Sukhothai is an ancient Thai capital, located in the lower part of Northern Thailand. Famous for its incredible ruins, Sukhothai Historical Park is a place where you can take a step back in time to the days of warring kingdoms, mighty monarch, and devout spirituality. The ruins have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is easy to imagine what the area must have been like in times gone by. Unlike other popular ancient Thai cities, like Ayutthaya, Sukhothai’s ruins are quite separate from the city, allowing you to really become absorbed in the wonderful history all around.
Modern-day Thailand has much to thank its Sukhothai ancestors for; amongst other things, the Sukhothai Kingdom introduced Buddhism to the area and created an early form of the Thai alphabet.
Discover the remnants of a once-mighty kingdom
The ancient city of Sukhothai was previously encircled by a sturdy protective wall. Sections of the old wall are still visible today. There are more than 20 places of historical interest within the wall’s boundaries, with around 70 more splendid ruins within close proximity.
The first capital city of Siam and an incredibly powerful kingdom during the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries, it is difficult not to be impressed with the artistic and architectural skills that were used to create the ancient city. Buildings from the Sukhothai period are noted for their chedis / stupas in the shape of lotus buds.
Most of the ruins are of grand old palaces and revered temples; regular homes were built of wood at those times, and have long since rotted and decayed without a trace.
A particularly great temple for seeing how life was in times gone by is Wat Chedi Si Hong. Although damaged and eroded, you can still make out some of the stone carvings. You’ll notice gods wearing clothes from that era, inter-spaced with elephants and lions.
Today, several zones have been created to clearly differentiate between the various sites. The most impressive ruins can be found within the Central, Eastern, and Northern Zones, with a separate admission fee of 100 THB (approximately 2.75 USD) for each. It is well worth taking the time to fully explore at least these three zones. Aim to spend at least one full day exploring, longer if possible. Pick up a free map from any of the ticket counters to help you plan your day(s).
See evocative ruins in various states of preservation
Many sites have been carefully restored and renovated, whilst others are little more than piles of crumbling bricks. The restored sites provide greater visualisation of the Kingdom of Sukhothai, whereas those that have been left untouched emphasise the age of the area. See where pagodas have been toppled by tree branches and roots, and where weeds and moss have sprung up between bricks.
There are numerous Buddha statues, in a variety of poses and sizes, to admire, some showing the ravages of time through their missing limbs and deep cracks. You’ll find the biggest, and probably the best, of Sukhothai’s Buddha statues at Wat Sri Chum.
Some structures have intricate carved figures, such as Wat Chang Lom with its beautiful elephant heads. Notice how some have been weathered and worn, with tusks and trunks missing, whereas others are almost as they would have been in their heyday.
Sturdy columns now stand roofless, the surrounding ground open to the elements.
Enjoy peace and quiet as you explore
Despite being a popular tourist attraction, the spread-out nature of the ruins means that it’s highly possible you can meander around some spots without bumping into another soul. You can almost feel the area’s energy as you stand alone in the middle of now-deserted terraces, and the ponds, islands, moats, bridges, and greenery add to the overall attractiveness and serenity.
With sometimes just the sound of birds chirruping, tweeting, and singing, along with the noises of insects whirring and clacking to punctuate the silence, ancient Sukhothai is a fabulous place if you love solitude. The quietness makes it easy to soak up the ambience and set your imagination free.
Leave no path un-trodden!
Follow that path, climb that hill, venture into that pagoda, and move away from the crowds – you might just be surprised at what you come across!
There are ruins just about everywhere, and it’s easy to stumble across smaller, but just as atmospheric, spots away from the headline attractions. One particularly beautiful ruin, Wat Saphan Hin, must be reached by following an inclined slate path up a hill. The effort is worth it, though, with a striking standing Buddha statue and excellent views of the surrounding area.
You’ll find small shrines inside many of the pagodas, as well as several colonies of bats, and climbing the ancient steps of pagodas often gives great views over nearby sites.
Getting around the expansive ruins
Although walking between some of the ruins is possible, having some form of transportation is recommended to really make the most of your time in Sukhothai. Bicycles are available to rent from numerous establishments, or you could rent a scooter to cover even more ground. Places renting out scooters are also easy to come across. Alternatively, you could charter a tuk tuk (covered motorised vehicle, similar to an auto-rickshaw) or motorbike taxi for the day. You might need to pay a small additional fee of around 20 THB (approximately 0.55 USD) per zone to enter with a bicycle or scooter.
Experience the fabulous Siam of old and book your trip to the spectacular Sukhothai Historical Park.
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