Visiting Sukhothai

When talking about Sukhothai, people usually refer to the Sukhothai Historical Park, also known as Old Sukhothai City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located 300km south of Chiang Mai in the central plains region and one of Thailand’s most visited ancient sites.

Sukhothai Historical Park via Wikimedia by Paulrudd

According to legend, Sukhothai was founded in the 13th century, when two brothers, known as Pho Khun Bangklanhao and Pho Khun Phameung, took over the kingdom from the Khmer, a then major frontier post of the Angkor Empire.  Over the following years, Sukhothai was drastically expanded until Muang Sua (Luang Prabang), parts of southern Burma and South Thailand and established even political ties with China during its Yuan Dynasty. The name Sukhothai means ‘Dawn of Happiness’.

The Sukhothai-era however only lasted a brief 140 years, until armies of the Ayutthaya kingdom took tributary over Sukhothai.

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Wat Mahathat via Flickr by Brian Hoffman :

For Thais, Sukhothai is from great importance, as it is considered to be the first real capital of Thailand and the golden age of Thai civilization; King Ramkhamhaeng who reigned over Sukhothai from 1279-1298, is credited with inventing the Thai alphabet.

Today Sukhothai is split into two parts: the Old City being the preserved heritage site and New Sukhothai, some 12km to the east.

Visitors often favour the ruins of Sukhothai over Ayutthaya, as these are considered to be in better shape.

Remains of the Old City can be found across an area of 70 km2, separated into five zones, of which each charges an admission. The central zone is the ‘Royal Zone’ and the one with the most important sites. The other being north, south, east and west and are lesser visited.

Visiting Sukhothai
Temple Sunset – Sukhothai via Flickr by …your local connection

The park is daily open from 06:00 to 16:00 and the admission is 100 Baht per person per zone.

We listed a number of important places & festivals below which you shouldn’t miss on your visit to Sukhothai:

Wat Mahathat

The temple is not only the most impressive, but also the most important one. It is believed that the main stupa (in Thai: ‘chedi’) contains relics of Buddha. The temple has a further 200 smaller stupas and is surrounded by brick walls and moat; again indicating its high significance.

There is also a Wat Mahathat in Ayutthaya – the name means ‘Temple of Great Relic’.

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Wat Mahathat via Flickr by Mike Behnken

Wat Si Chum

‘The Temple of the Bodhi Tree’ is located about 1500m north of Wat Mahathat. A seated 15m high Buddha, is surrounded by a square mandala building.

The remains of an ordination hall and several pagodas in its surrounding indicating that also Wat Si Chum was a very important site.

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Wat Si Chum via Flickr by Jacques van Niekerk

Wat Phra Pai Luang

Wat Phra Pai Luang is one of the oldest temples of Sukhothai and originally built by the Khmers, which can be identified through various elements in design and material. It is located in the North Zone and was probably for the Khmer from very high importance, similar as Wat Mahathat later for the Thais.

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Wat Phra Phai Luang via Flickr by Andrew Hall

Ramkhamheang National Museum

Before exploring the sites, stop here for information and maps and a detailed model of the area. The museum is located near the park entrance.

Open: Daily, from 09:00-16:00. Entrance fee: 150 Baht per person.

Ramkamhaeng National Museum
Ramkamhaeng National Museum via Flickr By Hal Dick

Loi Krathong Festival

Loi Krathong is widely known as “Floating Basket Festival”, an event which takes place every November on the full moon. Small baskets (Krathongs) are beautifully decorated with banana leafs, flowers, candles and incense sticks, among other offerings. Krathongs are then launched on rivers, ponds or canals in order to pay respect to the water spirits.

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Loi Krathong via Flickr by Choo Yut Shing

Though it is now celebrated throughout Thailand, it is said to have its origins in Sukhothai.