The city of Sukhothai is home to old city ruins that used to be the capital of Sukhothai Kingdom. Today the area is known as Sukhothai Historical Park covering approximately 70 sq.km and 190 historical ruins. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is often skipped by many tourists traveling to Thailand, and honestly, I don’t know why – it’s an absolutely mindblowing and breathtaking park to explore.
Even though it’s around 220 km away from Bangkok, try to make it include it in your itinerary. The name, Sukhothai, comes from Sanskrit and translates as the “dawn of happiness”. It perfectly describes the ambiance, environment, and the history of the former capital. Most of what formes present-day Thailand can be drawn back to the Sukhothai Kingdom. However, most of the history dating back to this ancient time remains unclear.
Before the emergence of Sukhothai, small fiefdoms made up Siam (former name of Thailand). Originally, the area of present-day Sukhokhai was an outpost of the Khmer Empire, the forerunner state to modern Cambodia, and its Angkor temple complex.
In the mid-13th century, the Tai tribes opposed to the Khmer governor and founded Sukhothai as an independent Tai state. It became a powerful state and lasted until the mid-15th century before the neighboring Ayuttaya Kingdom annexed it.
This golden period of Thailand’s history gave birth to marvelous architecture, art, and culture in general. Temple artists established their own – Sukhothai style – the ‘lotus-bud’ stupas, special temple construction technique using bricks over stucco, and Buddha statues represented in rhythmic form.
Understanding Sukhothai Historical Park
The Sukhothai Historical Park comprises an “old” walled city of present-day Sukhothai and the remote temples around it. The park and it’s sites are divided into five zones: the inner city, west, east, north, and south. the inner city is the main attraction of the park featuring approximately dozens of monuments and temple ruins. Around 60km from the park lies its sister city Si Satchanalai, a thriving trading hub with China at that time.
The important temples of the Sukhothai Historical Park
This is the main temple of the inner city, standing at the epicenter representing the spiritual center of the kingdom and following the Khmer’s theory of the center of the universe. However, the architecture of the temple is firmly Sukhothai where the main stupa has a lotus-bud shape. Small bell-shaped stupas characteristic to the Khmer architecture surround the temple.
Wat Phra Pai Luang
Nestled on the original spot where the Sukhothai Kingdom was established, the temple is a perfect combination of Lopburi and Khmer architectures with corn shaped prangs (tall tower-like spire) adorned with elegant stucco decoration, the masterpiece of Sukhothai’s craftsmen.
Wat Sri Sawai
Wat Sri Sawai was initially located outside the city wall until the inner city moved slightly south. The temple has a heavy influence of Khmer architecture, however, the decorations are of Sukhothai style. All of its prangs are well preserved, but some of their details have collapsed.
Wat Sri Chum
The temple is probably the second most beautiful site of Sukhothai Historical Park, featuring a giant, 15 meters tall and 11 meters wide, seated Buddha statue called ‘Phra Atjana’ (immovable Buddha). When you approach the structure, you see Buddha’s massive chest and Upon approaching the structure, you see the Buddha’s massive chest from the vertical narrow opening that only two people can enter at the same time.
There’s a passage leading to Buddha’s head. However, no one knows the reason for the construction or usage of the passage.
Even though there’s not much left from the temple, ruins are still worth visiting. The square structure showcases images of Buddha in standing, sitting, walking, and reclining postures.
Wat Trapang Thonglang
Come here to see three elaborate stucco relief Buddha statues where he performs three miracles. Unfortunately, much of the relief decayed with time.
Wat Saphan Hin
Nestled on a low hill, you’ll need to hike for 300 meters to get the main temple structure. Sadly, the main pavilion collapsed and the only remaining site is the 12.5 meters tall standing Buddha statue
This is the ancient site manufacturing sangkhalok ceramic, a major trade good for between Sukhothai and China. You can still see the remains of those ovens.
Ramkhamhaeng National Museum
The museum opened in 1964 and showcases the archeological finds from Sukhothai Historical Park, Kamphaeng Phet, Si Satchanalai, and Petchabunthe on its two floors. Here, you can see stucco relief images, inscribed stones, Buddha images, Hindu bronze god statues, and sangkhalok pottery.
