Sukhothai Travel Guide

Thailand Culture Tours & Ancient History



The Dawn of Happiness

In 1834, a young monk who would one day become the King of Siam discovered a stone inscription at the site of an ancient temple. Known as the Ramkhamhaeng stele, the inscription lauded the accomplishments of th 13th-century ruler King Ramkhamhaeng. The inscription also praised the region of Ramkhamhaeng’s kingdom where the inscription was found: Sukhothai. “This realm of Sukhothai is good,” the inscription proclaimed. “In the water, there are fish; in the fields, there is rice.”

Today, this important stone inscription is housed in the National Museum in Bangkok, and the ruins of the ancient city of Sukhothai are preserved as a UNESCO Heritage Site. Walking among the crumbling ruins of impressive monuments and majestic temples, visitors can close their eyes and imagine the grandeur of the ancient city of Sukhothai.

Sukhothai Historical Park has temples and heritage sites

The Historical City

The historical city was the first capital city of the old Kingdom of Siam, established in the 13th century. The name of the province and namesake city translates to “The Dawn of Happiness”, a fitting moniker for the delights it still brings to her guests some 800 years later.

Situated 280 miles north of Bangkok, the ruins of Sukhothai – spread out over 27 square miles – offer visitors a unique chance to experience what everyday life was like when the city was the seat of power during what's referred to as the nation’s Golden Age.

Beyond the historical park, the province is also celebrated for its vast array of wildlife, comprising of spectacular natural landscape and rushing waters, and a vibrant new town.

Tucked away on the banks of the Yom River, New Sukhothai is a relatively small town that hosts the mass of visitors that flock to the area to explore the historical treasures of the region located approximately 12 kilometers away. Home to convenient transportation links, resorts, restaurants and bars, New Sukhothai is a convenient base for tourists that are staying in the region.

A large Buddha image at the Unesco World Heritage site


Royal Palace and Historical Park

Sukhothai Historical Park is undoubtedly the area’s principal cultural attraction, and the walled city comprises a total of 21 historical sites, with another 70 sites sprinkled in the area surrounding the park, all in various stages of restoration. The park is organized into five sections and open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day.

At the centre of the walled city lies the Royal Palace, and its compound comprises of the royal residence in addition to a separate sanctuary. The palace was once home to King Ramkhamhaeng’s throne, which has since been moved to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok

Temples and Cultural Gems

Visitors in search of more of Thailand’s cultural gems can take a trip to Wat Mahathat, one of the most revered sites within the whole Sukhothai complex. The temple is believed to have been the spiritual and administrative hub of Old Sukhothai, and is surrounded by brick walls and a moat. Stretching over a vast area of land, the temple comprises 198 chedis. The main stupa was once surrounded by seated Buddha statues, some of which still remain today.

Wat Mahathat, believed to be the spiritual center of old Sukhothai

Unesco World Heritage Site

Established approximately 800 years ago, Sukhothai was the first capital city of the Kingdom of Siam. In its 120 years as capital, Sukhothai was governed by many kings, including King Ramkhamhaeng the Great. As such, the twin city ruins of Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai are still widely admired and highly valued as cultural assets by modern day Thais. An excellent starting point to get a crash course on the region's cultural and religious context is Ramkhamhaeng National Museum; armed with the knowledge, visiting the actual heritage sites is sure to provide a deeper level of understanding and appreciation.

Situated in front of New Sukhothai’s City Hall, Phra Mae Ya Shrine is home to a figure that is thought to have been crafted by Ramkhamhaeng himself. The figure is depicted wearing the queen’s garment, and is thought to be a dedication to the King’s mother, Nang Sueang. According to local beliefs, the spirit of the king also remains within the shrine.

Night time view of Wat Mahathat

Various and Seasonal Attractions

The Sangkhalok Museum, situated less than one mile from the New Sukhothai, showcases a vast collection of over 2,000 pieces of ceramics and pottery that have been unearthed from the ancient city over the years, some dating back 700 years. Exhibits on the second floor also showcase a rare collection of ceramic Buddha statues. Alternatively, the Fish Museum can be found on the same road as the Sangkhalok Museum and reflects the importance placed on fish in Thai literature. Admission to the museum is free, and it is open daily except Tuesdays.

