Thailand : Sukhothai Historical Park

Sukhothai - Wat Mahathat

22nd February 2011.
Sukhothai, Thailand.
Sukhothai was the focus of our field trip to Thailand. The ancient city, lauded by Thais as the capital of the “first true Thai nation” was a designated UNESCO site and often seen as the cradle of the Thai nation, its importance in Thai national history is immense.

Sukhothai - Wat Mahathat

So why does a city with some ruins so important to the Thais? This is because it is the heart of the ancient Sukhothai Kingdom which once presided over a golden age in Thai history. The golden period of Thai history later faded into history after it was overtaken by the Ayutthaya Kingdom until it was noticed by the Chakri rulers, the link between the Chakri dynasty and the Sukhothai kingdom gives it a kind of continuity or legitimacy (as some believed).

Anyway, the Sukhothai Kingdom is not only important because of its role in Thai national history but rather the breakthroughs in made in the field of arts and and architecture as well. It is known for the iconic standing Buddha, lotus-bud motif crowning chedis as well as Sangkhalok ceramics.

Sukhothai - Wat Mahathat

While the towering chedis, prangs and great halls are no more, the widespread remains and the imposing ruins tell a tale of a majestic and grand city that once stood in Sukhothai. The details, I shall leave it to your own imagination.

Sukhothai - Wat Mahathat

Getting There
Sukhothai does not have a train station. However, it has an airport but it is only served by one airline as the airport is owned by them. That is Bangkok Airways. It is perhaps one of the most convenient but expensive way to travel to Sukhothai.

Besides Sukhothai Airport, the next nearest airport is Phitsanulok Airport, which is served by Nok Air, a budget airline offering great airfares and the more expensive domestic Thai Airways.

Other methods include taking a bus from Bangkok (there are quite a few overnight buses that are like those huge Singapore-Malaysia coaches, these are significantly cheaper than air (less than 120-500 THB depending on class of travel) but more time-consuming, as the ride could take up to 8 hours, one way.)

Sukhothai - Wat Mahathat

Then there is the railway plus taxi/bus combination. The nearest train station is Phitsanulok Train Station. From there it is a 1 – 2 hour journey from Phitsanulok to Sukhothai via bus.

The good thing about train and bus travel is that you might be able to drop by Ayutthaya and Lop Buri on the way to the ancient city.

Looking at these travel options, it is hence not advisable to visit Sukhothai if you are on a short trip to Thailand as the travelling can take up a lot of time and convenience is expensive.

Sukhothai - Wat Si Sawai

Getting Around
If you stay in New Sukhothai, you could travel to the Sukhothai Historical Park in Old Sukhothai via a local taxi or bicycle (a bit far though). If you have a mini-van booked in advance, good for you.

Once in Old Sukhothai, the best way to explore the ruins in the Sukhothai Historical Park is by bicycle. There are plenty of bicycle stores around and they are ridiculously cheap (around 20-40 THB for a day).

Sukhothai - Wat Mahathat

What We Saw During our Short Visit:
Sukhothai is more than just the historical park. There are also notable landmarks beyond the city walls. The Historical Park of Sukhothai (about 40 THB) lies in the heart of old Sukhothai, its most important landmark is probably the Wat Mahathat (not to be confused with the one in Ayutthaya). There you can see the iconic frieze of multi standing buddhas that seemed to be in deep prayer like some kind of ancient animation storyboard.

Then, there were the imposing standing buddhas as well.

The Wat Mahathat is the spiritual center of Old Sukhothai and the huge complex was also the royal temple and the most important Buddhist monastery in Southeast Asia. It was constructed by Sukhothai’s first king, Si Intharathit and expanded and remodelled by later Sukhothai rulers including King Ramkhamhaeng (the most famous one in Sukhothai, not because he is featured in Civilization V)

Sukhothai - Wat Sorasak

Other sites within the historical park include the Wat Sorasak which is known for its elephant buttresses and classic Sri Lankan style chedi.

Sukhothai - Wat Si Sawai

The Wat Si Sawai is another notable sight enclosed within a deep moat and built in earlier times by King Jayavarman VII of Angkor.

Take the time to visit and appreciate the temples slowly as too much of them can easily get you “wat” out, a condition you get after seeing too many temples for consecutive days.

Sukhothai - Wat Mahathat

That’s it for the short visit to this ancient city, hope you will enjoy it better than us, one place that you should visit along with Sukhothai is the Si Satchanalai which is a less touristy historical area. As it takes another 1+ hour ride north, our itinerary is too packed to make that journey.


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