A Guide to the Ancient Ruins of Sukhothai, Thailand
Sukhothai is a UNESCO world heritage city located smack dab in between Bangkok and Chiang Mai in Thailand. While not the easiest to get to, its remote location is responsible for fewer crowds and a more peaceful ambiance than Thailand’s other popular ancient city: Ayutthaya. Visiting Sukhothai transports you back in time, as you explore the ancient sites on bike.
Sukhothai was established in the 13th century as the first capital of Siam. Its most famous king, King Ramkhamhaeng, was responsible for the creation of the modern Thai alphabet as well as the introduction of Theravada Buddhism to Thailand. The Sukhothai Historical Park was the very center of the Sukhothai Kingdom for 200 years before it was taken over by the Ayutthaya kingdom. Now, the ruins of palaces and Buddhist temples remain.
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Sukhothai Historical Park - Rundown of the Zones
The ruins of Sukhothai are stretched across a 70 square kilometer park which is divided into 5 zones: central, north, east, south and west. While ambitious tourists may choose to visit all of the zones, the main zones we recommend seeing are the central and north zones. Here are the highlights of each zone:
Wat Maha That - Located in the central zone. This was the very center of the Sukhothai kingdom and has the largest and best preserved ruins, making it the most popular section of the park. This is also the best place to watch the sunset behind the hills and the ruins.
Wat Sa Si - Also in the central zone, this temple is located on its own little island, surrounded by small lakes. Here you can see a seated Buddha sitting in front of a large stupa.
Wat Si Sawai - Another temple in the central zone, this actually ended up being our favorite. We got here in the late afternoon and it was completely empty. There is a very well preserved triple lotus Chedi, which looks similar to the structures you might see in Angkor Wat.
Wat Si Chum - One of two temples in the north zone, and by far the more impressive. This is home to the famous seated Buddha image that is enclosed by a square temple. The statue is massive, about 15 meters high and 11 meters wide. The best light for photographing this site is very early in the morning, before the opening at the top of the temple lets in a glare over the face of the Buddha. Arriving here early will also help you avoid the crowds as there is very little space inside and it gets crammed. The north zone is located an easy 10 minute bike ride from the central zone.
Wat Saphan Hin - Located in the more remote west zone, about 20-30 minutes by bike from the central zone. The temple is located on top of a hill and is the best place to catch the sunrise.
Wat Chetuphon - Located in the south zone. Home to a large, headless statue of walking Buddha. The ruins here are not as well preserved as in the central and north zones.
Cost of Sukhothai Historical Park
Entry fees: The entry fee Is 100 baht (or 30 baht for Thais) for each zone regardless of how many sites you visit within that zone. Your ticket is valid for the whole day, with as many re-entries as you like.
Vehicle fees: Entry for a bicycle costs 10 baht in the central and west zones. You can also rent a bike right at the entrance of the central zone for 20 baht.
(Read this next: Traveling through Thailand on less than $1000 USD per month)
What to Wear in Sukhothai
Many Thai religious sites have a strict dress code of not showing your knees or shoulders but this doesn’t seem to apply in Sukhothai. Even though there are no signs here telling you what to wear, it’s still best to dress respectfully. It gets scorchingly hot in the park starting at 9am so wear light, loose fitting clothing and a hat so you can survive the heat.
How to Get to Sukhothai
Sukhothai is 300km south of Chiang Mai and about 450km north of Bangkok, so it’s a bit of a trek from either city, but is well worth it!
The most direct and cost effective way to Sukhothai is by bus. Buses operated by Wintour depart from both Chiang Mai and Bangkok multiple times per day and drop off in both new and old town Sukhothai. The bus from Chiang Mai is 5.5 hours and costs 207 baht. Meanwhile, the bus from Bangkok takes 8 hours and costs around 302 baht.
Otherwise, there are direct flights from Bangkok/Chiang Mai to Sukhothai which take only 1.5 hours but will cost much more: around 6000 baht one way. Taking the train is another option but the closest train station to Sukhothai is in Phitsanulok which is still 45 minutes away from the city.
Where to Stay in Sukhothai
Sukhothai has both an old city and a new city. They’re located about 8 miles apart, and there’s a lot of debate about which area to stay in. The old city is where all of the ruins are located, but we were surprised to see many people recommending to stay in the new city in spite of this. These people usually say that New Sukhothai has all of the cheapest accommodations and best restaurants, but we found this to not be true at all! We stayed in Sukothai old city in Smilingface guesthouse for $22/night. We had a private room with an incredibly comfortable bed, and breakfast and bicycles were included in the price. There were also plenty of food options within walking distance. Because of it’s close proximity to the park, we recommend staying somewhere in old city so that you can easily visit the ruins.
Getting Around Sukhothai
If you’re staying in the old city, the easiest way to get around is by bicycle. Many accommodations in old town offer free bikes. Otherwise, there are plenty of bicycle rental shops where you can rent a bike for less than $1 USD per day.
If you’re staying in the new city, you’ll be fairly far away from the historical park so you’ll need to rent a scooter or get a songtaew or tuk-tuk to get to the old city. Then you can either explore the ruins on scooter, or rent a bicycle once you’re in the old city. Biking around Sukhothai is really half of the fun!
Wandering around the ruins of Sukhothai on bikes was one of our favorite days in Thailand. Make sure to not miss this incredible underrated city!
Looking for more underrated gems in north Thailand? Check out our guide to Chiang Rai, Thailand.