Sukhothai, Thailand: An Accidental Guide To The Dawn Of Happiness

Sukhothai, Thailand: An Accidental Guide To The Dawn Of Happiness
Karen
Karen
Updated

“Happiness is an accident of nature, a beautiful and flawless aberration.” — Pat Conroy

The pursuit of happiness is a much-often debated topic and an endless obsession, especially in today’s modern society, where we seem to have it all, or at least have been led to believe that we can achieve or possess whatever we seek. I was not seeking happiness or the recipe for this elusive-but-much-coveted emotion. Yet, life has its way of delivering small packages of surprises. This is going to sound cliché, but a trip to Sukhothai in Thailand, known also as the Dawn of Happiness, has given me valuable lessons on the greatest joys in life.

Located somewhere between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Sukhothai is a small province nestled in the valley of Yom River, accompanied with mountainous forests. Well-known amongst the Thais but largely overlooked by the world, Sukhothai was the capital of the first Kingdom of Siam in the 13th and 14th centuries! Comprising of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, this ancient city that prides itself on heritage, culture and nature understands true value in preservation.

Here’s sharing what you can expect and things to do in Sukhothai:

Happiness lesson 1: Fulfilling basic needs in Sukhothai

What’s in a name? Where Sukhothai is concerned, ‘Sukho’ means happiness and ‘Thai’ translates as ‘Free’. According to our local guide, Sukhothai with its free-flowing rivers and rich mountain forests provided water and food for her people since ancient times. Abundant nature fulfilled the basic needs of people living in Sukhothai, allowing them to be free and enjoy the simplest joy of living.

Eating in Sukhothai: Khao Poep (rice noodle soup)

Today, some of us are equally easy to please. Despite an hour journey to Ban Na Ton Chan (a small village surrounded by many Chan trees), a bowl of Khao Poep (or Khao Perb) with its delectable rich broth and smooth textured noodles is akin to a ‘bowl of happiness’. This traditional noodle soup originated from migrants that came from further north of Thailand. ‘Poep’ in northern dialect means wrap, and the rice noodle sheet wrapped with vegetables are steamed like a pancake, combined with a slice of pork and ladled with meat broth. Other dishes not to miss include Goi Teo Bae (dried rice noodles) and Mee Pun (rice noodles with bean sprouts and spices).

Note: Ban Na Ton Chan also offers homestay program with opportunities to join in the villager’s daily routine. Don’t miss the process of mud-soaked fabric that helps to soften textile.

KwayTeow Sukhothai (thin rice noodles)

Sukhothai noodles
Source: Karen Zheng

While there’s only one place to try Khao Poep, the popular KwayTeow Sukhothai is a common dish that can be easily found in the city. Resembling ‘bak chor mee’ (minced meat noodles) in Singapore, the slightly sweet and sourish KwayTeow Sukhothai is a delightful blend of flavours with its thin rice noodle, sauces and generous toppings of minced meat and pork lard. A bowl of delicious noodles costs less than 2 USD; ensuring an affordable, happy belly.

Happiness lesson 2: Tracing the roots of matter

Agriculture is the main source of income in Sukhothai, and farms are aplenty in this land-rich province. Ranging from tobacco to sugar cane processing and organic farms, visits to these rural estates gave insights to how products in our daily life come about.

Regardless of what one can learn from movies or books, one will only truly understand the tedious process when you visit these farms in person. Did you know that tobacco can also be used as an insect repellent or to treat a toothache? There are various processes: from extracting sugar cane juice to boiling, evaporation and cooking before we get the sugar that we conveniently purchase from the stores. For city bumpkins like myself, it is sobering to understand the livelihood of generous farmers that do not hesitate to give in spite of their frugal lifestyles. Tracing and understanding the roots of matter allows a true appreciation for the small things in our lives.

Tip: For a greater understanding of Sukhothai and her history beyond the farms, you may want to visit the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum.

Ramkhamhaeng National Museum

Address: Mueang Kao, Mueang Sukhothai District, Sukhothai 64210, Thailand

Opening Hours: Daily 9am - 4pm.

Duration: around 1.5 - 2 hours required

Contact: +66 55 697 367

Website: Ramkhamhaeng National Museum

Happiness lesson 3: Gaining satisfaction through hard work

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand. Confucius
Our tour organiser must be an avid fan of Confucius, for we were brought to an organic farm in Sukhothai Airport to try hands-on farming activities after visiting the other local farms. Part of the Organic Agriculture Project, visitors get to don the iconic blue farmer’s outfit with a straw hat … … before ‘paying your dues’ in the form of collecting fresh eggs from the duck pen and planting your own rice. The rewards of our hard work came in the form of knowledge and a sumptuous organic lunch.

