The Sukhothai Historical Park is one of Thailand’s cultural highlights, along with Ayutthaya, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On-site there are countless beautiful temple ruins from the ancient kingdom of Sukhothai, which are still very well preserved. Sukhothai was once home to the first capital city of Siam in the 13th Century founded by the great King Ramkhamhaeng and is considered to be the cradle of Thai civilization. This is the birthplace of all things traditional from art to the architectural style that you would see across the country and there is no better place to learn about the history of the Thais than in Sukhothai.
Sukhothai, just like Ayutthaya another ancient city nearer to Bangkok, has done a great job at restoring and renovating the old ruins of the ancient city that are scattered throughout Sukhothai Historical Park for you to explore. I had a chance to visit some of these ruins and temples in Sukhothai Historical Park a couple of times during our road trips in Thailand and I am here to compile a list of temples and ruins that are worth visiting, together with all the amazing things you can do in and around Sukhothai.
Things to do
Stroll Around Wat Traphang Thong, a temple located photogenically in the middle of a mote. Wat Tra Phang Thong is a rather small temple compared to all the others in the area but it is one of the first ones you will be exploring as it is located right in the old town just outside of the historical park, and it is free to enter. The temple can be accessed via 2 wooden bridges that connect the main road to the island where the temple is located.
Beat The Crowd And Visit Wat Maha That In The Morning After spending the first evening exploring the surrounding old town area, it is time to explore Sukhothai Historical Park. Sukhothai Historical Park gets a ton of tourists during the day so I would recommend you go as early as 6:30 AM to beat the crowds. First things first, you will have to rent a bike to explore Sukhothai Historical Park. I went with OR Shop just in front of the historic park and I rented a bike for a day for 30 THB. Once you have your bike, go and buy the ticket to enter the historic park. You will have to pay for the entrance fee as well as for the bike which should cost 100 THB (20 THB for Thais) plus 10 THB respectively. Once you got your ticket from the ticket booth, enter the park and head towards Wat Maha That, the largest ruin complex in the park just west of the gate. Wat Maha That is the most impressive temple out of all in the park. It was built in the late 13th Century and includes a huge lotus-bud-shaped chedi, four corner stupas, four Khmer-style prangs, an assembly hall, and many more. You can spend an hour just walking around this first temple. The number of things to see just at Wat Maha That is staggering. One of my favorite sights in Sukhothai Historical Park is a lotus pond in front of an old temple hall with a seated Buddha image. This is the best sunset spot you can get at the park hands down. Right at this spot, you will be able to witness the beautiful silhouette of the temple against the purple sky during sunset. The entrance ticket lasts for the whole day so be sure to check the sunset time and come back to the lotus pond at sunset. Make sure you are covered in insect repellent before visiting at night to avoid mosquitoes eating you alive.
Admire The Beauty Of The Khmer-Era Wat Si Sawai Another of my favorite temples in Sukhothai Historical Park is Wat Si Sawai, located just south of Wat Maha That. Wat Si Sawai is even older than most of the ruins here as it dated all the way back to the late 12th Century. This is apparent from the Khmer-style design of the prangs that resembled those you see at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It is also one of my favorite features as it stood out from all the other Sukhothai-era structures found in the park.
Relax By The Silver Lake At Wat Traphang Ngoen From Wat Si Sawai, ride back up to Wat Maha That but instead of turning right, go left towards the Silver Lake and you will find Wat Traphang Ngoen, a small Sukhothai-era temple with a great view of the Silver Lake near it. The temple itself which was built in the 14th Century is not as impressive as all the others but due to its location by the lake, especially in the early morning, you should be able to capture some dreamy landscapes of the lake as well as the silhouette of the other temples from Wat Traphang Ngoen.
