India is often termed as the most colourful pace in the world. And it lives up to its title with its splendour at every corner of the country. Whether it is the snowy mountains of the Himalayas, the stunning lakes, the mesmerizing deserts, the enchanting…
If you’re a travel junkie, you most likely don’t just spend a whole lot of money going places purely for getting to see the aesthetic. The world is obviously beautiful and what are we if we cannot appreciate beauty, but that is not the sole driving force for travel. It is also about trying to connect with the Earth’s energy, feeling the life force of all these people, and breathing in centuries worth of history.
Sukhothai, literally “the dawn of happiness”, manages to wonderfully embody all of the above. It is a province in central Thailand, and anyone who knows anything about Thailand knows that it is synonymous with serenity. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Southeast Asia for a reason, and is truly an absolute treat for your eyes, soul, and even your wallet.
For the bohemian at heart who enjoys backpacking and thrifting in exchange for soul-food, Sukhothai has much to offer you in the way of perfect refuge from the vanilla and mundane. From Buddhist temples and ancient ruins to World Heritage Sites, this list hopefully will give you an idea of all the things you’ll want to do there.
10 Things to Do in Sukhothai, Thailand
1. Sukhothai Historical Park: Central Zone
First up on our list of 10 things to do in Sukhothai is a visit to the Sukhothai Historical Park. This World Heritage Site hosts thousands of visitors every year. Inside the park there are the ruins of 21 historical sites and 193 ruins in total, and the Central Zone has 11 of them, including some of the most significant ones.
The Central Zone remains open from 6:30am to 6pm from Sunday to Friday, and upto 9pm on Saturdays. There is an admission fee of 100 Baht plus a small charge if you take your vehicle up there. Provisions for tours and even camping are available, with cycling tours starting from about just $60.
The most important temple of the Park, Wat Mahathat is situated here in the Central Zone, as well as the oldest temple Wat Si Sawai, and the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum. These ruins stand as a testament to time, wars, and the rise and fall of empires. And if you aren’t a history buff, the incredible architecture will keep you just as enthralled.
The translation of the name would be “temple of the great relic”, and it used to be the main temple of the city as well as the Sukhothai Kingdom. The architecture and symbolism of this site is truly breathtaking. This is a structure dating back to around the beginning of the 14th century and it was founded by Sri Indraditya, who is hailed as the founder of the first historical Siamese Dynasty in those parts.
You will find here Buddist relics and architecture, including two 30ft tall Buddha images in the main area. The rest of the ruins have halls and ‘stupas’ of great significance that you can go around and appreciate. The main stupa is in the shape of a lotus bud, representing original Sukhothai architectural arts, and it will be just the beginning of your amazing journey here.
Wat Si Sawai
This is one of the oldest temples of the Sukhothai Kingdom. It was founded in the late 12th or early 13th century, and unlike the Wat Mahathat, this temple was a Hindu temple. In fact, it was originally built as a shrine for Vishnu, before undergoing some changes in favour of Buddist faith in the 14th century.
This temple is unique not only for the beautiful architecture, but also for how said architecture was tailored to the rituals that they performed. There are 3 intricately adorned spires symbolizing the Hindu trinity. The most interesting thing about this particular temple to me personally is the moat that goes around it.
There is so much more history layered into this site, with representations of different faiths and regimes, often renovated or expanded. I highly recommend you go see it for yourself.
Wat Traphang Ngoen
Built around the same time as Wat Mahathat, this one is probably one of the most beautiful temples in the entire park. The name itself would translate as ‘silver lake monastery’. One of the main structures of the temple is on an island in the middle of its namesake, a lake called Traphang Ngoen, or Silver Lake.
With lotus shaped stupas and Buddha images signature to Sukhothai culture, this really embodies their original art and architecture. One of the most striking features is the four Buddhas standing in the four cardinal directions. And as for the characteristic artificial lake, it was put in to signify purity.
