Everything you Need to Know about Sukhothai
A UNESCO World Heritage City, Sukhothai houses a vast number of historical sites and temple ruins. As the first capital of Siam, the Sukhothai Kingdom (1238 – 1438) was the cradle of Thai civilisation – the birthplace of Thai art, architecture and language. ‘Sukhothai’ means ‘the dawn of happiness’, and the kingdom did enjoy an extended period of peace and prosperity until it was annexed by the Ayutthaya Kingdom.
Due to its location (about 427km north of Bangkok and sitting relatively in the middle of nowhere) Sukhothai sees a smaller number of visitors than its more popular counterpart Ayutthaya. Sukhothai’s historical sites, however, are by no means less splendid. Most historically significant temple ruins are housed inside the Sukhothai Historical Park and nearby Si Satchanalai Historical Park.
Apart from visiting the historical sites, Sukhothai itself is a quiet rural city where you can still relish the charms of Thailand’s rustic lifestyle.
Sukhothai Historical Park covers an area of about 70sqkm and contains over 190 historical ruins. Inside the city wall and moat, Wat Mahathat stands as the spiritual centre of the kingdom, and the royal palace (now collapsed) lies to its northwest. To the city’s immediate north is Wat Phra Pai Luang, believed to be the original foundation site of the Sukhothai Kingdom. Read More...
About 60km north of Sukhothai Historical Park is its sister city called Si Satchanalai, home to another civilisation as magnificent as Sukhothai. Archaeological evidence suggests that this ancient city used to be a centre for ceramic trade with China. To get to Si Satchanalai from Sukhothai, it’s best to charter a van for the entire day. You can also take a public bus from Sukhothai municipal market. The trip should take about one hour. Some hotels and guesthouses in Sukhothai itself may offer tour services to Sukhothai Heritage Park and Si Satchanalai. Read More...
Arriving in Sukhothai is like taking a journey back in time, since history continues to dominate the area. Twelve kilometres west of the new city, the Sukhothai Historical Park houses all the historical ruins dating back to the ancient Sukhothai Kingdom (1238 – 1438). Divided into five zones, the park contains more than 190 ruins, all spread across its 70sqkm area. The central zone – the most visited – is the site of the royal palace (now collapsed) and the spiritual centre, Wat Mahathat.
Also worth a visit, if you have time, is the Si Satchanalai Historical Park located about 60km north of Sukhothai Historical Park. It houses a number of important historical sites, such as Wat Chang Lom and Wat Nang Phaya. This was the birthplace of the beautiful glazed ceramic ware called ‘sangkhalok’ – a predecessor of celadon.
Sukhothai’s dining scene is dominated by street-side stalls and outdoor markets selling ready-to-eat dishes, just like most rural towns in Thailand. But if there’s one dish that Sukhothai is best known for, and that has played a role in spicing up Thailand’s culinary scene, it’s the typical Sukhothai noodles dish. With its signature spicy tom yam soup, julienned bush beans and ground peanuts, you will be able to spot it easily at any market stall in the new city or around Sukhothai Historical Park.
If you are serious about food and fancy tasting a variety of local delicacies, wake up early and head over to the municipal market in the new town.
Being a quiet rural town and a UNESCO World Heritage City, Sukhothai and nightlife just don’t mix well. In fact, nightlife takes on another meaning here; instead of a party scene, there’s a more spiritual kind of nightlife, the light and sound show at the Sukhothai Historical Park, called Sukhothai Night (Fri-Sun, 19:00 – 20:00). This is a rare opportunity to see the spectacularly lit ruin sites after sunset, as the park’s closing time is normally at 18:00. There’s also a walking street outside the historical park every Saturday, starting at 22:00, where you can enjoy local food as well as browsing through handicraft stalls.
But this is not to say that there are no watering holes in the entire city area. You’ll find that they’re mostly concentrated along the road that connects the new city with Sukhothai Historical Park. Chopper Bar offers cheap local beers and live band music.
Sukhothai is best known for sangkhalok ware, gold craft and silver jewellery. With its grayish blue/green matte glaze, featuring simple designs, sangkhalok ware will add a classic touch to any room. Modernised versions of the sangkhalok ware showcase more complex designs and feel rather contemporary.
Sukhothai’s gold and silver jewellery craft is equally as unique. Rather than molded into a pre-desired shape, these jewellery pieces are hand-woven into various designs from tiny strands of gold or silver. The designs are usually modelled after the relief patterns found inside Si Satchanalai and Sukhothai Historical Parks. If you are looking for a piece of fabric to embellish your home, head to Hat Siao textile village and have a look at their colourful collection of embroidered textiles.
Besides sightseeing at the Sukhothai Historical Park and cruising the Yom River in a long-tail boat, there’s little else to do in Sukhothai. While inside the park, you have a few options, such as riding an ox-drawn cart from Wat Phra Pai Luang to Wat Sri Chum, exploring the park on a bicycle, or simply enjoying a picnic in the park.
Getting Around Sukhothai
Unlike Ayutthaya, where the ancient and modern worlds merge right in the city centre, Sukhothai Historical Park is located about 12km from the ‘new’ city. Hiring a tuk-tuk (motorised three-wheelers) or hopping on a songtaew (passenger-carrying trucks) is the best way to commute between the two sites. The songtaews leave from Jarot Withithong Road, near the Yom River, at 06:30-18:00 every day. Once you arrive at the Sukhothai Historical Park (old city), rent a bicycle or motorcycle from one of the many rental stalls.
Sukhothai Historical Park has a simple layout. The original city is contained inside a square area, with Wat Phra Pai Luang at its epicentre. Later during King Ram Khamhaeng the Great’s reign (1279-1298), the king relocated the city slightly to the south, to what is today the majority of the historical park. This new site is a large, rectangular area surrounded by the city walls and a moat with Wat Mahathat at its epicentre. You will find all major historical sites inside these two ancient cities.
- Getting from Sukhothai to Si Satchanalai
About 60km north of Sukhothai Historical Park is its sister city called Si Satchanalai, home to another civilisation as magnificent as Sukhothai. Archaeological evidence suggests that this ancient city used to be a centre for ceramic trade with China. To get to Si Satchanalai from Sukhothai, it’s best to charter a van for the entire day. You can also take a public bus from Sukhothai municipal market. The trip should take about one hour. Some hotels and guesthouses in Sukhothai itself may offer tour services to Sukhothai Heritage Park and Si Satchanalai.
- Getting from Sukhothai to Si Satchanalai