SUKHOTHAI: THE FIRST KINGDOM OF SIAM
The Sukhothai Kingdom was the first kingdom of Siam existing as such from 1238 to 1438 AD. Prior to that it was part of the Khmer Empire. The ruins are encompassed within a large historical park. They have been partially restored and the entire Sukhothai Historical Park and adjacent sites are a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The modern city of Sukhothai, population 37,000, is located 12 km away.
Getting there is pretty straight forward from either Bangkok or Chiang Mai as it is located roughly halfway between these two major cities. The cheapest way is by bus, about six hours from either city. Since I love the trains in Thailand I chose that method. The trains are quite reasonable and modern. I took a day coach from Chiang Mai (cost 470B–USD 15.75) and the following evening a night train with sleeper compartment (cost 569B –USD 19.08 for lower berth 2nd class) to Bangkok. A useful note, there is little difference other than significant cost between 1st and 2nd class. And lower berths have a window. Both legs are also about six hours; however, the train stop is Phitsanoluk. From there one takes a bus or mini bus 50 km to Sukhothai. I also got a terrific Agoda flash deal for the Orchid Hibiscus Hotel, a beautiful guesthouse near the Sukhothai Historical Park.
The train was two hours late getting into Phitsanulok and by the time I caught a mini bus to old Sukhothai (55B) and then a tuk-tuk (40B) to the Orchid Hibiscus it was well after 5:00 pm…too late to get any time in the park before closing. So I settled in and went for a swim and shower. The large pool is like swimming in bath water. Then I walked down the street for some dinner.
Paulo, the Italian transplant owner was very helpful and set me up with Mango, a tuk-tuk driver for 6 am to take me to three sites and then back to the hotel for breakfast. First up was Wat Saphan Hin well out of town and in a forested area. As promised, there was no one there at that hour and the golden lighting and overall energetics was superb! I walked up the path to a large standing Buddha atop a 200 meter hill. I set up my camera with long exposures and timer and took several shots. Afterward, I meditated and deeply appreciated the experience of being here in this magical moment.
From there we went to Wat Si Chum an ancient temple complex. As you approach an optical illusion is created by a feminine Buddha that appears to be part of the front wall. As you get closer, you discover that the wall has an opening which lets the perfectly aligned Buddha several meters behind display seamlessly.
One sees several different styles of tuk-tuks in Thaiand. One thing I have never cared for in Chiang Mai or Thailand in general is that your only view forward is that of the back of the driver’s head. Here in Sukhothai, the tuk-tuks are unique in that the driver pilots the trishaw from the rear giving one an unobstructed forward view. Basically, the passenger area is an extension of his handlebars
One more stop at a small collection of temples and we were soon back at the guesthouse for a fabulous breakfast including fresh mangoes from the garden and wild honey locally purveyed from the nearby forest. I then rented a bicycle from across the street and pedaled 10 minutes to the main Historical Park.
The city walls form a rectangle about 2 km east-west by 1.6 km north-south. There are 193 ruins on 70 square kilometers of land. There is a gate in the centre of each wall. Inside are the remains of the royal palace and twenty-six temples, the largest being Wat Mahathat. For 50 baht/day I would highly recommend a bicycle as a leisurely way to tour the grounds.
Well, next thing I knew, about six hours had passed and I reluctantly parted the area. Catching a tuk-tuk to the bus station and then a bus back to Phitsanoluk. From there, it’s the night train for me with a good nights sleep and I will awaken in Bangkok.
- Rent a bike
- Plan on two to three days to really experience the main ruins in the area or you can cram it into a marathon 10 hour day like I did.
- Sacred sites are empty early in the morning.
- Bring sunscreen, water and a wide brim hat. It gets really hot.
- Get a guesthouse near the Sukhothai Historical Park, not Sukhothai city. Agoda is a good source for midrange priced flash deals on luxury accommodations I also noticed a couple cheapie backpacker places literally across the street from the entrance to the park. I did not see these advertised anywhere so strictly walk-in.
Here are some additional photos from this stunning and ancient World Heritage Site.