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Even if you’re just passing through, you can’t miss the star attraction of NAKHON PATHOM: the enormous stupa Phra Pathom Chedi dominates the skyline of this otherwise unexceptional provincial capital, 56km west of Bangkok. Probably Thailand’s oldest town, Nakhon Pathom (derived from the Pali for “First City”) is thought to be the point at which Buddhism first entered the region now known as Thailand, more than two thousand years ago. Then the capital of a sizeable Mon kingdom, it was important enough to rate a visit from two missionaries dispatched by King Ashoka of India, one of Buddhism’s great early evangelists. Even today, the province of Nakhon Pathom retains a high Buddhist profile – aside from housing the country’s holiest chedi, it also contains Phuttamonthon, Thailand’s most important Buddhist sanctuary and home of its supreme patriarch.

Nakhon Pathom is easily seen on a day-trip from Kanchanaburi or Bangkok – alternatively, since it’s on train lines heading west to Kanchanaburi and south to Hua Hin, Surat Thani and Malaysia, the town works well as a half-day stopover from Bangkok. Everything described below – with the exception of Sanam Chan Palace and the Contemporary Thai Art Centre – is within ten minutes’ walk of the chedi.

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