What is the most beautiful flower in Thailand? The orchid? The frangipani? Or maybe the golden shower tree, which bursts up with weightless twinkling earrings of yellow flowers in April? Ask the Thais, and they will inevitably grant the garland to the Siam tulip, a flower symbol of Chaiyaphum province. Oh yes, blooming fields of this elegant ginger species are the most famous attraction of Chaiyaphum. Archaeological finds prove that Chaiyaphum has seen many of the civilizations of South East Asia come and go, from Dvaravati to Ayutthaya Kingdom; and there are remnants of Khmer prasats here and there, too. A couple of picturesque national parks attract Thai visitors during weekends, and greater crowds head to Chaiyaphum during Dok Krachiao Blooming Festival in summer. A small provincial capital oozes endless charm, and though English is very (we mean very) limited there, friendly locals are always happy to help a foreigner longing to soak in the authentic atmosphere of Isan.
How to get from Bangkok to Chaiyaphum
Chaiyaphum lies 350 km to the northeast of Bangkok. The province and Chaiyaphum Town are easily reached via routes 201, 202 or 225. The nearest to Chaiyaphum Town railway stations are Chatturat in Chaiyaphum province and Bua Yai in Nakhon Ratchasima, both parts of Northeastern Railway Line with majority of Nong Khai bound trains calling to both of them. Note though that you have to cover the remaining 50km or 60km from either station to Chaiyaphum Town by bus.
There are no direct flights to Chaiyaphum, either. It is possible to fly from Bangkok to Khon Kaen or Nakhon Ratchasima first and then take a bus to Chaiyaphum (about 2½ hours), but in general there is no reason in doing it. Take a direct bus from Bangkok to Chaiyaphum instead.
From Bangkok to Chaiyaphum by bus
It is an easy five-hour bus ride from Bangkok to Chaiyaphum. The main bus terminal in Bangkok, which serves Bangkok–Chaiyaphum route, is Morchit, the Northern and Northeastern Bus Terminal. Though it shares its name with a BTS station, do not be mislead: it is a short taxi or BMTA bus ride from the sky train to the bus terminal.
There is a number of companies serving the route, among which Sun Bus invariably gets rave reviews from travellers for the service provided. The company operates nine VIP buses a day at 8am, 10am, 12pm, 2pm, 4pm, 6pm, 8pm, 10pm and 11.59pm at THB333 and three VIP24s at 8am, 8pm and 10pm at THB429. Normally there is no reason for paying extra baht for a VIP24, as VIP and even Express buses are comfortable enough for a not-too-long daytime journey from Bangkok to Chaiyaphum. All buses are air-conditioned and serve some snacks and water or a beverage during the trip.
There are also Thian Chai buses plying the same route. They are a bit cheaper – tickets for both Express and VIP24 buses cost about THB300 – but they are often sold out a few days prior to departure. Note that Express buses take about six hours to reach the destination and may feel cramped for a Western traveller. There are VIP24s of Thian Chai at 7.30am, 10am, 11.30am, 1.15pm, 3pm, 6pm, 8.30pm, 11pm and Express buses at 9am, 12pm and 11.30pm.
Note that buses of the both companies which leave between 6pm and 10pm arrive late in the evening and after midnight, so be sure to organize yourself accordingly (i.e. book your hotel or guesthouse room in advance and inform your host about your late arrival), otherwise you risk spending the rest of the night at the bus terminal.
The bus station in Chaiyaphum is located centrally. Tuk-tuks are readily available to whisk you to your accommodation; negotiate the cost of your ride before you go, though.
Other main destinations served from the bus station are Nakhon Ratchasima and Khon Kaen with buses leaving frequently throughout the day and tickets available right on the spot. Note that standard fan local buses stop at virtually every corner, so your trip may last longer than anticipated.
Where to stay
There are reasonably priced (about THB400) simple hotels in town, especially along Bannakan Road. Do not expect much character, though. If looking for more budget digs, follow the main road leading out of town for a few kilometres for a greater choice, but you will need your own wheels in this case. There are accommodation options and camping sites in national parks, too, but for weekends it is a wise idea to book in advance.
To tell the truth, there is not much to do in Chaiyaphum Town itself, but it serves as a good base or a convenient starting point for exploration of several national parks, Pa Hin Ngam National Park, famous for blooming dok krachiao flower fields and unusually shaped ‘lollipop’ rock formations; Sai Thong National Park with a breath-taking Pha Ham Hot viewpoint at the park’s highest point at 864m; and Tat Ton National Parkwith amazing Tat Ton waterfall.
Tip: Try to schedule your visit to Chaiyaphum to the rainy season from May to October –July being an absolute stunner – to see its natural wonders at their best.
Chaiyaphum is a centre of Thai silk weaving with beautiful mudmee silk with elaborate ancient patterns being the main product. It is possible to witness the process of traditional silk weaving and buy some authentic silk and cotton products in Ban Khwao village. If silk is not enough, head to Non Salao village known for khit weaving. Nearly every household in the village produces its own type of cloth and will be happy to show you around. Buy some brightly coloured red, dark green and purple scarfs with geometric patterns – they make a great souvenir to bring back home!
While Chaiyaphum Town is easily covered on foot or by ubiquitous tuk-tuks, the best way for visiting outlying points of interest including national parks and silk and khit weaving villages is your own transport – preferably, a car. Be prepared to make rather longish trips: it is 70 km to Sai Thong National Park and further 60 km to Pa Hin Ngam National Park (or 100 km from Chaiyaphum to Pa Hin Ngam directly). Tat Ton National Park is located 20 km north of town and is easily reached by motorbike or public songthaew, but you will need to hitch-hike back to Chaiyaphum then. Ban Khwao, 26 km west of Chaiyaphum, is best visited on the way to Sai Thong NP.