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Sukhothai – the historical capital of Thailand

by Karo

Sukhothai is the first historical capital of Thailand. You won’t often find this city in holiday brochures, and it rarely takes its place in travelers’ descriptions. However, if you enjoyed Ayutthaya, Sukhothai has everything Ayutthaya offers plus the absence of crowds and a somewhat indescribable tranquility.

Wat Mahathat w Sukhothai

Sukhothai – seemingly in the center, yet off the beaten path

Looking at the map of Thailand, one might be surprised that Sukhothai is not as frequently visited as other cities, considering it’s practically in the center of the country. The issue, however, lies in the lack of straightforward transportation options to the city.

How to get to Sukhothai?

Assuming you don’t have your own car and your starting point is either Bangkok or Chiang Mai, both cities are equidistant from Sukhothai. There are several options to reach the historical capital of Thailand. The first, fastest, and likely the most expensive option is to take a flight from Bangkok to Sukhothai Airport. The only airline flying to the first capital of Thailand is Bangkok Airways, offering two flights daily with ticket prices ranging from 3,500 to 6,000 THB. Alternatively, at a similar cost but not per person, you can rent a private minivan. Both cities are approximately a 5-hour drive away.

There is also a cheaper but longer option: take a train from Bangkok or Chiang Mai to Phitsanulok, then transfer to a bus, reaching Sukhothai in about 1.5 hours.

Seemingly in the center, yet off the beaten path

This statement also applies to Sukhothai itself. As the city itself doesn’t offer much of interest, being a typical Thai town, many people are surprised to find that the historical center of Sukhothai is located over 20 km from the city center. This means that when choosing accommodation in Sukhothai, you must decide whether to stay in the city and factor in the transportation costs to the historical park or opt to stay near the park and potentially have limited choices for dining and nightlife.

Due to having a car at our disposal, we stayed in the city itself, specifically at the Foresto Sukhothai hotel, which we sincerely recommend.

Matka z córką na rowerze w Sukhothai

Historical Sukhothai Park on bicycles

We had one plan – to explore the Historical Park in Sukhothai. Ancient walls bear witness to the power and grandeur that once emanated from this kingdom. This is recognized even today, as some temple ruins are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

In this corner of Thailand, you can step back in time, discovering temple ruins such as Wat Mahathat or Wat Si Chum, where monumental Buddha statues seem to narrate forgotten legends. All of this is surrounded by a sense of inner peace. Perhaps the key to this tranquility was the fact that we visited the park ruins late in the afternoon.

What captivated us was the fact that the historical center is full of bike paths leading through green gardens, and unlike Ayutthaya, there is no vehicular traffic. Bicycles can be rented at several locations, and there are various types available. However, don’t expect high-end quality or brands – just handlebars, two wheels, and bike seats for children.

Plan for exploring the Historical Park Sukhothai – a peaceful afternoon on bicycles

We leisurely traveled through the historical part of Sukhothai at our own pace, stopping at various temples along the way. You are likely to come across the reconstructed statue of King Ramkhamhaeng, considered the creator of the Thai alphabet.

Wycieczka rowerowa w Sukhothai z dziećmi

Children have plenty of space to play. There were times when we sat on the grass, and our little one circled around one of the buildings. Silence, peace, and almost zero people.

Cycling outside the Sukhothai Park

The possibilities of exploring the Historical Park in Sukhothai extend beyond its walls. Looking at the map, you’ll see numerous ruins around the park, remnants of other temples. It’s special because you’ll likely explore them on your own, adding to the sense of uniqueness and mystique of the place.

The easiest way is to use Google Maps and choose the direction that interests you. Our suggestion: start from the south and return to the walls from the west. Below is a snapshot of our journey around the park.

Night market and shows in the Historical Park Sukhothai

The owner of our hotel, just before we arrived, asked us if we were going to the special night market in the park. It was hard to answer at that moment because we had just learned about it. Unanimously, we decided, why not. Unfortunately, we don’t know if the night market is a regular occurrence or if we were just lucky that it was taking place in the ruins of the old city.

However, as you can easily guess, it was a good decision to go. It was a mix of a typical Thai night market with a new approach. On one hand, there were typical Thai dishes, lots of Thais, and few tourists. On the other hand, someone made sure that each stall was consistent, with vendors wearing the same clothes. So, traditionally Thai, but still very modern.

Kobieta jedzaca tajskie slodycze na tajskim nocnym markecie w sukhothai

Light show and the history of Sukhothai

The history of Sukhothai is full of complex twists but simultaneously fascinating and rich in cultural heritage. Founded around the 13th century by King Ramkhamhaeng, who gained independence from the Khmer Empire, Sukhothai was declared the capital of a new kingdom. The 13th and 14th centuries are considered the golden period of Sukhothai, where the kingdom developed culturally, socially, and economically. King Ramkhamhaeng is often credited with creating the Thai alphabet, which played a crucial role in the development of literacy in the region.

pokaz świateł w parku historycznym w sukhothai

In the second half of the 14th century, Sukhothai began to decline due to external invasions, mainly from the Ayutthaya kingdom. Ayutthaya took control of the region, and Sukhothai became one of many cities under Ayutthaya’s rule, though it retained some autonomy. In the 18th century, the Ayutthaya kingdom fell due to a Burmese invasion, causing chaos and the decline of many cities, including Sukhothai.

The entire history of Sukhothai is narrated in the beautiful setting of the Wat Sra Sri temple, within the walls of the park, maintaining traditional costumes and music. Evening shows take place on the first Saturday of each month from February to August.

We encountered another exceptional event in Sukhothai, but that deserves a separate post because it deserves it.

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