Step back in time to the foundations of Thai culture, at the UNESCO World Heritage site Sukhothai Historical Park in Sukhothai province, Northern Thailand. The ancient city of Sukhothai, the former capital of Siam and birthplace of the Thai alphabet and many elements of Thai culture, transformed into the Sukhothai Historical Park, covers an area of about 70 square kilometres and contains more than 190 ruins of historical sites complete with fortification and a moat that existed during the golden age of Thai civilisation around the 13th to 14th century.
There are five zones inside Sukhothai Historical Park, each requiring an admission ticket. If you plan on visiting all the zones, it’s more convenient to buy combination tickets. You should, though, as omitting a visit to the Sukhothai Historical Park in your list of things to do in Sukhothai province, will be one regret to your Sukhothai holiday.
From Sukhothai Airport to the park takes 42 minutes and costs around 148 baht per person. As can be seen in any Sukhothai map, there’s only 41.3 km between these two sites, using either Route 125 and Route 1195.
Wat Mahathat (Temple of the Great Relic)
At the Central zone right in the centre of Sukhothai Historical Park is Wat Mahathat Temple ruins, the largest and most important temple of the empire and the ruins of what was once the royal palace. Throughout the Sukhothai Historical Park, you will see architecture reminiscent of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat Archaeological Park, representing the Khmer empire and their Hindu beliefs that ruled over this region until the 13th century. After Siam gained independence, Theravada Buddhism swept through the kingdom, replacing Hinduism as the practised religion and influencing the spiritual practices of modern Thailand.
Dated in the 13th century, Wat Mahathat temple, founded by Sri Indraditya, the first king of the Sukhothai empire and was built following the Mandala concept, the ancient Hindu symbol of the universe. The original Wat Mahathat was small and later enlarged by subsequent kings.
Wat Sri Chum (Wat Si Chum)
A popular temple in Sukhothai Historical Park is Wat Sri Chum with its huge seated Buddha image standing 15 metres tall that you can catch a glimpse of through a narrow vertical opening at its entrance. A secret passage was found leading up to the Buddha’s head but the purpose of this remains unknown. Wat Si Chum translates to “temple of the bodhi tree.”
Wat Phra Pai Luang
The 13th century Wat Phra Pai Luang in Sukhothai Historical Park is on the original site where the Sukhothai Kingdom was believed to have been founded. It features a mix of Khmer-style architecture and Lopburi classic decorative motifs which is reflective of the period when Sukhothai was transforming from ancient Khmer-Hinduism to Theravada Buddhism- which still stands today. This architecture features towering corn-cob like structures called prangs- originally four Khmer style prangs, with only one remaining intact.
Wat Sri Sawai (also Wat Si Sawai, Wat Sri Savaya)
Originally located outside the city wall of the Sukhothai Historical Park Central Zone, Wat Sri Sawai features strong Khmer-style architecture with classic three corn-shaped prangs but decorated with art featuring stucco reliefs of dancing apsaras in Lopburi costumes and floral motifs that are reflective of Sukhothai’s craftsmanship.
Its beautiful ruins dating from the late 12th to early 13th century before the establishment of the Sukhothai Kingdom, Wat Si Sawai is one of the oldest temples in Sukhothai.
Wat Sa Si
Wat Sa Si Temple, meaning “Sacred Pond Monastery” is set on two small moat islands and located in the middle of a large reservoir called Tra Phang Tra Kuan. It has a bell-shaped chedi, a vihara and the ordination hall in the middle of the reservoir, making it one of the most beautiful sites in Sukhothai. There is a wooden bridge that leads to the ancient stupa.
In front of the temple is a beautiful lotus pond filled with colourful lotus flowers, a lovely sight to behold in the early morning!
Wat Saphan Hin (Temple of the Stone Bridge)
The Wat Saphan Hin Temple is a small temple built on a hilltop facing Old Sukhothai. Known for its large 12-metre tall standing Buddha (known as Phra Attharot), Wat Saphan Hin is located near the West zone entrance gate. The name “wat Saphan hin” is for the slate stone path leading to the top, from which visitors get to see the beautiful surrounding areas.
The Phra Attharot Buddha is mentioned in stone inscriptions and is believed to have been worshipped by King Ramkhamhaeng the Great, riding on his white elephant to the temple.
