Sukhothai Historical Park, with its evocative half-collapsed temples in a green and wooded environment, is a place of great beauty and enormous historical significance. The Sukhothai kingdom – whose name means dawn of happiness – located its capital in this place between the 13th and 15th centuries, a time that is considered the golden age of Thailand’s history. Have your cameras ready: Sukhothai Ruins have incredibly photogenic points, and its ancient Buddha statues deteriorated by the passing of time, flanked by columns that once supported the temples’ roof, all surrounded by ponds with lotus flowers and trees often centenarians, they will provide unforgettable images that will be recorded on your retinas and will blow up your Instagram accounts.
The modern city of Sukhothai is about 12 km away from the Historical Park, and it is a small city without any special interest for the traveler, beyond being a good base camp from which to visit the ruins. Despite this, we always value the charm of small Thai cities, and we invite you to take advantage of the free time that you do not dedicate to the ruins to walk through its streets and markets and enjoy the local life.
A Brief History of Sukhothai
The Sukhothai Kingdom was founded in 1238 when two local chieftains, Pho Khun Pha Muang and Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao, joined forces and seized power in this settlement that, until then, was under the rule of the Khmer. The Sukhothai period is considered the golden age of the Siamese civilization, and its art and architecture are considered the most classical and refined model in all of Thailand’s history. The Sukhothai kingdom lasted two centuries, until in 1438 it was absorbed by another Siamese kingdom, Ayutthaya, which despite having emerged later, was increasing its power until it won the game. King Ramkhanhaeng was the most distinguished of the nine succeeding king to the Sukhothai throne. He reigned between 1275 and 1317, and under his reign Sukhothai expanded to dominate an area even larger than that of present-day Thailand. Also, at that time the first type of writing of the Thai language was developed. It was in Sukhothai that the traditional Loi Krathong Festival began to be celebrated, which takes place every year on the full moon in November throughout Thailand, and during which people leave offerings in a small banana-leaf boats on the water with flowers and candles. It must be clarified that, although it is commonly considered that Sukhothai was the first Siamese kingdom, this information is inaccurate and only partially true. In fact, in the territory of present-day Thailand there were several indigenous kingdoms before Sukhothai, such as the kingdom of Chiang Saen (850-1250). But, because they were smaller kingdoms and with less influence on the evolution of Siamese society, in the Thai imaginary Sukhothai has ousted them as the first kingdom of Thailand.
ℹ️ Top Things to Do in Sukhothai
Ramkhamhaeng National Museum
It is a good idea to start your visit to Sukhothai through this museum in order to learn about the interesting historical context that will allow you to go deeper in your journey through the ancient ruins. In the museum there are explanatory posters in English, and a huge number of artifacts from the time are preserved, as well as a replica of the inscription on stone that is considered the oldest sample of Thai writing. To visit the museum, open from 09:00 to 16:00, you have to buy a separate ticket worth 150 THB.
Wat Mahathat Temple
It was the largest and most important monastery in ancient Sukhothai, and is believed to be the spiritual and administrative center of the kingdom. It is surrounded by an extensive brick wall and, among the whole, stands out its main chedi –Buddhist monument that contains relics–, which is shaped like a lotus flower bud. Some statues of Buddha sitting in the middle of the ancient columns that supported the roof of the temple are preserved, and also about 200 chedis spread throughout the enclosure.
Wat Sa Si Temple
This temple follows the classic Sukhothai style, and is accessed through a wooden bridge, since it is located in a very picturesque settlement: in the middle of a pond full of lotus flowers. The place preserves little more than ten chedis, the main of which stands behind a large statue of Buddha, seated in a position of invocation of the goddess of the Earth, surrounded by the columns that remain standing from the ancient sanctuary.
Wat Si Chum Temple
This temple, located in the northern area, is one of the most spectacular and photographed in all of Sukhothai. It is a mondop –square-shaped shrine– with a narrow central opening that allows access to its interior, where the visitor is speechless when they see the huge 15-meter Buddha statue that dominates over the place, made of brick and gypsum. The Buddha is also sitting in the position of invoking the goddess of the Earth.
Wat Phra Pai Luang Temple
This northern monastery was built in the 12th century, and was the second most important in all of Sukhothai, behind only Wat Mahathat. The place where it stands was the administrative center of the region when Sukhothai was under Khmer rule, before the establishment of the kingdom. Of the whole complex, its three great Khmer -prang- style towers stand out and, especially, the one in the best condition, decorated with beautiful reliefs that show scenes from the life of Buddha and representations of the Hindu gods Shiva and Brahma.
Wat Saphan Hin Temple
Wat Saphan Hin is the most prominent temple in West Sukhothai, and is situated on top of a hill. Its name means “Monastery of the stone bridge”, due to the long and steep stone path that leads to the place. The only remais that are left from the original monastery standing, apart from a few chedis, are a 12 meter tall Buddha statue on a brick terrace, depicted in a position to pacify a dispute, and the original columns flanking it. Its location on the hill offers good views over the set of ruins of the Historical Park, and also the nearby mountains.
Wat Chong Lom Temple
Without being one of the most outstanding ruins, it is worth making a brief stop at this large bell-shaped brick chedi, located in the eastern area, mainly to admire the beautiful elephant sculptures that surround the entire base of the monument , some of them in a really good condition.
