As I had a good fill with temples and historical sites in Chiang Mai, I was a bit hesitant at first when Sri suggested going to Sukhothai. Nevertheless, I thought of the historical importance behind the city and so we started preparing for a trip to Thailand’s first capital!
Sukhothai or Sukhothai Historical Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and located about 300km south of Chiang Mai, in Thailand’s central plains region. It’s from great importance to Thailand as it is considered the country’s first real capital and the golden age of Thai civilization – King Ramkhamhaeng (r. 1279-1298) is credited with inventing the Thai alphabet.
“Entering the magical kingdom”
After the 5.5 hours bus trip from Chiang Mai to Sukhothai, we were welcomed by quite some heat as the temperatures in Chiang Mai dropped two days earlier to 21°C. We organized a tuk-tuk that brought us to our hotel and quickly refreshed ourselves. After a brief chat with the reception staff about directions and opening times, we took our bikes (provided by the hotel) and drove towards the park.
We made a few stops here and there before we actually reached the park, took a late lunch and visited a local market hall. One thing we immediately noticed is that people here are extremely friendly. Maybe it’s the park, maybe the fact that less international tourists are here but for sure we were always welcomed. After all, Sukhothai means ‘Dawn of Happiness’.
Sukhothai is split into two parts: the Old City, featuring the heritage site and the New City, some 12km to the east. If you plan to visit the park only, consider staying within the Old City. That keeps you from any transportation hassle, extra charges and wasted time.
“Sukhothai was founded in the 13th century, but its era lasted only for 140 years until armies of the Ayutthaya kingdom took tributary over Sukhothai.”
Remains of the ruins can be found across an area of 70 km², separated into five zones, of which each charges an admission of 100 THB per person. The central zone called ‘Royal Zone’ is the one with the most important sites and located right at the main entrance.
Cycling around the park is great as you can see lots of sites within a short time (plus keeps you healthy). The roads are paved, motorbikes and cars are also allowed here, but don’t worry there is just a handful of cars around. For the most part, we saw only cyclers and runners around. We also made our way around numerous dirt trails, outside the park, where we found even more ruins. Oh and no crowds here – we saw mainly Thais and some western tourists, certainly refreshing.
“Although the Sukhothai era was quite short it drastically expanded in the beginning until Luang Prabang (Laos), parts of southern Burma – and Thailand and even established political ties with China during its Yuan Dynasty.”
Needless to say that I was more than glad that we made the trip to Sukhothai! The mix of history paired with spectacular ancient ruins creates a magical atmosphere, especially during twilight. Moreover, Sukhothai is a paradise for professional and budding photographers.
Here is a number of important sites you shouldn’t miss when visiting Sukhothai:
Wat Mahathat (the Temple of Great Relic) is in the heart of the Royal Zone and the most important wat (temple) in Sukhothai as it is believed to contain relics of Lord Buddha. Further, there are 200 smaller stupas in its surrounding which indicate once more the temple’s high importance. Quite impressive!
Wat Si Chum
Yet another super impressive place – Wat Si Chum (the Temple of the Bodhi Tree) features a seated 15m high Buddha within a square mandala building. It’s absolutely amazing, words can’t describe the beauty and magical atmosphere here. Right in front of the statue are the remains of an ordination hall and several smaller pagodas. We had to pay separate entrance (also 100 THB per person) for Wat Si Chum (there isn’t more to see here), but it was totally worth it.
Wat Traphang Thong
Located east to the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum, this temple is located on an island in the middle of the Traphang Thong reservoir. You can find a stone sculpture of Buddha’s footprint here and several spots for shooting great photos. Free to enter.
Sukhothai’s surrounding / Si Satchanalai National Park
There are dozens of temple remains and stupas around the park. Take your time to cycle around the trails less travelled and you’ll be rewarded with some great well-preserved sites, all free to enter.
Let’s wrap it up – here are our tips on visiting Sukhothai Historical Park in a nutshell:
– Book a hotel or guest house within the Old City. That allows you to save a chunk of time as well additional transport expenses. The majority of the hotels and guest houses are located within 1.5km of the park.
– It’s hot! You’re constantly exposed to the sun, so make sure to bring sunscreen, wear a cap, enough water, etc. Even better, visit the park before 12:00 or after 16:00.
– Sunset is around 17:30 which is way earlier than in Chiang Mai (for taking the perfect picture).
– Renting bicycles can be done almost everywhere (50-100 THB per day). Ask your hotel/guest house if they provide. Scooters are around 250 THB a day.
– Visit ruins around the park. There are lots of them in close distance to the park, free to visit.
– There are various small restaurants and eateries around the main entrance (inside and outside the park) near Wat Mahathat. The average meal costs 60 THB.
– If time is not an issue, visit Sukhothai for Yi Peng/Loi Krathong in November (but book the hotel at least 6-8 weeks in advance).
– The park opens officially from 06:00-18:00 but usually longer than that, as lots of visitors are attracted by the sunset.
– The entrance to Sukhothai is 100 THB per section + 10 THB surcharge per bicycle.
Buses from Chiang Mai to Sukhothai depart multiple times a day from Arcade Bus Terminal, the first ones at 07:00 and 08:45 the last one around noon. As said earlier, the trip takes 5.5 hours, consider taking an earlier one (we took the one at 08:45). The driver makes 1-2 stops for a break. Costs are 213 THB per person and way (same price back). The timings from Sukhothai to Chiang Mai are similar, the last bus departs at 14:00 (the one we took). You can buy the ticket in Sukhothai at the stop where you arrive (there is no bus terminal in the Old Town). It’s called ‘Wimtours’ and is a mix of travel agency and bus stop. There are also buses from Sukhothai to Bangkok and Ayutthaya, the tickets are 319 THB per person and way.
Have you been to Sukhothai or planning to? Let us know in the comments below!
Kian & Sri