Ramkhamhaeng National Museum
From 1913 to the 1960s, Thailand’s Fine Arts Department through its Division of Archeology conducted a survey and excavations for the restoration of the ancient city of Sukhothai. With the artefacts found, the government decided to create a national museum to preserve the nation’s cultural heritage. Thus, from 196o-1963 the museum was built and established with the name of King Ramkhamhaeng National Museum.
The Ramkhamhaeng National Museum is one of Thailand’s official national museums and is one of the popular Sukhothai attractions, being right opposite the Sukhothai Historical Park. At the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum, visitors will find artefacts and antiques discovered after a series of excavations in the Sukhothai Historical Park and the Sri Satchanalai Historical Park in the 1960s.
The Ramkhamhaeng Museum collection includes archaeological artefacts from Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai Historical Park, Kamphaeng Phet and Petchabun and art collectables such as stucco reliefs Buddha statues (regarded as the most beautiful Buddhist images in Thai history). But besides the Buddha statues, there are also inscribed stones, Chinese porcelain evidencing the prosperity of the Sukhothai Empire, Hindu bronze sculptures and Sangkhalok ceramic wares from the Sukhothai kingdom period. The Ramkhamhaeng National Museum is the national museum in Sukhothai province.
The Ramkhamhaeng National Museum is open every day from 9 am to 4 pm. The entrance fee is 150 baht per person. This should definitely be on your list of things to do in Sukhothai!
Sukhothai Night Market
Sukhothai is also a great destination to tour with kids. Families can explore the historical park in a tuk-tuk, hopping on and off at points of interest. This is a safe and fun way to discover fascinating sites together. The Sukhothai Night Market comes alive on Saturday evenings. Grab some local dinner on the array of street food choices and even have a dance on the purpose-built dancefloor or enjoy a local concert performance. This night market is not in the city centre but within the Sukhothai Historical Park Central zone.
The Sukhothai Saturday Night Market is on Nikorn Kasem Road, next to the park and after the Phra Ruang Bridge. In the late afternoon, the street gets transformed into a walking street with the street food stalls lining both sides.
Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary
Among the things to do in Sukhothai with your family would be an excellent day trip to learn about wildlife. About 1.5 hours north of Sukhothai is the Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary that takes care of rescued and retired elephants who live in the 750 acres of forested and protected land. Here elephants live with dignity and respect without being subjected to any work or entertainment duties. This is a great place for your kids to learn about these gentle giants within their natural habitat.
The Si Satchanalai Historical Park is another historical park in Sukhothai province. The 45 square metre park includes the ruins of Si Satchanalai and Chaliang. Si Satchanalai, meaning “City of Good People,” was founded in 1250 as the second centre (after Sukhothai) of the former Sukhothai Kingdom and home to the crown prince during the 13th-14th centuries.
A Sukhothai holiday is incomplete without a visit to the Si Satchanalai Historical Park. It now contains the structures of former palaces, temples and homes. The main attractions are 1) Wat Phra Si Mahathat – or Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat or Wat Si Mahathat Chaliang, the biggest and most important of the Sukhothai temples in the Si Satchanalai-Chaliang district. Built as a Mahayana Buddhist temple in the 12th century in the reign of Jayavarman VII when Chaliang belonged to the Khmer Empire. 2) Wat Chang Lom. Built upon the order of King Ramkhamhaeng in 1286 after a Buddha relic was discovered in the site. The temple’s name comes from the 39 standing statues of full-size elephants on the first tier of the stupa. 3) Wat Chedi Let Taew. The name refers to the seven rows of stupa. Located in front of Wat Chang Lom, Wat Chedi Let Taew is considered unique because of its 32 stupas of varying sizes and styles. Moreover, the giant temple signifies that it was built for the royal family. 4) Wat Chom Chuen. Near Wat Phra si Ratana Mahathat, there is a vihara, a circular laterite stupa, as well as a mandapa, a laterite gable-roofed structure with 2 niches in front and one at the back. Archaeological excavations exposed 15 skeletons in front of the vihara, believed to be from the 4th-century Dvaravati period. 5) Wat Khok Singkharam, an ancient temple in the late Sukhothai to early Ayutthaya eras. The southern wall is the old town wall of Chaliang. There is an early Ayutthaya 6-roomed laterite vihara, behind which are 3 Sukhothai stupas on a single pedestal. 6) Wat Nang Paya, meaning ‘temple of the queen.’ Local legend attributes the temple to Pasuja Devi, a daughter of the Emperor of China, although no archaeological evidence supports it. The stupa and the vihara remains are typical of Sukhothai and Lanna architecture, with beautiful stucco reliefs on the vihara wall. 7) The Thuriang Kilns, ruins of the old celadon factory, 5 km north of Si Satchanalai old town, where since the 13th century, Sukhothai celadons were produced, making these probably the oldest kilns in Thailand. There are ceramic wares of bowls and jars on display which had been studied by a group of Thai-Australian archaeologists from the University of Adelaide and concluded to have been produced more than a millennium before the Sukhothai Kingdom, which contradicts the general view that the craft was introduced by the Chinese in the 13th century.