- Opening hours: 9 a.m – 4 p.m from Wed-Sun
- Entrance fee: 150 THB
Plan your visit to Sukhothai Historical Park
As the park spans several dozen square kilometers, I would suggest staying here for two or three days. Most of the tourists come on organized tours having a short stopover in the Sukhothai Historical Park. Therefore, the park is not crowded with tourists giving you the possibility to wander through the ruins at your own pace.
The best way to explore the park is by renting a bicycle, motorbike, or scooter. You can see the inner city on foot, however, the walk will be a bit exhausting. If you’ll rent a vehicle, then you can easily explore the inner city and some of the outer sites in one day; so reserve others for the rest of the monuments scattered within the territory.
Renting a bicycle is also the cheapest option. Alternatively, there’s a tram tour that hits all the important sites of the park if you don’t want to cycle or walk.
Start the exploration as early as possible. It gets quite hot during the day. For great photographs, come back to Wat Mahathat at sunset to capture stunning dusk behind the giant seated Buddha.
- Bring lots of water
- Take a snack/lunch (although the inner city has some restaurants and souvenir stalls)
- Apply sunscreen
- Wear light clothes and comfortable shoes
Sukhothai Historical Park Entrance Fee
The park has a fairly complex admission system. As the area is divided into five zones, you’ll need to buy either a pass or individual tickets. Each zone costs 100 THB, while the price for a pass is 350 THB.
Sadly, the pass is valid only for one day, so you’ll need to rush into seeing everything, which can get quite overwhelming and exhausting. I recommend buying the tickets to each zone when needed.
- Opening hours: Every day from 6:30 a.m – 7:30 p.m
How to get from Bangkok to Sukhothai
The cheapest way to get from Bangkok to Sukhothai is by a comfortable and air-conditioned bus. However, the journey is quite long, taking around seven hours. Buses depart from Northern Bus Terminal near Mo Chit BTS Skyline every day from 7 a.m to 10: 30 p.m. The ticket costs 330 THB one way. The bus stops for a short, 20 minute, lunch break. It has two drop-off spots once in Sukhothai – New Sukhothai Bus Terminal and Sukhothai Historical Park.
From the bus station, you’ll need to take a shared songthaew to the city center, costing 50 THB per person.
There is no direct train from Bangkok to Sukhothai. The nearest train station is in Phitsanulok, around 68 km away from Sukhothai. So if you decide to travel by train, you need to hop off at Pitsanulok and then take another 1:30hrs bus ride to Sukhothai.
The trains depart from Hua Lamphong Railway Station. Unless you really want to try traveling in Thailand by train, I don’t recommend this option as it neither cuts the journey time nor the ticket costs.
The recently opened airport in Sukhothai enables travelers to easily get from Bangkok to Sukhothai. Bangkok Airways offers daily flights three times a day from Suvarnabhumi Airport. If you book in advance, the one-way ticket costs around 1,500 THB
Located 30 km from the Sukhothai town, you’ll need to hire a tuk-tuk, arrange with your hotel or use shuttle service provided by Bangkok Airways costing 120 THB per person.
Where to stay in Sukhothai
There are several hotels, homestays, and resorts in Sukhothai catering to any budget traveler. We stayed at Somprasong Guesthouse, a bit tucked away from the main road but centrally located to grocery shop 7 Eleven, market, night market, and street food stalls. Additionally, the homestay has a pizza house offering delicious pizza made in a brick oven over wood-fire and burgers made by the lovely owner, Tai, herself.
Prepare for the trip
To ease your travel planning, check out all the posts about Thailand travel. Additionally, here are some of the websites and services I use when preparing for my next adventure anywhere in the world.
– Book affordable flights on Kiwi.com, a platform that shows the best routes and flight deals to your destination. There’s a money-back guarantee if you miss the flight!
– Check iVisa to see if you need a tourist visa to visit Thailand, how to apply online if applicable, or where’s the nearest embassy or consulate
– Find budget-friendly deals on all sorts of accommodation types on Booking and Agoda, or find a cool apartment on Airbnb and get $34 off on your first stay (my invite expires in 30 days after you sign up! )
– Buy the most flexible and budget-friendly travel insurance, SafetyWing, to cover all sorts of health problems on the road
– Book in advance some of the best city walks, floating markets, snorkeling tours, or day trips to maximize your stay and experience here