🏨 Where to stay in Sukhothai
Sukhothai has two distinct areas separated by about 12 km: the modern city –New Sukhothai– or in the proximity of the Historical Park –Old Sukhothai–, and first you will have to choose which of them you prefer to stay in. The advantage of the modern city is that there are accommodation options in hostels and mid-range hotels with excellent good value, in addition to the urban atmosphere of this small Thai city. On the other hand, the objective of any visit to Sukhothai is none other than a visit to the Historical Park, which is why many travelers choose its quiet surroundings as a place to spend the night.
New Sukhothai (modern city):
The area immediately west of the Yom River, within the modern city, is where the highest concentration of low-middle-range hostels and hotels is found, many of them with an excellent good value. A good option for those looking for a budget hostel is the excellently located TR Guest House, which offers simple but clean and cheap rooms and bungalows.
Old Sukhothai (close to the Historical Park):
Although in the Old Sukhothai area there are some cheap hostels near the ruins, in general this area is where most of the more luxurious options, boutique hotels and resorts are located. In Sukhothai there is no 5 * category accommodation, but those who are looking for the most luxurious option will find it in the Sriwilai hotel (4*). On the other hand, a very good option in the 3-4* category is the Sukhothai Treasure Resort & Spa, with an excellent good value. Both resorts are quite close to the Historical Park (5 km the first one, and only 2 km the second one), and they are very correct hotels, with a classic and elegant design, clean, modern, with a swimming pool and a good breakfast.
Best for: Travelers who are looking for something more luxurious
Accommodation available: from hostels to 4 stars hotels
✔️ Close to Sukhothai Historical Park
✔️ Wide range of options including hostels and 4 stars hotel.
✔️ If you are looking for a good value hotel we would like to recommend you the hotel Sukhothai Treasure, a 3-4 stars hotels. If your choice is something more luxurious then the best option will be Sriwilai Hotel, a 4 stars hotel just 2 km away from the Historical Park.
Best for: Backpackers
Accommodation available: Hostels, Guest Houses and 2-3 star hotels
✔️ Good value and cheap hostels and hotels
✔️ Good city atmosphere
✔️ We personally recomend TR Guest House, a chep hostel in a really good location.
🛺 How to get around Sukhothai
There are mainly 4 options so check which one is more convenient for you:
Maybe the best option to visit Sukhothai Historical Park in case there is no rain or it is hot. Close to the east entrance of the park central zone there are points where you can rent a bike around 50THB/day. In case you are staying in New Sukhothai you will be able to take the classical local transportation, the songthaews in order to get the Historical Park. Songthaews depart every half-hour from a stop close to Jarod Vithithong street at around 30 THB.
A bit more expensive than the Songthaews but an option to consider if you want to go to the Historical Park from the modern city which will cost you around 150 THB. If you don’t want to take a bike or motorbike for visiting the Historical park you can also take a Tuk Tuk from the city at a negotiated price. In case you want to take only a Tuk Tuk inside the modern city it may cost you around 50 THB.
Another good option is to rent a motorcycle at any guest house in the new city of Sukhothai, for a price that is usually around 250 THB / day. We do not want to be tiresome, but remember all the tips that you should take into account when renting and driving a motorcycle in Thailand, which we have already given you before.
Some travelers choose to visit the Historical Park without using any vehicle, and in fact it is not a bad option for those who are fit and are traveling in periods without rain and with cool weather, normally from mid-October to the end of February. We also recommend adding at least one excursion to the north, to visit the essential Wat Si Chum.
✈️ Arriving to Sukhothai
Sukhothai is located midway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, is inconvenient and requires quite a few hours of driving, unless traveling by airplane from Bangkok.
You can get there by airplane, bus or train:
The fastest but the most expensive option:
📍 Sukhothai Airport (THS) or Phitsanulok Airport (PHS)
➡️ Up to 3 flights per day from Bangkok with Bangkok Airways to Sukhothai Airport
➡️ Sukhothai Aiport is 30 km away from modern Sukhothai City
➡️ Low cost airlines as Air Asia and Nok Air offer packages called “fly and ride” from Don Mueang Airport (DMK) to Phitsanulok and once arrived there the travellers will take a mini van to Sukhothai (around 65 km)
The most recommendable option:
📍 Sukhothai Bus Terminal
➡️ There are departures every 30 minutes from Mo Chit Station (Bangkok) at around 250-450 THB
➡️ Departures every hour from Arcade Station (Chiang Mai) at around 200-400 THB
➡️ The journey from both, Bangkok or Chiang Mai, takes around 6-7 hours
➡️ Once you arrive to Sukhothai Bus Terminal you will be able to take a Tuk Tuk to your hotel. The cost aproximattely is 60 THB/person.
An option if you have time enough:
📍 Phitsanulok Railway Station
➡️ In this case you will have to take the train from Bangkok to Phitsanulok and then take a bus to Sukhothai.
➡️ Not recommendable as it is the slowest option. That’s why we recommend it just in the case you have time enough as you will have to combine both, the train and the bus, in order to get Sukhothai from Bangkok.
➡️ Not comfortable compared with the airplane and bus options.