King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit had visited old Si Satchanalai, Chaliang and Sawankhalok in 1958 which led to the announcement of the area’s protection in 1961. The restoration project was approved in 1975 and the park officially opened in July 1988 and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site on December 12, 1991, as part of the Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns with the associated historical parks in Kamphaeng Phet and Sukhothai.
Located on the Yom River bank almost an hour’s drive from the Sukhothai Historical Park, Si Satchanalai Historical Park visitors marvel at the Buddha figures, palace buildings and temple ancient remains. There is an entrance fee of 40 baht per person to this park and it is open daily from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.
Wat TraPhang Thong, meaning “temple of the golden pond.” Built around the 14th century, it is the only remaining ancient temple within the old city walls that is still actively used. One of the remaining structures is a large bell-shaped chedi, a Buddhist stupa, used mainly in Thailand. There is also an artefact of a Buddha footprint dating back to 1359, originally at another temple on the town outskirts later moved to Wat Traphang Thong in the mid-20th century. The local annual celebration of the Loy Krathong Festival (Thai Festival of Lights and Lanterns) are centred around this temple.
Ramkhamhaeng National Park.
The Ram Khamhaent National Park is in Sukhothai province and is locally known as Khao Luang. This national park area includes the Khao Luang Mountain Range, Sai Rung Waterfall, a herbal garden and the savannah and is an important water source for its neighbouring areas. This park was declared the 18th national park of Thailand in honour of King Pa Khun Ram Khamhaeng.
Outdoor things to do in Sukhothai are varied and fun. Self-guided or led biking tours are a fantastic way to take in the marvels of this ancient city at your own pace.Or for an easier ride, you can hire an e-bike or motorcycle to get around. A river cruise along the Yom River is also another lovely relaxing activity available.
You can find various hotel types, also a boutique hotel, some resorts in the new city (New Sukhothai) and near the old city. Keep in mind that the old city is about 12 kilometres west of the new Sukhothai city. But there are plenty of inexpensive local transport options like tuk-tuks, Songtaews (shared taxis) or motorcycle taxis that can get you around the town easily.
Most hotels in New Sukhothai are good value and even offer free pick-up from the bus terminal and free use of bicycles. There is something for every budget. Higher-end resorts and boutique hotels are located closer to the old city.
The Sukhothai Bus Terminal is nearer the New Town (New Sukhothai) than the old town where the historical park is located.
The Sukhothai Kingdom (1238 – 1438) was the capital of the kingdom of ancient Siam. Sukhothai means ‘the dawn or raising of happiness.’
Sukhothai is approximately 430 kilometres north of Bangkok. The cheapest and most direct transport is by bus which will take about eight hours. A shorter route would be to take a train from Bangkok to Phitsanulok (5 hours) then a bus to Sukhothai (1.5 hours). This is the more comfortable option especially if you are travelling with children. The quickest but most expensive option is by plane (1.5 hours). Bangkok Airlines services this route.
The kingdom of Sukhothai, situated in the upper Chao Phraya basin, was founded by Sri Indraditya (1238–60) who became the ruler of the first independent Tai (Thai) state and its people.
The distance between Chiang Mai and Sukhothai is about 300 kilometres. It takes 4.5 hours to drive by car or 7 hours by bus, changing buses at Phitsanulok station then onwards from there (1.5 hours). Another option is a 7-hour train ride to Phichai then a 50-kilometre drive by taxi to Sukhothai.
