This blog post focuses on Sukhothai – one of Thailand’s ancient cities. We visited as part of a 2-week road trip from our home in Hua Hin on east coast Thailand to Chiang Mai in the far north-west. Two ‘must visit’ places we decided on to break-up our trip were historical Ayutthaya & Sukhothai.
You can read about our time in the ancient city of Ayutthaya here!
On our way north to Chiang Mai we spent a day exploring the preserved archaeological sites around Kamphaeng Phet and during the return leg we spent 2 days exploring preserved sites in and around Sukhothai.
We feel that even if the history doesn’t interest you, Sukhothai’s ruins do not fail to impress.
Located 12 kilometres east of the historical park along the Yom River is the small capital city of modern Sukhothai province – “New Sukhothai” as it’s commonly referred to. The much smaller “Old City” stretching east from the Sukhothai Historical Park and is where we stayed so we could be close to the Historical Park. Everything we needed was there including a fantastic “Sukhothai style” Khao Soi! 🙂
Opened to the public in 1988, the Historical Park contains 193 archeological sites, including the remains of 26 monasteries, spread over 70 square kilometres altogether. While most of these consist of little more than a crumbling base or lopsided chedi, around a dozen key sites rank Sukhothai among Southeast Asia’s top historical destinations.
The UNESCO World Heritage website helps to put some context around these historic towns.
Situated in the lower northern region of present-day Thailand, the Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns is a serial property consisting of three physically closely related ancient towns. Sukhothai was the political and administrative capital of the first Kingdom of Siam in the 13th and 15th centuries. Si Satchanalai was the spiritual center of the kingdom and the site of numerous temples and Buddhist monasteries. Si Satchanalai was also the centre of the all-important ceramic export industry. The third town, Kamphaeng Phet, was located at the kingdom’s southern frontier and had important military functions in protecting the kingdom from foreign intruders as well as providing security for the kingdom’s extensive trading network. All three towns shared a common infrastructure to control water resources, and were linked by a major highway known as the Thanon Phra Ruang after the king who constructed it.
Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet all shared a common language and alphabet, a common administrative and legal system, and other features which leave no doubt as to their unity as a single political entity. All three towns also boasted a number of fine monuments and works of monumental sculpture, illustrating the beginning of Thai architecture and art known as the “Sukhothai style.”
The Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns received World Heritage listing for these criterion:
- represent a masterpieces of the first distinctive Siamese architectural style, reflected in the planning of the towns, the many impressive civic and religious buildings, their urban infrastructure, and a sophisticated hydraulic (water management) system.
- are representative of the first period of Siamese art and architecture, language and literature, religion, and the codification of law, from which was created the first Thai state.
The Historical Park is divided into three main zones: central, northern and western and like most visitors, we spent most of our time around the central zone with a trip up to a couple of sites in the northern zone. Bicycles which can be rented nearly everywhere in the “Old Town” and is the simplest way of getting around.
Rimmed by the old city moats, the central zone is by far the largest and most popular of the three zones. At its heart sprawls Wat Mahathat, arguably the most impressive site in Sukhothai. This is the section of the historical park that actually feels like a park. As we cycled around we explored a handful of other worthwhile sites, such as Wat Si Sawai and Wat Sa Si, along with wide ponds, well-groomed hedges and generous shade from the rain trees.
The more loosely defined northern zone boasts two premier sites located within easy cycling distance of one another: Wat Si Chum and Wat Phra Phai Luang. Whilst we were at Wat Si Chum a groups of around 10 Buddhist monks arrived to visit the site. All the visitors there at that time were overcome with a sense of reverence, joy and perhaps luck to witness these holy men at this holy site! An absolute highlight!
Set astride the wide Ping River and framed by forested mountains in the west, Kamphaeng Phet has a much smaller but still worthwhile Historical Park. As we only overnighted here, we focused our time on the northern zone of Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park’s. Located around a kilometre northwest of the park’s central zone it is here where the historical park gets most interesting in our opinion, with stately trees piercing into the ancient ruins.
Altogether the northern zone contains 40 different sites spread over a sizeable forested area. Wat Phra Si Ariyabot and Wat Chang Rob are two sites that should not be missed. Unfortunately due to time constraint we did not get to the other recommend minor sites like Wat Kamphaeng Ngam and Wat Ma Phi in this northern zone of the Historical Park.
Maybe next time we will make more time to explore, because we feel that this whole region of Thailand definitely deserves revisiting!