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from the trenches
Off the Grid Volume 61 Number 1, January/February 2008

For adventurous travelers going to Thailand, archaeologist Rasmi Shoocongdej of Bangkok's Silpakorn University recommends a visit to the Ban Rai Rock Shelter.

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Ban Rai Rock Shelter (Courtesy Rasmi Shoocongdej)

The site: Tourists in northern Thailand usually restrict their historical sightseeing to the medieval city of Chiang Mai and its thirteenth-century Buddhist temples. But for those in the know, the rock shelter of Ban Rai, about 100 miles northwest of Chiang Mai, near the border with Myanmar, is the area's true archaeological gem. About a 30-minute hike from the remote village of Ban Rai, the large limestone rock shelter was a sacred space and burial ground from the Pleistocene to the Iron Age. Rock paintings found along the eastern edge of the site testify to its ritual significance. The enigmatic paintings depict birds and a large group of human figures, as well as abstract images.

Before you go: Stop in at the National Museum in Chiang Mai to see a display of ornately carved Iron Age teak log coffins excavated from the site. There is no museum in Ban Rai village, but knowledgeable locals are available as guides. Making the hike on your own isn't a great idea (no one wants to be lost near the border with Myanmar).

If you are going: Shoocongdej recommends staying at the Cave Lodge, a bungalow about 10 miles from Ban Rai in the village of Tham Lod, which itself is near an extensive cave system open to the public.

Keep in mind: Muddy paths make the site quite difficult to access during the rainy season between May and October. The best time to visit is November through February.

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© 2008 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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