National Geographic : 1966 Jul
The long road to Pa Pae wends through Bangkok, Thailand's teeming capital, where gleaming spires of nearly 400 Buddhist tem ples stud the flat horizon. Most sumptuous, the Wat Phra Keo (below and left) contains the "Emerald Buddha," a figure carved from a single piece of green jasper, mounted on a many-tiered golden altar. Kinnari-half human, half bird figures-guard the temple. The wat stands within the walled grounds of the Grand Palace, home of Thailand's King Bhumibol and his beautiful wife, Queen Sirikit. To the north, at the end of a 19-hour drive, bustling Chiang Mai offers a cool retreat from Bangkok's hot and humid weather. A plane flight from here to the market town of Ban Mae Sariang passes over mountains harboring Lua villages. Travelers climb the steep trails to Pa Pae on the backs of sway ing elephants. Some 10,000 Lua, descendants of Thai land's first inhabitants, maintain islands of their own culture amid an increasing popu lation of Karens, hill people who have mi grated from Burma during the past 150 years. "Land of the Free"-the meaning of Thailand has enjoyed independence from outside domina tion for many centuries and now boasts one of the highest standards of living in Southeast Asia. Teak logs float to Bangkok through the Central Valley, one of the world's best rice-growing regions. Al though largely Buddhist, the nation shelters many religions and races in a population that is 70 per cent literate. Hill tribes like the Lua continue their ancient ways in peace. KODACHROMESBY W. ROBERTMOORE, NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSTAFF (ABOVE), AND PETER KUNSTADTER() N.G.S .