Nong Han district of Udon Thani province, the Ban Chiang Archaeological Site is a museum dedicated to preserving some of the most important prehistoric finds in Southeastern Asia.

Visitors can tour both the Ban Chiang National Museum, which houses the artifacts, as well as see the open-air excavation site of Wat Po Si Nai.

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Ban Chiang Archaeological Site 

The site is an earthen mound (similar to places in the US like Cahokia and Poverty Point). It was discovered in 1966, and less than one percent has been excavated so far. Considering how much has been found to date, it is daunting to think about what might be discovered down the road.

The site is believed to be at least 3500  years old and has some of the earliest examples of pottery ever discovered.

Where to Base Yourself: Udon Thani, which is 45 minutes away by car.

Pro Tip: Beware of merchants selling pottery. Fakes will be confiscated and it’s a crime to export any real ancient pottery from the area.

Historic City of Ayutthaya

The most famous UNESCO World Heritage Site in Thailand, Ayutthaya is also the most visited since its location near Bangkok makes it easier to reach than other sites on this list.

The city dates to the fourteenth century, and it served as the capital of the Kingdom of Siam, though it was destroyed by the Burmese in the eighteenth century. Due to the nature of the destruction, the city was abandoned, which is why the ruins that were left are so well preserved.

Must-sees in Ayutthaya include Bang Pa-In Royal Palace, Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, and Wat Mahathat.

Historic City of Ayutthaya

Because Ayutthaya sits upriver from Bangkok and is just an hour outside of the city, there are many ways to visit. You can stay in Ayyuthya, visit as part of an organized day trip from Bangkok, or visit as an independent day trip. 

Pro Tip: the different ruins are not located near each other. If you travel independently, it’s worth it to have a dedicated driver who can take you between the sites.

Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns

Located roughly halfway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, the city of Sukhothai served as the first ancient capital of Siam. Its remoteness means it receives fewer tourists than Ayyuthya, so if you only have time for one ancient capital and want to avoid crowds, head to Sukhothai.

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The city is especially magical in the morning before the heat sets in. If you stay overnight, try to come to the park as early as you can.

Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns

While in Sukhothai Historical Park, make sure to see Wat Sa Si, Wat Mahathat, and Wat Phra Phai Luang.

Pro Tip: You can visit as a day trip from Bangkok if you book a round-trip flight from Bangkok. You can leave early in the morning and be back in Bangkok for dinner. 

Otherwise, stay in Sukhothai on your way between Chiang Mai and Bangkok.

The Ancient Town of Si Thep and its Associated Dvaravati Monuments

While the other Thai UNESCO sites on this list were inscribed in the early 1990s, Si Thep is a new addition to the list and preserves a new era of Thai history, that of the Dvaravati Empire which controlled the region from the sixth through tenth centuries.

While here, make sure to see the pyramid of Khao Klang Nok, the Buddhist sanctuary of Khao Klang Nai, and the Khmer-style tower of Prang Si Thep.

Because the site is new, there are not as many tourism options for getting here from Bangkok. Located four hours outside of the city, your best option is to stay near the park in Si Thep for at least one night.

Natural Thai World Heritage Sites

Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex

Located in the mountains of Northeastern Thailand near the border with Cambodia, this UNESCO site covers five different protected areas. Khao Yai National Park is the most visited and accessible, with half and full-day tours available. 

Here you’ll see a huge diversity of wildlife, though the highlight for many is seeing Asian elephants in their natural environment, free from human interaction.

Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex

You can visit as a day trip from Bangkok, but if you choose to visit this way I recommend you go on an organized trip so you can maximize how much you can see during your time. 

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If you want to see more of the site, you can stay in the area overnight. To make visiting easier, base yourself in Pak Chong and work with your accommodations or guest house to arrange tours and transportation. 

Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex

Located near the border with Myanmar in southwestern Thailand, the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex contains Mae Nam Phachi Wildlife Sanctuary, Kaeng Krachan National Park, Kui Buri National Park, and Chaloem Phrakiat Thai Prachan National Park.

Most tourists come to Kui Buri National Park to experience an elephant safari, as the park was established to give these magnificent creatures a haven since so much of their habitat had been taken over by pineapple plantations.

Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex

Base yourself in Hua Hin. In between beach days, take the time to come out and see the elephants for yourself. 

Besides elephants, there are Gaur (Indian buffalo), Banded Leaf monkeys, and a variety of other wildlife to enjoy, just in case the elephants don’t make an appearance.

Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries

Situated in northwest Thailand, this site contains two national parks. As you are not allowed to stay overnight, go on an organized day trip. This park is loved by birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts. 

Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries

The highlight for many is the chance to see tigers in the wild, but even if tigers don’t make an appearance, there are plenty of other interesting creatures to see, like wild peacocks, elephants, and antelope.

Base yourself in Lan Sak and arrange for a driver to the park.

The Six UNESCO World Heritage Tentative Sites in Thailand

While many travelers overlook tentative UNESCO World Heritage Sites, I love visiting them! They tend to be less touristed than full sites, and many of the tentative sites I have visited have become full sites after my trip is over. 

This is because the UNESCO committee meets every summer to consider applications from countries to add their tentative sites to the full list. While a site getting the full inscription is exciting, sites on the tentative list have already undergone work by the country to get them ready for inscription. 

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Some tentative sites are better preserved and easier to visit than some full UNESCO sites! For example, Central Park in NYC is on the tentative list but is much easier to visit than the Struve Geodetic Arc in Moldova. 

So if you happen to be near a tentative site, don’t overlook these sometimes hidden gems!

Phuphrabat Historical Park: unusual rock formations and prehistoric rock paintings in Udon Province.

Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan, Nakhon Si Thammarat: one of the most important religious sites in southern Thailand.

Monuments, Sites, and Cultural Landscape of Chiang Mai, Capital of Lanna: this site comprises the historic sites in ancient Chiang Mai. These are must-see sites for anyone heading to this digital nomad capital.

Chiang Mai

Phra That Phanom, its related historic buildings, and associated landscape: an important religious site near the Mekong River in Northeast Thailand.

Ensemble of Phanom Rung, Muang Tam, and Plai Bat Sanctuaries: an important Hindu religious site located near an extinct volcano in Burirum province.

The Andaman Sea Nature Reserves of Thailand: for those visiting Phuket, head to Sirinat National Park to enjoy this marine nature reserve.

More Thailand Travel Resources

For more Thai travel guides, check out:

13 Steps to Planning the Perfect Trip to Thailand

The 21 Best Thailand Souvenirs

The 8 Temples In Bangkok You Absolutely Need to See

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