Do check out this particular temple for yourselves. Arguably the best thing about it might be that it was created so that it would be bathed in sunlight during both sunrise and sunset. So time your visit here wisely.
Wat Sa Si
Deemed by many to be the most beautiful of all the temples in Sukhothai, Wat Sa Si is one of the relatively smaller temples in the park. This is why it is on our list of 10 things to do in Sukhothai. The Wat Sa Si is located close to the Ramkhamhaeng monument and the Traphang-Trakuan lake.
This temple has a rather different style of stupa. It is more dome-like and is called a Lanka style stupa, due to the architectural similarities with stupas of Sri Lankan temples. The monastery is situated to the east of it.
Wat Si Sa was built most likely somewhere in the 15th century, due to similarities with other temples built during that time. This makes it one of the relatively younger temples in its vicinity. Sadly, that still doesn’t mean it is mostly in ruins today, with most of the foundations of the stupas being visible.
Wat Chana Songkhram
Located in the vicinity of Wat Si Sa, this temple was probably a contemporary of it. Of the original layout, most of what can still be seen today is the ruins.
This temple also has a unique style of stupa. Although Lankan style like Wat Si Sa, this temple has a stupa that is shaped more like a bell than a dome. Some of the structures were from the Ayutthaya period, which was another Siamese kingdom.
Wat Chana Songkhram was built during the Sukhothai Kingdom and its architecture represents a certain mix of cultures due to the influence of international trade during that time. Definitely a small stop on your tour that will be worth it.
Wat Traphang Thong
Remember the Silver Lake Monastery I mentioned? Well, this one is its Golden Lake counterpart. Wat Traphang Thong is situated right next to the gate to the eastern zone of the park. The main temple is on an island in the middle of a lake which is accessible by a connecting bridge.
What separates Wat Traphang Thong from other monasteries in the park is the fact that it practically serves as a monastery. This is the only one in the entire historical park where a community of real monks still resides. It is only possible, however, since this particular temple is one of the more structurally sound ones.
Still not interesting enough for you? This temple houses Buddha’s footprint. A 14th century king of Sukhothai made it from dark gray stone, and it is the most important relic of the temple.
Ramkamhaeng National Museum
This is an actual branch of the National Museum of Thailand. As it is situated in the Sukhothai Historical Park, it houses artifacts and relics from different periods of the Sukhothai Kingdom. It also preserves the history of other eras in Sukhothai as well, and even from outside Sukhothai.
Thousands of artifacts have been donated to the museum from different temples. There are Buddhist relics and Hindu god sculptures, and even relics from the time before the Sukhothai Kingdom existed in name.
Statues, sculptures, scripts, images, and even Chinese porcelain from the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties can be found here. If you are a history buff, or just want better insight into the lives of the people concerned with the temples you just saw, this museum is a must-see stop.
2. Sukhothai Historical Park: Northern Zone
This part of the park is 500m north of the old city walls and accessible by bicycle. Do make arrangements for a bicycle, by the way, because the alternatives are not as efficient. But back to the park, the northern zone stays open from 7:30am to 5:30 pm, and has the usual admission fee of 100 Baht.
As well as temple ruins and monuments, the Thai Fine Arts Department has excavated kilns in this area which were used to make Sangkhalok earthenware and pottery. The temples found in this zone are on the rather smaller side and are often overlooked gems.
Wat Si Chum
The Wat Si Chum is most notable for the huge manadapa or ritual pavilion it has, and the 15m tall 11m wide Buddha which can even be seen from outside. This Buddha is called ‘Phra Achana’.
There is even an old narrow stairway that can be used to go to the roof of this temple. In the staircase passage however is where you find the true gems. Here there are more than 50 slates that depict different images of the life of Buddha which are engraved into them.
There are smaller Buddha statues elsewhere around the ruins of this temple. But there are also curious stories about this one, like how the kings would address their soldiers and people from a hidden passageway to make them think that Buddha was speaking to them. The entire temple area is surrounded by a moat.
