The Living Museum: Sukhothai Historical Park
Sukhothai Historical Park is a window into history. It’s less well known than its famous cousin, Ayutthaya, but is all the more impressive for the lack of tourists and the quiet, peaceful atmosphere. This is sightseeing on a grand scale, with ancient city ruins sprawling over 70 square kilometers of land. If you want to see a different, more traditional side of Thailand then this is a great place to kick back for a couple of days. Here’s our guide to visiting Sukhothai historical park.
Dive into Thai History
Sukhothai is old. Really old! The first buildings were constructed in the early 1200’s, when much of the rest of the world was still arguing over whether the wheel was a good idea. It was the first capital of the Kingdom of Siam and its name literally means ‘Dawn of Happiness’ in Siamese; a romantic name for a special place.
With over 190 ruins spread over the 70 sq kms this is a site that needs a bit of time to explore. The restoration work has been extensive and it’s easy to imagine the former glory of the place as you wander through the corridors, parks and palaces of ancient royalty.
Highlights of Sukhothai
With so much to see at Sukhothai it’s easy to be overwhelmed. If you’re restricted on time then go for the big-hitters to maximize the wow factor! Start at the center of the old city quadrangle to view the ruins of the royal palace, and then move on to the grand Wat Mahathat which is the largest temple on the site. Pass by Wat Sa Si for some more temple architecture and end up at the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum to see relics and restoration stories from the complex. Entry to the main site is only a few dollars so costs won’t hold you back.
How to Get to Sukhothai National Park
Walking the site is perfectly possible if you only want to visit the attractions in the middle of the old town, but just remember how hot it can get during the middle of the day and take plenty of water with you! Renting a bicycle is another option but prepare yourself for a 12km to get to the park entrance from the new town first…
We recommend renting a scooter as it gives you the freedom to visit wherever you please without turning the day into an endurance workout. If you’d rather let someone else take the strain then there are regular buses, and plenty of tuktuk and red truck songthaew drivers in the new town who will be more than happy to act as your charter hire for the day.
Accomodation and Eats
There’s a beautiful boutique hotel in the old city but unless you’re feeling particularly flush with cash you’re going to end up staying in the new town. Accommodation clusters around the river along route 12 and you can take your pick from everything from budget hostels to very decent 4 star hotels.
Eating isn’t a problem- like all Thai towns, food is ubiquitous and tasty. If you can time your visit to include a Saturday night then check out the walking street market outside the Sa Sri temple. It’s designed to replicate the glory days of Sukhothai and serves up some traditional delicacies that you might not find elsewhere. If you’re vegetarian then ask the ingredients first, some of them are a bit obscure!
Sukhothai is pretty much in the center of the country, sitting 400 km north of Bangkok and 300 km south of Chiang Mai. Taking the train is a great way to see the countryside but there’s no station in town; instead head for Phitsanulok and then jump on a bus (about 1 hour).
Buses are cheap and cheerful but not particularly fast, with the hop from Bangkok taking around 7.5 hours. It only costs about 500 baht ($15 US) though so you’ll have money left over for a beer when you get there! Kick back, watch the scenery roll past and look forward to a great time exploring this historical gem.