For centuries, the broad flood plain of the chao phraya, which bisects the south central plains north to south, has been thailand’s rice basket as well as its most densely populated region. the river remains a vital link between the country’s cultural heartland and its present-day capital, Bangkok. the old capital of ayutthaya, upstream from Bangkok, is the region’s most popular sight.
Ayutthaya was one of the greatest mercantile centers in Asia during the 14th–18th centuries. Its fabulous temples and palaces, built around the confluence of the Chao Phraya, Lop Buri, and Pasak Rivers, were regarded with wonder by foreigners. In 1767 it was sacked by the Burmese, and the capital was forced to move downstream to Bangkok. The remains of monuments from the earlier period stand among more modern buidings and each day attract hundreds of visitors on round-trips from Bangkok.
Kanchanaburi, to the west of Bangkok, is another popular day trip from the capital. During World War II the Japanese built a railroad from here to the Three Pagodas Pass near Burma, along an old Burmese invasion route. Little of the railroad was ever used, but at Kanchanaburi visitors can see poignant reminders of this grueling episode, when thousands of Asian laborers and Allied POWs died.
Despite these and other noteworthy sights, the region still has relatively few tourist facilities. Towns such as Lop Buri – an old Khmer outpost with several Khmer prangs – and the pilgrimage site of Phra Phutthabat are unknown to the majority of tourists.
There is some accommodation in the Khwae Noi River Valley, along the route to the Three Pagodas Pass. This region is surrounded by a vast expanse of forest and grassland, including two wildlife sanctuaries and the Erawan, Sai Yok, and Chaloem Rattanakosin national parks. At the eastern edge of the South Central Plains, Khao Yai, the oldest national park, is the best place in Thailand to see wild elephants and many other animals.