12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Sukhothai
A 13th c Thai capital, Sukhothai was the first independent kingdom. The name translates to "Dawn of Happiness," indicating that the Sukhothai period is considered a "golden age" in Thailand's history. During this era, the alphabet was created under King Ramkhamhaeng, setting the stage for artistic and intellectual developments.
Today, visitors can walk the ruins of this once great city, now a site protected by UNESCO and restored thanks to an initiative of the Thai King himself. Having historical significance and a variety of tourist attractions, Sukhothai is easily accessible by plane, bus, and train from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phitsanoluk, and Mae Sot.
1 Sukhothai Old City
This UNESCO World Heritage site stands as a testament to Thailand's storied and colorful past. Nearly 200 temples were excavated and partly reconstructed, providing visitors with a look at what Thailand's early capital might have been like. This was the cradle of Thai culture, and archaeologists have found the remnants of artistic and religious works that would define a society for centuries. In the city's heyday, three earthen walls and two moats surrounded the old center. Twenty-one wats and four ponds were uncovered during excavations. For guests' convenience, there is an information center and information boards in English outside every building.
Hours: Daily 6am-9pm
Admission: 150 THB
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Sukhothai
2 Wat Mahathat
The most splendid wat of the present ruined city (and one of the oldest and most important in Thailand) is the Wat Mahathat. It was near the earlier Royal Palace (a wooden building of which no trace remains), and this wat alone covered an area of 4 ha, surrounded by 185 chedis, six wiharns of varying size, a bot, and eleven salas. The towering main chedi at the center of the site is most impressive, with both a wiharn and a bot. Built in a purely Sukhothai style, the top is crowned by the tip of a lotus bud. The middle section resembles the Khmer prangs, and the high square base is decorated by a procession of worshippers with 40 figures of about 1 m high on each side. The niches of the four corner chapels show fine stucco work, rosettes, scenes from the life of Buddha, and gods and demons in conflict. The central chedi once contained the gilded statue of the Phra Buddha Shakyamuni, which King Rama I had brought to the Wat Suthat in Bangkok at the end of the 18th c.
3 Wat Traphang Ngoen
To the west of Wat Mahathat, on an island covered with lotus blossoms in the Traphang Ngoen ("Silver Lake"), lie the outstandingly beautiful chedi of the Wat Traphang Ngoen and the proud columns from a larger wiharn. Mountains form the backdrop of the chedi, which holds statues of Buddha in its niches and is crowned by a lotus bud.
4 Wat Sra Si
Wat Sra Si makes a quintessentially Thai picture, as the bot stands on an island in a pond surrounded by lotus flowers. The wat must have been a magnificent sight when it stood in all its glory. Ten chedis still stand, as do six rows of columns and the beautiful statue of a seated Buddha. Some of the wat's buildings are still inhabited by monks. This is where Loy Kratong (the light festival) is celebrated every November, transforming the lake with thousands of tiny floating candles into a fantastical sea of light.
5 Wat Sorasak
The 24 exquisitely carved elephants that still guard the decaying chedi of Wat Sorasak are the real draw and highlight of the park. Wat Sorasak was constructed in 1412, toward the end of the Sukhothai Empire. The niches are occupied by statues depicting Buddha sitting in a "western" position, with legs hanging down. This elephant guard style is also seen in other parts of Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai, and Kamphaeng Phet. Parts of the wat have been restored in recent decades.
6 Wat Si Chum
Visitors to Wat Si Chum will be especially impressed by the mondhop: a huge, windowless cuboid construction that stands on a high pedestal. Inside, you'll find the colossal statue (nearly 15 m high) of a seated Buddha. This impressive likeness is probably the Phra Achana mentioned in an inscription by King Ramkhamhaeng in 1292, reinforcing the ancient character of this wat and the surrounding ruined city.
A bot in front of the mondhop still has 13 limonite columns covered in stucco work. North of the mondhop are the ruins of a small wiharn and a brick building that contains a seated Buddha.
7 Wat Phra Pai Luang
Extensive Wat Phra Pai Luang is one of the oldest temples in the Sukhothai area. Thought to date from the end of the 12th or beginning of the 13th century, it was probably one of the most important in this region. Wat Phra Pai Luang was presumably the main wat of the old town at the time of the Khmer, before it was moved further south to its present position in the ruined city. Beautiful stucco adorns the steps of the chedi. The outside wall, foundations, and ruins of four rows of columns still remain from the wiharn.
