Sukhothai which literally translates to "Dawn of Happiness" was once the center of power in the 13th-14th century but has now reduced to a forgotten province 400 kms north of Bangkok. The Sukhothai Historical park which is 12 kms away from the new city however still preserves the partially restored ruins of the Siam kingdom with its walls. For a traveller to Thailand, it makes for a captivating walk back into history.
The sites of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya are often pitted against each other for preference of visit. While Ayutthaya is much closer to Bangkok and can be done as a day trip, one has to reserve one full day to visit Sukhothai enroute to Chiang Mai from Bangkok. However the ruins of Sukhothai are more open and spread out and make for a more visual tour. Traveller who have time visit both.
We impromptu planned a visit to Sukhothai and stayed near the historical park for a day to explore the place. I must admit it has been one of the highlights of our travel to Thailand.
Sukhothai is well connected by road from Bangkok. There are regular buses from Bangkok from the Mo chit bus terminal. The ticket is about 320 baht per person. The bus takes 7 hours and drops you at the new city bus stand. There are songthaews available at the bus station to go to the old city. They charge 30 baht for a 12 km ride which takes not more than 15 mins. The songthaew goes right up till the entrance of the historical park.
The historical park is huge by any definition of a site. There are cycles available near the gate at 20-30 baht for a day. From morning 6 am to evening 6 pm. This is the best way to go around if you are prepared to peddle else you can book a tuk tuk for yourself to take you on a tour of the park.
There are songthaews that run regularly between old city and new city charging 30 baht per person. You can catch one of these from the historical park or near the 7 eleven and go to the bus station for your bus beyond to other places.
There are many stay options available both near the historical park and in the new city but my personal suggestion would be to stay as close to the historical park as possible. It has altogether a different feel to it. There are many value for money stay options right at the gate of the park. We preferred to stay at one of them called the old city guest house. If possible prefer to stay in an air conditioned room as the fan room can invite a lot of mosquitoes.
There are a couple of good cafes just outside the historical park serving both Thai and international cuisine. Sukhothai noodles are a must try. If you visit during the candle festival from October - November, you are in for a gastronomical treat at the food stalls in the park in the evening. It was the most unexpected part that made our visit special. There is a 7 eleven very close to the park for snacks and takeaways.
Sukhothai Historical Park
As said earlier, the historical park is huge and has five zones with the central zone being the most prominent. Entry fee is 100 baht per person for a day. The entire park is just too big to cover and is only advisable for those interested in history sites. The three major sites in the central zone - Wat Mahathat, Wat Si Sai, Wat Sa Sawai are what people mostly cover in half a day.
Like most historical sites in the open, this one too is the best visited at Sunrise. The park opens at 6 am and you can get a cycle too right at the gate. The most famous and picturesque is the Wat Mahathat. Starting early in the morning and covering this monument is your best bet at not finding a lot of crowd. Do not hope for solitude for you are at a tourist site. The morning sun rising in the background of Buddha statues is a sight to remember.
There is candle festival in Sukhothai every year in the first week of November. If you happen to visit the park around this time, you can see the park is beautifully decorated with lamps all around. The glittering lights around the ruins at night make it a magical experience. We were fortunate to visit around this time.