If you find yourself in Sukhothai in early April, make sure you do not miss the annual two-day Satchanalai Elephant Back Ordination Procession, which involves spectacularly dressed ordination candidates and elephants.

3 nights a week you can enjoy an interesting light and sound show


Nature

Sukhothai boasts a range of treasures, from its stunning natural scenery to its wealth of historical and spiritual culture.

Ramkhamhaeng National Park is situated 12 miles south of Sukhothai, and is home to splendid natural scenery that includes mountains, waterfalls and steep cliffs with excellent views of the surrounding area. For an opportunity to snap some great holiday shots, the highest peaks in the park are Khao Phu Ka and Khao Mae Ya. Visitors that want to explore the park further can rent tents and bungalows for overnight stints. Si Satchanalai National Park also boasts some impressive scenery of its own, and is located around 60 miles from Sukhothai. A trip to the 100ft Tad Duan Waterfall and the Thara Wasan Cave often top visitors’ “must see” lists.

Temple Tours

Visitors that want to immerse themselves in Thailand’s rich spiritual culture can explore the area's vast collection of temples. Wat Phra Prang is positioned two miles south of the old city walls, and houses a large prang tower at its center. Wat Chedi Chet Thaeo is considered one of the most beautiful temples ofromf the Sukhothai era, and it is here that the ashes of the royal family were kept. Visitors that want to see an example of the intricate stucco work that once adorned all of Si Satchanalai’s temples should head to Wat Nang Phaya, the Temple of the Queen, which was originally constructed in the 15th or 16th century.

Historical Gems

Old Sukhothai aside, the provincial area is home to a great many more treasures for history buffs to explore. Sawankhaworanayok National Museum is located 24 miles north of Sukhothai, and exhibits a range of sculptures from the Sukhothai era, in addition to some artifacts recovered from sunken boats in the Gulf of Thailand. The Si Satchanalai Historical Park also comprises a number of sites and temples constructed during the Sukhothai era, when it was home to the crown prince. The park is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:40 p.m., although visitors should note that the park has not been as extensively restored as Sukhothai Historical Park.

Ancient ruins within the Si Satchanalai Historical Park

Cycling Tours

The best way to explore the ancient ruins of Old Sukhothai is on a bicycle. In addition to cycling around the site at your own pace, there are a plethora of outlying sites that can be visited on one of the region’s cycling tours. Cycling Sukhothai provides a selection of half-day tours that wind through the picturesque countryside outside of Sukhothai, stopping at lesser known temples on the way. These cycling tours are ideal for visitors who want to catch a glimpse of everyday Thai life out of the city.

Travel tip: TBC. [link to blog post] or link to a cycling tour

Cycling tours are a great way to check out the ruins at your own pace covering more ground than by walking


Handicrafts, Souvenirs & Jewelry

Despite its reputation as a popular tourist attraction, Sukhothai is better known for its ancient historical treasures than its shops. For visitors determined to spend some of their holiday money, the province is famed for certain handicrafts that would make perfect souvenirs.

For one, Sukhothai is renowned for its Sangkhalok pottery that skilled artisans have been producing since the city's heyday in the 13th century. Gold and silver jewelry is another craft for which the province has garnered something of a reputation; the traditional designs are brought to life with hand-woven minuscule strands of gold or silver. As with the purchase of any precious metals or jewelry, unless you're well versed in this field, it is advisable to obtain personal recommendations from trusted sources.

One can find exquisite handcrafted silver, gold and jewelry

Night Markets

Visitors can also get their hands on some pha thong, a distinctive indigo-dyed cloth which originated in nearby Si Satchanalai. Visitors who want an interesting day trip can explore the shopping scene beyond New Sukhothai itself by heading to the small villages where these items are produced. The village of Hat Siao is a great destination for travellers looking to purchase some locally produced textiles, which are available in a wide range of vibrant colors and patterns.