Wat Phra Phai Luang
This is the other significant temple of the northern zone of the park, which is on our list of 10 things to do in Sukhothai. It is one of the oldest temples in all of Sukhothai. The Wat Phra Phai Luang actually predates the era of the Sukhothai Kingdom and is a late 12th century to early 13th century structure.
The temple was originally built as a Hindu temple. It used to be the centre of rituals, and was the biggest temple in the city limits. After Buddhist patrons took over however, it forewent its ritualistic purpose.
These ruins are so old that only one of the structures is properly left standing, but you can still make out the intricate artwork adorning it. There is a double moat around the complex. Visiting this temple will really make you think about time and the years that just go by.
3. Sukhothai Historical Park: Western zone
The western zone of the Sukhothai Historical Park actually consists of a lot of hilly and forest land. This is the most expansive zone and you might want to take a bicycle or even motorcycle to go sightseeing here. In addition, this part remains open from 8am to 4:30pm and there is the usual 100 Baht admission fee to be paid for entry.
You will not find the kind of elaborate and significant temples that you found in the central zone over here. . This region used to be called the Aranyika in Sukhothai times and was mostly used by monks for uninterrupted serene meditation. There are many small temples scattered around the whole area consisting mostly of just one stupa.
Wat Saphan Hin
There is an ancient stone inscription that says King Ramkhamhaeng, known as King Ramkhamhaeng The Great and the third king of Sukhothai, used to visit and pay his respects to the Buddha image here in Wat Saphan Hin. The name translates as Stone Bridge Monastery due to the presence of a slate pathway and staircase to the front of the complex. The Buddha image here is 12.5m tall and called ‘Phra Attharot’.
It has been discovered that this temple might have previously been part of another one called Wat Aranyik. But at present they are considered to be separate temples just close to each other. They stand just 500m apart.
The Buddha statue here is striking, and different Buddha images have been found representing different styles of different times. Definitely remember to check this one out.
Wat Khao Phra Bat Noi
Next on our list of 10 things to do in Sukhothai, Wat Khao Phra Noi is located close to Wat Saphan Hin actually. You will find it on the top of a mound. It is a forest temple where the monks used to be engrossed in meditation within the serene forest atmosphere.
You can actually find individual buildings designed for a single monk to meditate in. This ties into the entire vibe of the western zone of the park, really. The whole aura of zen is embodied very well by the spread out isolated temples and quiet forest area.
But obviously not every inch of these magnificent monuments can withstand time. Some parts of them have collapsed over the years leaving behind some semi-erect structures. However, relics found in them, most notably footprints of Buddha set in stone, are displayed at the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum.
4. Elsewhere around Sukhothai Historical Park
As for the southern and eastern zones of the park, these are parts less travelled to with less density of significant temples. They are relatively smaller zones, but their temples still bear some unique characteristics. The towers and especially the elephant markers around the buildings are definitely worth seeing firsthand.
No matter which parts of the park you decide to go to visit, take care to try and be there during sunrise or sunset if possible. If you visit the park but never get to see the Buddhas and the temples illuminated in that light, you will be missing out. The admission fee to enter each zone is 100 Baht.
Wat Chang Lom
The Wat Chang Lom is located in the east zone, to the east of Khamphaeng Hak gate and north of route 12 to New Sukhothai Town. Its name translates to ‘temple surrounded by elephants’ due to the elephants sculptures surrounding the base of the temple..
Stone inscriptions tell us that this temple was founded in the late 14th century, making it one of the later creations. As for its architecture, the stupas of this temple are Lanka style, specifically also known as a Singhalese style chedi.
The entire structure is built on a square brick base. 32 exquisite stone elephants surround the main temple in their own brick niches. The remains are surrounded by a moat. Due to it being created later on in the kingdom and for its robust architecture, these ruins still stand quite substantially. Do not miss visiting this special temple.