Check Out Wat Srasri By A Lotus Pond Just north of Wat Traphang Ngoen and the Silver Lake, you will find another temple called Wat Srasri located photogenically in the middle of the lotus flowers-filled Tra Phang Tra Kuan pond. According to the stone inscriptions discovered here, Wat Srasri was founded in the 14th Century with the chedi built in a Sri Lankan architectural style and it was built to enshrine the ashes of King Li Thai of Sukhothai.
Explore Wat Phra Pai Luang In The North Historical Park As mentioned earlier, there are 3 zones you can explore in Sukhothai Historical Park. Unfortunately, you have to pay the entrance fee 3 times to see what the zones outside of central offer, and with 100 THB each, it is not cheap. You can buy the ticket when you arrive at Wat Phra Pai Luang. That said, there is not much in the Sukhothai Old Town that can make money except these historic ruins and so if you are looking for a way to support the area, this is the way to do it. Now, after you have done the central zone, it is time to cycle north outside the walled city of Sukhothai and explore the northern zone starting off with Wat Phra Pai Luang, an old temple dated back before the founding of the Sukhothai Kingdom. Wat Phra Pai Luang was believed to have been built during the reign of King Jayavarman VII of Angkor (who built the famous Bayon Temple in Siem Reap) in the late 12th Century and that is evidenced by the Khmer-era architectural style you can see in its prang. The temple complex consisted of the Khmer era prang as mentioned before, a principal assembly hall, a pyramidal pagoda similar to the architectural style of the Mon Haripunchai, and an ordination hall built in the Ayutthaya era. As you can see, the whole complex was not built in only one era but 3 from the Angkor period to the Sukhothai period, and eventually extended in the Ayutthayan period.
Admire The 15 Meters High Buddha Image At Wat Si Chum Now comes the highlight of the north zone of Sukhothai Historical Park, Wat Si Chum, and its massive Phra Achana, the largest Buddha image in Sukhothai measuring 15 meters high. Seeing this temple makes it all worthwhile to pay to enter the north zone. When you arrive at the gate, be sure to show the ticket you bought at Wat Phra Pai Luang. Do not buy another one! Wat Si Chum and its massive Buddha image were built in the 13th Century that comprises of an open-roof structure where the big Buddha image is housed and the columns of the old assembly hall in front of it. There is also a Bodhi tree that is as old as Sukhothai itself next to it. Phra Achana is so massive that you can see the Buddha image right outside the gate. Once you are inside, you will even appreciate the scale and how beautiful the Buddha image is. Once inside, you may also see some locals praying at the Buddha image with candles and incense sticks in their hands. Legends have it that one time, the great King Naresuan wanted to boost the morale of his troops before the war, so he ordered a soldier to climb up to the top of the structure enshrining the Buddha image and delivering a speech to the troops. Unknown to the troops that there is a person at the top delivering a message, they believed it was the image of the Buddha speaking to them hence why sometimes they called the Buddha image, the Speaking Buddha.
When To Visit
The best time to visit Sukhothai is from November to January when the weather is cooler and less humid due to Thai's northern climate making it much more enjoyable to cycle around Sukhothai Historical Park.
How To Get To Sukhothai, Thailand
By Bus from Bangkok: You can take one of the 4 direct buses that leave daily at 7:00, 12:30, 20:00, and 21:30 from Morchit Bus Terminal to Sukhothai Bus Terminal which should take about 7 hours and cost around 400 THB per person. Keep in mind that the bus will drop you off at Sukhothai Bus Terminal which is in the new town and you will have to get another transportation to get to the historic park. To get a bus from Bangkok to Sukhothai New City, you can book here: Book a bus from Bangkok to Sukhothai, Thailand.
Where to stay
Oldtown Boutique House is right in the center of Sukothai at walking distance to many temples, Rooms are around 27 Euro a night, be sure to book in advance as during the great location most of the time they're sold out
SawasdeeSukhothai Resort If you have more budget we recommend this one as they have a pool and spacious bungalows. Rooms are around 40 a night. and also near the historical center.
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