THE CENTRAL PLAINS have produced the strongest and most famous Thai kingdoms, reigning from the 13th century up to modern times with Bangkok as the capital. Great armies fought off attacks from Mon and Khmer neighbours, and took the battle to Lanna in the north and Malay sultans in the south.
While a large number of visitors do see the historical town of Sukhothai, for too many farang, the plains around the Chao Phraya river are the bits passed through between Chiang Mai and Bangkok.
The central plains of Thailand have housed some of the strongest of its Kingdoms. Sukhothai (1238-1438)......
....and Ayutthaya (1350-1767), both of which are now famous cities with extensive Buddhist ruins and monuments.
A third a less famous (among foreigners) city, Kamphaeng Phet, was an important city in both the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya kingdoms.
The relatively low (near zero for farang) tourist numbers make Kamphaeng Phet a pleasant place to explore.
Sukhothai Historical Park is one of the most visited places outside Bangkok.
However, it is spacious and open, with 193 old temples, as well as lakes and grassed lawns.
Wat Tra Phang Ngoen sees both the rising and setting sun.
Sukhothai emerged from Khmer rule in the early 13th century, and Khmer influence can be seen it much of the art and architecture.
Some early Sukhothai temples were originally Hindu, but Buddhism was the predominant religion for most of the Sukhothai period.
Third King of Sukhothai Ram Khamhaeng (1279-98) expanded Kingdom, and supposedly invented Thai script.
Originally built as a Hindu temple to Vishnu, Wat Si Sawai is one of the oldest temple in Sukhothai.
Bicycles can be rented to get around the large park.
Guardians support and protect one of the many temples.
Temples are still in active use.
Various styles of Buddha can be seen.
Possibly Wat Phra Phai Luang, built in the late 12th century, when Sukhothai was under Khmer control.
Wat Mahathat is the most important and impressive temple, founded by Sri Indraditya, between 1292 and 1347.
You don't need to be a Buddha or temple geek to enjoy Sukothai.
Although most of the monuments visited are temples, there are also kilns and hospital buildings.
Brick chedis dot the flat areas around Sukhothai.
Take the time to properly enjoy the area and the rhythm of country life.
Despite being centuries old, Buddhist temples in Kamphaeng Phet are still in active use.
68 elephants adorn the base of Wat Chang Rop, whose name translates as "Temple Surrounded By Elephants."
Wat Singha (Lion Temple), 15th century. Kamphaeng Phet's temples are located in quiet forests, away from town, and with so few visitors, give a real sense of tranquility.
Like Sukhothai, a bicycle is probably the best way to explore the forest temples.
LIke its more famous neighbours, the historic temples are UNESCO listed.
The name "Kamphaeng Phet" means "walls as strong as diamonds", and the city was militarily important to both the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya kingdoms.
Kamphaeng Phet is half way between Chiang Mai and Bangkok, but is almost always overlooked by foreigners in favour of Sukhothai.
Ayutthaya is not far from the Thai capital, Bangkok, and when the main airport was at Don Muang, was close enough to use as an alternative overnight stop when flying out.
Ayutthaya is considered the pre-cursor to modern Thailand, and fought successfully against Sukhothai and Lanna to the north, as well as defeating the Khmer Angkor Empire and Burmese kingdoms.
Januray 18th is Thai Royal Armed Forces Day, commemorating an elephant duel in which Ayutthaya King Naresuan killed Burmese heir-apparent Mingyi Swa in 1593.
Although covering a smaller area than Sukhothai's ruins, the monuments of this great kingdom are nonetheless impressive.