This one is the largest temple in the south zone, which is why its on our list of 10 things to do in Sukhothai Its signature is the images of four Buddhas, each striking a different pose and facing a different direction. Wat Chetupon is situated just 2km south of the historic southern city wall.
An inscription in stone tells us that this temple was built very early on in the 15th century. However, it was restored by the Fine Arts Department in 1970-1972. The four Buddha sculptures were probably made in the 14th or early 15th century too.
The northern Buddha is sitting, the southern Buddha is reclining, the eastern Buddha is walking and the western Buddha is standing. There is also a manadapa nearby with a smaller Buddha image that the locals refer to as ‘Phra Sri Ariya’. The architecture of this temple is truly iconic and unique.
5. Ramkamhaeng National Park
If you are a hiker, you will love this next thing on the list. Ramkhamheng National Park is mostly made up of the Khao Luang mountain range. It actually goes on and joins into Sukhothai National Park. Moreover, Ramkhamhaeng National Park is a nature reserve with hiking trails, mountain peaks and native greenery.
You could just go on a day -long hike around the park and enjoy the breathtaking scenery. There are waterfalls here too, one of them is called the Rainbow Waterfall and it is beautiful in the sunlight. But there is more than this park than just its nature aspect. It has so much history hidden inside as well.
Wat Tham Phra Mae Ya is a unique attraction of Sukhothai. It is located right inside Ramkhamhaeng National Park and is a cave temple which is how it differs from the ruins of its counterparts in Sukhothai National Park. It still remains an active meditation monastery and you will find beautiful art and architecture as well as remnants of history here.
You can reach this temple as well as the broader Ramkhamhaeng National Park through the Sukhothai National Park or from outside by road. Hiring transport from junctions nearby like Khiri Mat will cost you 400-500 Baht but there is no admission fee for the park itself.
6. Ramkhamhaeng Monument
We still haven’t managed to move away from important places named after Ramkhamhaeng because he was a very significant part of the history of Sukhothai. Up next on our list is a monument dedicated to this king and it is something special. The attraction is open everyday from 8:30am to 4:30pm and you can explore by tram, bicycle or a hired vehicle. The admission fee is 40 Baht.
Ramkhamhaeng was the most famous ruler of Sukhothai and the monument is basically a statue dedicated to him. He was not the founder of the kingdom, but he is regarded as the most influential. In fact, it was he who shaped the Thai alphabet into what is in use today, all the way back in the late 13th century.
The statue itself depicts the king sitting on a throne with the Sword of Victory symbolizing state by his side. The entire thing was put together in 1971. Every year a Ramkhamhaeng festival is held at the monument on January 17, if you are planning your visit around that time of year.
7. Clock Tower
The Sukhothai Clock Tower is a vibrant tourist attraction in New Sukhothai, a change from the ancient temples and ruins. It is a stunning piece of architecture, an intricate and ornate tower with a clock face on the sides. It puts on a show at night with lights, and is famous for being photographed at the centre of a canopy of colourful paper flags during the day.
The nightlife here is what makes it interesting. With all the colours, people gather here to have a good time at a night out. There is a festival held here in celebration of the Thai New Year called Songkran, and locals come out here to join in. Locals and tourists, people of all ages celebrate together. Find some time and dance in the lasers and lights on Charodwithitong road.
8. Sangkhalok Museum
Located in New Sukhothai, the museum is open on weekdays from 8am to 5pm. If you want to reach there by means of the local transport tuk-tuk, it will cost you around 100 Baht. The admission fee to be paid upon entry is 100 Baht for tourists.
The museum is relatively small, but it manages to excellently exhibit what is important: the pottery. So this is a private museum housing the most comprehensive collection of the ceramics and porcelain of Sukhothai. Traditionally, ceramics has been the principal export of ancient Sukhothai.
Here you will be able to see not only ancient local pottery, but also artifacts from outside like China and Vietnam because they were so adept at trade even then. Not only useful everyday objects though. There is an entire floor dedicated to non-utilitarian pieces meant to be art. This includes some rare ceramic statues of Buddha.
