According to the Lonely Planet (February 2015) ‘travelling through Chaiyaphum province, you are almost as likely to run into a tiger as a foreign tourist – and this is not a province with lots of tigers.’ No other information is available. Hmm, challenge accepted, lonely planet. I have less than 24 hours in Chaiyaphum province, but I am sure I can find some worth-wile things to see.
To get to Chaiyaphum province from Bangkok we first crossed through Nakhon Ratchasima province (let me check this; I might have the wrong name here), where we stopped for food. We found amazing fresh mangoes and papaya salad, among other things. Mahidol University was looking after us very well and my colleagues tried very hard to help me find vegetarian dishes. I love gathering food from all these different stalls and then all sharing them. I also love that this situation really tested my (non-existent) Thai; no tourists, no English. I have figured out I can now read license plates if the cars drive very slowly (or stop) and I can make out numbers (although they turn up in Roman script a lot of the time as well). Actually reading long words, or reading at more than 30-seconds-a-letter was not happening though. Next time!
This fantastic abandoned-looking resort was our home for the night. It came with lovely double beds, towels, even a hair-dryer (if you use those) and a television with my new favourite Thai soap; sadly soaps (lakorn) are a very popular genre of television in Thailand and Google will not tell me which one of the several hundred I watched. In any case, I feel the accommodation was probably a bit too fancy for our needs (not complaining). I definitely did not need the mosquito net I packed!
We came to Chaiyaphum province to visit the Nyah Kur ethno-linguistic community, and we did not have time to do anything else. As I mentioned before, the Nyah Kur people are believed to be the descendants of the Mon of Dvaravati who did not flee westward or assimilate when their empire fell under the influence of the Khmer in the early 11th century CE. Fast-forward a millennium, and there are now only a few thousand people left who speak the language. Of course as a historian I am fascinated by this giant gap in the history of the population. There have been a few archaeological investigations in the area, but most focus on the very early period (e.g. nothing is known of the 17th century), and in any case, nothing has been published in English. The people have a very good memory of their recent history however (foundation of the community, naming of the village), which deserves further recording and preservation.
Because we are all amazingly hard workers we finished a little early and had time to do a tiny little bit of sightseeing on the way back to Bangkok. We drove through the Pa Hin Ngam National Park (‘beautiful stone forest park’), which is located at the boundary of the Dong Phaya Yen Mountains and the Khorat Plateau. The steep cliff (‘the end of the land’) also marks the watershed between the Chao Phraya and the Mekong rivers. I would have really liked to see Mor Hin Khao (‘Thai Stonehenge’) as well, but, that is just another reason to return.