There are no direct flights from Chiang Mai. You must fly to Phitsanulok which takes about 3 hours and 20 mins then take a bus from there. The bus journey takes around 1.5 hours to reach Sukhothai.
Sukhothai was said to be the ‘first national capital’, followed by Ayutthaya, Thonburi until Rattanakosin or today Bangkok. Thus, the Sukhothai Period was older than the Ayutthaya Kingdom.
Sukhothai was originally an outpost during the Khmer empire, called Sukhodaya. During their reign, several monuments were built. Some have survived and can be visited at the Sukhothai Historical Park – Ta Pha Daeng Shrine, Wat Phra Phai Luang, Wat Si Sawai, among the most popular remaining structures showing Khmer influence.
1. Sukhothai Historical Park
2. Ramkhamhaeng National Park
3. Si Satchanalai Historical Park
4. Saturday Night Market
5. The King Ramkhamhaeng National Museum
6. Taste Sukhothai noodles
7. Get a History Lesson at Celadon Kiln Site and Study Centre
8. Help rescued elephants at Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary
The Central Zone is the most visited part of the park with its ruins of the Old Sukhothai, a rectangular old town surrounded by walls and moats. There are several lotus ponds too, along with 21 ancient structures, some of which are precursors to the Sukhothai era, active temples, the King Ramkhamhaeng Monument and the National Museum.
Some of the park’s significant temples are here. In the centre is Wat Mahathat, Wat Sa Si and its walking Buddha images, Wat Traphang Ngoen, the elephant-girded chedi of Wat Sorasak. Khmer influence is seen in one of the oldest temples, Wat Si Sawai with its three well-preserved Khmer-style prangs. The Wat Tra Phang Thong contains a 14th-century stone sculpture of a footprint of the Buddha. The 14th century old Wat Traphang Ngoen name means “silver lake temple.”
Other temples and shrines here are the Wat Chana Songkhram, Wat Tra Kuan, Wat Tra Phang Thong, and Ta Pha Daeng Shrine.
The most convenient way of going around this zone is the tram service. If you want to go further, you can hire a samlor or tuk-tuk.
The West (Western) Zone (called because it is west of the walled old town) is hilly and forested and has around a dozen or so monuments that are not as visited as other sites. There are: Wat Saphan Hin, Wat Aranyik, Wat Khao Phra Bat Noi, Wat Chedi Ngam, Wat Chang Rob, Wat Mangkorn, Wat Tuk, and Thewalai Mahakaset.
The East Zone is outside of the walled town near the Kamphaeng Hak gate in the East wall, thus its name. It has the Wata Chedi Sung and Wat Chang Lom among the most popular, and also Wat Tra Phang Thong Lang.
The South Zone is, yes, south of the old walled town, accessed through the Namo gate (Pratu Namo) in the middle of the southern wall. Its largest temple is the Wat Chetuphon, a mandapa with four large Buddha images in various postures facing 4 different directions. there is also the Wat Kon Laeng, Wat Ton Chan, Wat Chedi Si Hong, Wat Si Phichit Kirati Kalayaram, Wat Phrong Men, and Wat Asokaram.
The North Zone is near the north city wall outside of the walled town. In this zone are several ancient monuments, the park’s information centre and some excavated kilns. The most famous of its attractions is Wat Si Chum, for its huge standing Buddha image and the Wat Phra Phai Luang. Others are Wat Mae Chon, Wat Nong Prue, Wat Rong Khwang Tawan, Wat Om Rop, Wat Sangkhawat, and the Sangkhalok Kilns.
Sukhothai doesn’t have a “real nightlife” to speak of, compared to the cities. But, there are some pubs and watering holes and the best restaurants near the new town. There is a place called Chopper Bar where you can have cheap local beers to the beat of live music. Chopper Bar serves lunch and dinner and has a vegetarian-friendly menu, too. At the historical park, there is a light and sound show at 7 pm from Friday to Sunday. Or you can traipse along Walking street for the food stalls at the night market and savour some local treats like the Sukhothai glass noodles in tom yum soup garnished with green beans and peanuts.
There is also a popular local bar called Fong Bear where you can sit at a table next to a street food alley open until midnight, just in case you get hungry later.
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