9. The “Sukhothai Noodles”
The Sukhothai rice noodles, known natively as Kuaytiao Sukhothai are a special kind of rice noodles that is served both dry and with soup. It combines rice noodles with another thin type of noodle called ‘sen lek’. It might have been a cultural byproduct of their trade relations with China.
The broth is very meaty and is usually served with pork slices. It tastes spicy yet sour, but every local restaurant in the region has its own take on it. The meat can also sometimes be chicken, and the soup also includes some greens. Crucial ingredients that make the dish include lemon or lime juice, and sometimes peanuts.
If you’re travelling to a country, one of the best ways to experience it is through their food and local cuisine. Do try out this dish, preferably in Sukhothai even though it is often available elsewhere in Thailand, and do it just because.
10. Fried Fish from Fueng Fah
The last thing on our list is food again, because what fun is travelling if you don’t experience that sheer panic as you bite into a new South Asian dish and realize you’ve underestimated its chili count. Signature dishes of the places you visit really help you feel the new unfamiliar culture that surrounds you. Which is why this last pick is the signature local cuisine.
You can have dinner at this restaurant on the bank of the Yom River. Furthermore, they do also serve drinks. The food is something they like to call “fish food”. It is basically a type of local fish, pla, prepared in different ways with varying levels of spice. You can try the fish fried or dipped in sauces, or if you have the stomach for it, go for the fish head.
It is quite nice, having dinner with a drink on the bank of a river. Next off, you can also take a bike or motorbike and enjoy winding down for a while after an eventful day of exploration. It won’t break the bank and will be a nice end to your day. And you can fully enjoy or regret the experience of trying out new food with satisfaction.
Firstly because of its rich culture and ancient history. Sukhothai is actually Thailand’s first ancient capital. There is so much that remains of that city and it is a humbling experience. If you visit their main parks, you would be visiting a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Also exciting is the fact that Old Town and New Town are so different. The contrast is what makes it so interesting. Slightly out of the way, going there means a bit of an off-route journey, but a more than rewarding experience in the end. If you have even some minimum perception of the country’s past, you will be able to appreciate the ancient air that you can smell in Old Town, and the entertainment that New Town can provide.
Sukhothai is also quite considerate of your wallet. I mean, if you can afford to stay in a fancy hotel and want to hire a car to travel in during your stay, go for it. The amenities are wonderful. But if you can’t, staying in cheap guest house and riding a bicycle all over the city will not take away from your experience one bit.
How do you get to Sukhothai?
By air, Bangkok Airways will drop you off at Sukhothai at Sukhothai Airport. From their you can take a minibus to New Town for 180 Baht per person.
If you are arriving by train, you will have to get down at Phitsanulok which is 60km to the east of Sukhothai. From here you will have to take a tuk-tuk and then take a bus into the main city. On the other hand, you can also take the bus in between Old Town and New Town. In addition, bus fares range from 50 Baht to 150 Baht depending on your distance of travel. Private transport can also be hired if you are prepared to splurge.
Some Useful Links
Basically, if you want to satisfy those wanderlust cravings and you have your intents set on Southeast Asia, Sukhothai would be a great choice. All the choices you have and all the things you can do here will surely not disappoint your adventurous soul. However, this is Southeast Asian weather, so be prepared to weather the hot and humid climate.
Let you mind wander when you stand before the human creations that have stood tall and proud for centuries. Imagine all the things they have seen, all the curious 9-year-olds they see looking up at them in awe everyday. Think about how the people who left their marks so deeply on this world might never have imagined their names living on this long by this many people from all over the world.
When you are done with that, breathe out the smell of history one last time and then head to New Town for a drink. Notice the random strangers on the train and imagine who is going the name that your great-great grandchildren will remember years from now. Just drink in the energy into every pore of your being and remind yourself that your home is Earth.