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The Ancient City of Sukhothai Posted by on Mar 19, 2015 in Culture, History, Travel

While most tourists come to Thailand for sun and sand on the islands or outdoor adventure in the north, there are also quite a few historical sights that are worth a visit throughout the country. One such place is Sukhothai (สุโขทัย), the first capital of Siam established during the 13th century. With a name meaning “Dawn of Happiness,” this ancient capital represents a golden age of Thai civilization – the architecture and art, introduction of a Thai alphabet and Theravada Buddhism, and flourishing trade. Much of this is credited with Ramkhamhaeng (พ่อขุนรามคำแหง), the third of nine kings in the Sukhothai era. After nearly two centuries, this great empire declined and eventually became part of the new kingdom of Ayutthaya. The ruins of this once glorious Thai capital are now part of a historical park with UNESCO World Heritage status.

The ruins of Sukhothai in Thailand.

The ruins of Sukhothai in Thailand.

Sukhothai is much smaller than other famous ruins in SE Asia such as Myanmar’s Bagan and Cambodia’s Angkor, meaning you can explore a majority of it in just one day. Bicycles are for rent all over the town, and you can also hire a driver if you’re not feeling up for peddling around in the hot sun. With far less tourists and touts than the above-mentioned places, a trip to Sukhothai is much more relaxing and peaceful.

Some restored Buddha images at Sukhothai.

Some restored Buddha images at Sukhothai.

The park is divided into a few different zones; some more restored than others. A 100 Baht fee is charged for each the central, north, and west zones. In the central zone you’ll find the most impressive sights such as the heavily restored Wat Mahatat, while at the others you can find ruins left much in their original state.

Less restored temples.

Less restored temples.

One interesting thing about exploring Sukhothai are the signs that show you what the temple originally looked like. Compare the past and the present, and imagine yourself standing here at the peak of this once great Thai kingdom.

Past and Present

Past and Present

Respect and admiration for this renowned ancient city still abounds in Thai culture, and you’ll see many colorful shrines around the park where people pray and leave offerings. Keep that in mind when you visit and be sure to dress respectfully at this important historical sight.

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One of the many shrines in the park.

You’ll also find a statue to the above-mentioned king credited with inventing the Thai alphabet and bringing Buddhism to the kingdom. Take a closer look at the offerings being made – on our visit we saw a pig head accompanied by a bottle of Thai whiskey.

Ramkamhaeng statue, with offerings.

Ramkamhaeng statue, with offerings.

Near one of the temples is an incredibly beautiful tree where people have set up little Buddha images along the base. Seeing things like this makes you realize how truly important religion is in Thailand, where 95% of people are Buddhists.

Little Buddhas in the tree.

Little Buddhas in the tree.

There’s a lot to see in the central zone, so you could easily spend half of your day here walking and peddling around to check out the various temples and shrines.

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More highlights from the central zone.

When planning your trip to Sukhothai, keep in mind that the historical park is in the old city – 12 km or so away from the new city where you’ll most likely arrive. There are options for accommodation and dining in both, with more choices on the new side of town. We opted for being near the ruins and booked a room at the Mountain View Guesthouse. The owner was incredibly friendly in welcoming us in late and cooking up a tasty dinner for us. We were the only guests on that night, but she even got the pool cleaned up for us.

Mountain View GH in Sukhothai.

Mountain View GH in Sukhothai.

Just a few minutes away from the park, we were able to easily cycle around and spent the entire day exploring the ruins. Near the entrance to the central zone, there are plenty of shops and restaurants where you can enjoy a nice meal after hitting the park.

A tasty lunch near the park.

A tasty lunch near the park.

Although Sukhothai is often overlooked by travelers to Thailand in favor of the islands or the big cities, including this ancient capital on your itinerary is easily doable and well worth it. In between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, you can stop for a day to explore the ruins and get a little culture. With far less tourists, it’s a nice break from the big crowds associated with all of the more popular places. We thoroughly enjoyed our short visit to Sukhothai, and would definitely recommend a stop there if you’re interested in learning more about the history and culture of Thailand.

Enjoy a peaceful sunset in the park.

Enjoy a peaceful sunset in the park.

 

 

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.