Meaning the “Dawn of Happiness,” Sukhothai is a small city with a population of 35,713, which serves as the capital of Sukhothai Province in the lower part of Northern Thailand. Well known as a land of freedom and sufficiency, Sukhothai inspires a Thai way of pursuing “happiness,” as evident in the idea of “sufficiency economy” that has been initiated by His Majesty King Bhumipol Adulyadej as an alternative development path in the age of globalization.
The ancient city of Sukhothai is a visual feast of evocative ruins and is considered the cradle of Thai civilization as the Thai alphabet and much of the Thai arts, culture and laws originated during what has come to be known as the Sukhothai era. In its heyday Sukhothai was a thriving centre of trade, culture and religion. Today the ruined city is situated among rolling green hills and tranquil lotus ponds and offers a glimpse of the culture and architectural wonders of a bygone civilization.
Arriving in Sukhothai
Thai International has daily flights from Bangkok to Phitsanulok which take 35 minutes. Bangkok Airways operate services from Bangkok and Chiang Mai to Sukhothai’s new airport.
Trains from Bangkok to Phitsanulok take about 6½ hours, where visitors can board a bus for the 60 minute journey to Sukhothai.
Air-conditioned buses run from Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal and take about 8 hours to reach Sukhothai. Bus service is also available from Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Khon Kaen.
Getting Around Sukhothai
Located 12 km to the west of today’s Sukhothai, the Old City was the capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom from 1238 to 1438 and contains many ruins from that period. Its importance has been internationally recognized and it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The old city is a popular tourist attraction, and the site has seen much restoration since the 1960s. It is well maintained, exceptionally clean and well furnished with vendors, though with only a minimum of touts. The restoration is worth noting, since with some ruins and Buddha figures it can lead to a feeling that it is a little over-sanitised, especially in the central zone. The other zones are much less “restored” and trips down unmarked tracks can lead to ruins in their untouched state.
The whole site covers an area of approximately 70 square kilometers and is divided into 5 zones. The central zone contains the majority of the ruins and a museum. Bicycles are the favored mode of transport, though it is perfectly feasible to walk around the central and northern zones in 6 hours or so. Bicycles are available for rental at numerous places near the songthaew stop.
Central zone – It contains 11 ruins in 3 square kilometres, interspersed with moats, lakes and bridges to some island-bound ruins. Mat Mahathat is one of the most spectacular, with a large seated Buddha figure set amongst the pillars of a now ruined sala, and a central chedi flanked by two standing Buddha figures. Wat Sra Sri also has a large chedi and Buddha figure, but is reached by a bridge to the island. There are some nice views from the other side of the lake.
North zone – Wat Phra Phai Luang contains the remains of a number of buildings plus a large prang with stucco reliefs. More impressive is Wat Sri Chum, which contains a massive seated Buddha figure peering through an opening in its enclosure. Look for a stairway on the left as you enter the enclosure; it leads up and behind the buddha image, though the passage is not always open.
As with most cities in Thailand, there are plenty of songthaews and tuk-tuks for trips around town. For travel further away, most hotels may are able to arrange for a car and driver.
When To Go
Like all of Thailand, Sukhothai has three seasons: the “cool” season from November to February, the “hot” season from March to May, and the “rainy” season from June to October. The cool season is the traditional time to visit, but it’s also when sights will be the most crowded. Conventional wisdom has it that the rainy season is the worst time to come, but this is not necessarily true. The rains generally occur in short, sometimes violent, cloudbursts which usually come in the late afternoon. If you plan your day accordingly, you can do your sightseeing in the morning, and be relaxing in a spa when the rains arrive.
Buddhist Ordination Ceremonies on Elephant Back
Each April 7 & 8, the people of Ban Hat Sieow in Amphoe Sri Satchanalai conduct mass Buddhist ordination ceremonies in which ordination candidates are borne to the temple on elephant-back. Some twenty to thirty elephants, each colorfully caparisoned, are featured in the annual event.
Loi Krathong Festival
Thailand’s loveliest festival is celebrated on the full moon of the twelfth lunar month, usually mid-November, and is particularly picturesque amid the ruins of Sukhothai’s Historical Park. The festival is believed to have originated in Sukhothai some 700 years ago after one of the king’s concubines fashioned a lantern from carved fruit bearing a lighted candle and sent it floating away during one of the king’s nightly river cruises. Under the full moon, people float away onto the water small banana leaf boats bearing a flower, lighted incense, a lighted candle and a small coin to honor, it is believed, the water spirits, and to float away the previous year’s sins.
Often forgotten or dismissed, Sukhothai in the Northwestern region of Thailand, provides ideal territory for those looking at alternative destinations away from the madding crowds. Partially due to relative inaccessibility and partially due to lack of marketing, the area certainly does have worthwhile tourist sites and offers much for the more adventurous traveler. This lack of exposure is to the advantage of all those making that little extra effort it takes to visit the region of Sukhothai.
From the Phra Mae Ya Shrine and the Sukhothai Historical Park, to the Wall of the Old City which encompasses the Royal Palace, numerous wats, shrines, monuments, and museums, Sukhothai is an ideal destination for any traveler looking to get off the beaten path and experience a real taste of Thai history.
Sightseeing tours can be arranged departing from Bangkok or Chiang Mai and are conducted with private air-conditioned car or van and include a driver and English speaking guide.
Where to Stay
Tharaburi Resort, Sukhothai
Perfectly situated on a quiet road just outside old Sukhothai, and only 10 kilometers from Sukhothai city centre, the Tharaburi Resort offers modern Asian style accommodation surrounded by tropical gardens. Its five deluxe guestrooms and suites are tastefully appointed and feature modern amenities and garden views. Authentic Thai cuisine is served in a garden setting at the resort’s Tharaba restaurant, and the Tharaburi Spa offers traditional Thai treatments to relax and rejuvenate.
A cozy boutique hotel in the heart of Sukhothai. All rooms are in Thai style teak houses with verandas, surrounded by fish ponds, lotus flowers and beautiful tropical gardens. The lobby is an excellent place to relax and read a large selection of magazines, books and newspapers.
For a good choice of hotels with discount prices, visit Where to stay in Sukhothai for more information.