Though less notorious than some of the temples in the old city, this is a nice one to visit thanks to thinner crowds. And save it for later in the day when you're winding your sightseeing down to enjoy the quiet sunset.
8 Wat Traphang Thong Lang
You'll find Wat Traphang Thong Lang, with its remarkable stucco relief, on the road to Sukhothai. The flat relief on the southern side is the best of its type in the Sukhothai style; it shows Buddha, striding over steps, coming down from heaven Tavatimsa. Protected by two parasols, Buddha is accompanied by the Hindu goddesses Indra and Brahma as well as by worshippers. This is assumed to be the first visual representation of the stepping Buddha from the Sukhothai period.
Another flat relief on the north side of the bot depicts, less artistically, Buddha taming the elephant Nalagiri, which his cousin Devadatta had set upon him. The relief on the west wall shows Buddha under a mango tree at the miracle of Sravasti.
9 Wat Chetuphon
Wat Chetuphon houses a particularly beautiful example of classical Sukhothai-style - a stepping Buddha in stucco (the only one of four to be have been well preserved). The other three represent Buddha in sitting, standing, and reclining positions. The chedi in the form of a mondhop contains the Phra Si Arijya Metrai, the "Buddha of the future" statue. Wat Chetuphon also has an unusual feature of slate walls sculpted like wood.
10 Wat Sapan Hin
Wat Sapan Hin lies on a hill at the edge of Yom plain and offers a fine view of the mountains and Si Satchanalai. A paved path leads to the monastery, giving it the name "temple of the stone bridge." This is where King Ramkhamhaeng celebrated the Thot-Kathin festival each October, marking the end of the Buddhist fasting period. There is an impressive 12.5-m high statue of a standing Buddha in Sukhothai style, leaning against a brick wall in the open. The right hand is raised in a protective gesture, and it is deeply revered by the population of the surrounding area. Nearby is a statue of a seated Buddha also in Sukhothai style. Ruins of another temple and a chedi can also be found in the area.
11 Wat Phra Bat Noi
Wat Phra Bat Noi ("wat to Buddha's footprint") is also interesting with its unusual chedi, which represents a mixture of Thai and Khmer styles. The central part resting on a square basis has a niche on each side, occupied by a smaller Buddha figure. The lower part of the apex has vertical ribbing that, like the niches, is decorated with predominantly Hindu motifs. The footprint from the wiharn is in the Ramkhamhaeng Museum.
12 Ramkhamhaeng Museum
Opened in 1964, the Ramkhamhaeng Museum contains numerous finds from Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai, and Kamphaeng Phet - the three capitals of the empire. The museum provides a good overview of the development of the Sukhothai style from the era of Khmer influence to the rise in popularity of the Ayutthaya style. Particularly noteworthy are a stepping Buddha (the finest example of this type), a seated Buddha from the Wat Chang Lom in Si Satchanalai (also on the ground floor), and a seated bronze Buddha (upper floor). In the museum garden are other statues and a ceramic kiln. The admission fee includes a detailed brochure in English.
Hours: Daily 9am-4pm
Admission: 150 THB
Si Satchanalai National Park
If you haven't had your fill of ruins once you've seen Sukhothai's Old City, pay a visit to Si Satchanalai, second only to Sukhothai in Thailand's early history. As in Sukhothai, there are remains of palaces, temples, and houses. The top three temples to see are Wat Phra Mahathat, Wat Chang Lom, and Wat Chedi Jet Taew. It's worth visiting in order to get a fuller picture of this once-flourishing area and the country's early kingdoms.
Admission: 150 THB
Celadon Kiln Site and Study Centre
Here you'll find a study in ancient craftsmanship and production. Five hundred limestone kilns were found on this site, most of which are oval shaped and span 7 to 8 m wide. A number of celadon pots and other goods were also found still in excellent condition. Check out the excavated pieces, and take in an exhibit of other ancient finds while learning about the crafting process inside the center.
Getting there: Head north of Si Satchanalai Historical Park about 6.5 km to Ban KoNoi until you reach an area where there are remains of ancient kilns. Alternately, take highway 1201 from Amphur Si Satchanalai, driving approximately 7 km to Ban KoNoi, to find the centre on the left.
Hours: Daily 9am-4pm
Admission: 30 THB