Sukhothai Night Market is a go-to place to sample some local street food, with a handful of stalls stalls lined up along the perimeter of the Rachathani temple. If you want to rub shoulders with the locals as they do their grocery shopping, the local market can be found if you cross the bridge in the centre of New Sukhothai, and take your second right. The area is also studded with a selection of fantastic local restaurants.

Distinctive indigo dyed textiles can be found at night markets


Sukhothai Noodles

Like most of Thailand’s rural settlements, the dining scene is dominated by the wealth of roadside stalls and outdoor markets that whip up ready-to-eat dishes on the spot. However, Sukhothai has become famous for its own traditional noodle dish, which a visit to the area would not be complete without.

“Sukhothai noodles,” as they're aptly called, is made of spicy tom yam soup, julienned bush beans and ground peanuts, and is a delightful meal for visitors to chow down on at any time of day. Kru Eew on Wichien Chamnong Road is a great place to pick up these spicy soupy splendors noodles in addition to authentic Sukhothai style pad thai noodles. However, many roadside stalls in the town also offer up their own delicious versions of the dish. Visitors who want to sample more of the local dishes should get up bright and early and make their way to the municipal market in New Sukhothai.

Sukhothai noodles with a spicy tom yam broth are sure to please taste buds

Feasting on Thai Food

Visitors hankering after a Thai feast for dinner should head to Fueng Far, a restaurant near the Yom River and a one-minute motorbike ride from the Wat Ku Ha Suwan Soi. Visitors in need of a Western fix can choose from the wide range of dishes on offer at the Dream Café in downtown New Sukhothai.

In terms of its nightlife, Sukhothai is relatively quiet for visitors in search of a party scene, with the nighttime activities instead focused on the city’s spiritual heritage. The light and sound show at Sukhothai Historical Park provides a rare opportunity to see the park’s ruins lit-up following the sunset, and takes place from Friday to Sunday between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Walking Street

Every Saturday, a walking street is established just outside the park from 10 p.m. where visitors can browse locally made handicrafts and sample some local dishes. Travellers that want to quench their thirst after a long day of historical sightseeing gravitate towards the road that connects New and Old Sukhothai where most of the city’s bars are located.


Around Sukhothai

One of the most economical means to get around New Sukhothai is by songtaew, a popular method of transportation with the local community. The purple songtaew runs the length of Charodwithitong Road, ferrying passengers between town and the bus station which is about three kilometers away for a journey fare of around THB10 (US$0.31).

To get to Old Sukhothai, the blue songtaew leaves from a bus stop on Charodwithitong Road and stops a few hundred meters from the entrance to the central zone of the main historical park. Drivers will often ask foreign passengers for a fare of approximately THB30 (US$0.93).

Like many other Thai cities, New Sukhothai is also home to many tuk-tuks which are one of the favored means of transportation for tourists. However, visitors should beware of tuk-tuk drivers that try and charge them much more than THB300 (US$9.50) for a trip to the Old City. Visitors that want to hire the tuk-tuk for the entire day should expect to pay about THB600 (US$19). It is always best to negotiate a price with the driver before hopping onboard!

Once you arrive at the Old City, which is spread across a considerable area, it is possible to rent a bicycle or motorbike from one of the many rental stalls located near the entrance of the park.


Getting In and Out

Air

For tourists with the cash to splash on a quick and easy journey to Sukhothai province, Bangkok Airways operate domestic flights between the ancient and the current capital cities. The swift 1hr15min flight runs twice daily between Sukhothai and Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airports and will generally set passengers back over THB2,000 (~US$64) give or take a few hundred baht for a one-way ticket.

Train

Visitors that enjoy riding the train can take the express service to Phitsanulok from either Bangkok or Chiang Mai, and catch the bus to New Sukhothai from there. The journey takes about seven hours from both Bangkok and Chiang Mai, and the bus ride to New Sukhothai will take an additional one hour.

Bus

From Bangkok, visitors can take the direct bus service from Mo Chit Bus Terminal in the north of the city, a trip which takes about six to seven hours and costs in the THB300-400 range (~US$10-13) for a one-way journey in an air-conditioned bus.

From the bus station, visitors can hop on a shared songtaew for approximately THB10 (~US$0.32) into New Sukhothai town center.