Tip: Sukhothai Airport by Bangkok Airways is possibly one of the most beautiful airports in the world. Designed with a resort-style arrival and departure hall, the airport boasts green areas, temples and museums, making it a destination on its own.

Sukhothai Airport

Address: Khlong Krachong, Sawankhalok District, Sukhothai 64110, Thailand

Website: Sukhothai Airport

Happiness lesson 4: Finding peace in historical parks

Sukhothai Historical Park

Reflecting influences of Khmer (Cambodia) and Sri Lanka, Sukhothai Historical Park covers about 70 sq km with the central zone being the most important area in the past. Today, this is the best spot to enjoy the magnificent sunset that Sukhothai is famous for. Watch as the setting sun casts shades of pink and orange over Wat Mahathat with the backdrop of Khao Luang mountain range. I was reminded of the Little Prince (by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) who once watched 44 sunsets at a go to make himself feel better. Immersing in nature is therapeutic. While you are at the historical park, check out Wat Sri Chum - Temple of the Bodhi Tree - one of the most photographed temples in Thailand and for good reasons. Located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Wat Sri Chum contains the largest Buddha figurine in the region, which was reconstructed in the 1950s, some 700 years after it was first built. There are several interesting legends to the temple. While one cannot ascertain the true facts of bygone days, the tranquil environment conveys a sense of spiritual bliss, especially for devotees who left their mark in the form of gold leaves on the fingers of the Buddha.

Sukhothai Historical Park

Address: Mueang Kao, Mueang Sukhothai District, Sukhothai 64210, Thailand

Opening Hours: Daily 6am - 9pm.

Contact: +66 55 697 241

Website: Sukhothai Historical Park

Si Satchanalai Historical Park

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sukhothai not to miss is the Si Satchanalai Historical Park. Covering the ruins of Si Satchanalai (13th century) and Chaliang (3rd & 4th century), this historical park was once the residence of the Crown Prince and the second center of the Sukhothai Kingdom during its heyday. One of the ancient temples that we visited was Wat Chang Lom, a historical place of worship dating back to 14th century and prominent for the 39 elephant figurines around the main chedi.

Beyond ancient ruins, aged trees cast shadowy shade against the late afternoon sun while birds and insects sing the tunes of nature. Best to explore by cycling, Si Satchanalai Historical Park encompasses the best of history and nature.

*Spoiler alert: some imagination will be required for the aged elephants bereaved of trunks at Wat Chang Lom.

Si Satchanalai Historical Park

Address: Si Satchanalai District, Sukhothai 64190, Thailand

Contact: +66 55 901 714

Website: Si Satchanalai Historical Park

Happiness lesson 5: Meditation in the form of local art

Approximately 5km away from Si Satchanalai Historical Park lies the Sangkhalok kilns, believed to be the oldest in Thailand. Sangkhalok refers to Sukhothai Style pottery. These traditional producers of Celadon and ceramics used to export their products during the 14th to 16th century. Today, the antiques, kitchenware and artwork can be seen around Thailand and beyond.

According to the ancient philosophy of Vedanta, happiness is a state of being. For some, that would mean open monitoring. For others, focusing your attention on a single object may help. At Prasert Antique, one can partake either in the making or painting of your own Sangkhalok. Even when mediation fails, there’s a certain sense of accomplishment for painting that Sukhothai fish on your very own handmade pottery.

Happiness in Sukhothai: The simple joy of just being

Sunset at Sukhothai historical park
Source: Karen Zheng

Any fool can know. The point is to understand. Albert Einstein
Happiness is fleeting, especially when one indulges in today’s society that focuses on material gains. For a breath of fresh air, lasting knowledge and fulfilling travel experiences, perhaps it is time to consider visiting less trodden destinations such as Sukhothai, the Dawn of Happiness and learn the simple joys of just being.

Practical information

To get to Sukhothai from Bangkok, one can either take a train and public bus or travel easy with Bangkok Airways. The airline provides three flights per day from Suvarnabhumi Airport to Sukhothai Airport.

To get around Sukhothai, public transport is available but it is recommended to hire a guide or go with a tour group for easy accessibility.

For more information, visit Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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