For lovers of history and culture, Sukhothai is one of the stand-out locations in Thailand. Awarded Unesco World Heritage status in 1991, Sukhothai Historical Park contains temples and Buddha images which date back almost 800 years. Located in a picturesque and tranquil rural setting, the historic temples of Sukhothai are a joy to visit. In addition to Sukhothai Historical Park, there are more ancient temples located at equally delightful Si Satchanalai, approximately an hour’s drive away.
Sukhothai Historical Park
Wat Mahathat and Old Sukhothai
The historical park at Old Sukhothai is divided up into five zones. The central zone was the very heart of the Sukhothai kingdom. Today, it is a spacious expanse of countryside dotted with Buddha images and the remains of stone temples, but in its heyday in the thirteenth century it was a thriving walled city. At its heart was Wat Mahathat and the adjoining royal palace which served as the administrative base for the entire Sukhothai kingdom. The elegant Buddha images, chedis and stone columns provide an evocative glimpse of the ancient glory of Sukhothai.
King Ramkhamhaeng the Great and Sukhothai’s Golden Era
The Kingdom of Sukhothai (the name translates as ‘Dawn of Happiness’) was first established around 1238. The most important ruler of the Sukhothai period was King Ramkhamhaeng the Great (reign 1278-1298). It is Ramkhamhaeng who is credited with introducing the Thai alphabet and system of writing. He also presided over a golden era of art, culture and religion leaving behind a legacy which lives on today in modern-day Thailand.
For an overview of the Sukhothai kingdom pay a visit to the informative Ramkhamhaeng National Museum located close to the main entrance of Sukhothai Historical Park. Within the central zone of the park there is a monument to King Ramkhamhaeng where Thai visitors come to pay their respects to one of the most important figures in Thailand’s history.
Monument to King Ramkhamhaeng
The Seated Buddha at Wat Si Chum
Situated in the northern zone of Sukhothai Historical Park, the giant seated Buddha at Wat Si Chum is probably the most famous image of Sukhothai. The Buddha figure here is known by two different names. The name, ‘Phra Poot Dai’ means the ‘speaking Buddha’. A hidden staircase to the side of the Buddha leads to a small opening where somebody could give a speech without being seen by onlookers. The acoustics would give the impression it was the Buddha speaking. According to folklore, in ancient Sukhothai the king himself gave the speech to inspire his soldiers before battle. The Buddha at Wat Si Chum is also referred to as ‘Phra Achana’ which translates as ‘Buddha who is not afraid’.
Seated Buddha at Wat Si Chum
Almost 15 metres high and over 11 metres wide, the giant Buddha dominates the roofless building where it sits. This image is often depicted on postcards and travel magazines. Particularly striking are the elegantly tapered fingers in classic Sukhothai-style. These have a golden glimmer from where Buddhist devotees have placed gold-leaf on the fingers when making merit.
Wat Si Chum, Sukhothai
The parks at Old Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai cover a large area of land far too big to explore on foot. Hiring a bicycle is a good way to see the sights and the surrounding countryside. There are some food and drink vendors close to the main entrance of Sukhothai Historical Park, but if you are exploring some of the remoter ares in the outer zone be sure to take some drinking water with you.