Sukhothai (สุโขทัย) is a small city (population 35,713) in Lower Northern Thailand, 427 kilometres north of Bangkok. Its attraction lies in the ruins of the ancient city Sukhothai, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name translates as "the dawn of happiness".
Ancient Sukhothai was the first capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom, a long arc of territory that ran through what is today's Laos and western Thailand as far as the Malay states. The kingdom was established in 1238 by Phokhun Si Intharathit, the founder of the Phra Ruang dynasty. It was the state that eventually had the greatest influence on the later Siamese and Thai kingdoms. Traditional Thai history has it that Ramkhamhaeng the Great, the third ruler of the Phra Ruang dynasty, developed the capital at Sukhothai. He is also venerated as being the inventor of the Thai alphabet and being an all-round role model for Thailand's politics, monarchy, and religion.
The province's temples and monuments have been restored and the UNESCO-listed Sukhothai Historical Park covers a wide area with numerous sites. Other interesting places include Ramkhamhaeng National Museum, Ramkhamhaeng National Park, Sri Satchanalai National Park, and The Royal Palace and Wat Mahathat.
While enjoyable all year, Sukhothai is most comfortable during the cooler weather of Nov-Feb.
Bangkok Airways has daily flights from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) to Sukhothai Airport (THS), which then continues on to Lampang (LPT). Fares from/to Bangkok start from 1,700 baht (1 hour 20 minutes), from/to Lampang: from 1,100 baht (around 40 minutes).
Take the (express) train (7 hr from Bangkok or Chiang Mai) to Phitsanulok and go by bus from there (1 hour). A tuk-tuk to the bus station costs 60 baht.
Sukhothai only has a small bus station, but the city can be easily reached from all points. The bus station is out of town and should cost you 60 baht to get into town by tuk-tuk.
There are direct buses from Bangkok Mo Chit Terminal and takes 7 hr, including some stops at bus terminals of major cities on the way.
At Mo Chit Wintour Travel charges 326 baht per person for a first class air-con bus. It takes about 6 hr.
From Chiang Mai
Buses from the main bus terminal take about 4 hours. The cheaper local buses make many stops and take about 5 hours.
Minibuses run regularly from the station behind the market. The journey takes about 3 hours, passing through Tak on the way. 130 baht.
Buses operate approximately every 45 minutes from the main bus terminal until approximately 18:00 and take about 1 hour for the 58 km trip. These are often crowded so be waiting early for the bus if you'd like to get a seat. 43 baht.
If you're feeling rich you can get a tuk-tuk directly which costs 1,000 baht from the train station (one of the fixed prices posted on a sign in front of the station).
Purple #1 songthaews travel to and from the bus station, which is about 3 km out of town. They run the length of Charodwithitong Rd. The fare is 10 baht.
The large blue songthaews to Old Sukhothai leave from a bus stop on Charodwithitong Rd, about 100 m west of the bridge. It stops about 750 m from the entrance to the central zone of the historic park. Fare is 20 baht. Drivers often ask 30 baht from foreigners, but if you insist or start to walk away they should agree for 20 baht.
There are also tuk-tuks, which will try to get 600 baht out of you for a trip to the Old City (main ruins) some 15 km out of town. The correct price is 300 baht and this is for at least a couple of hours. When you have seen the part you are at and want to move further in the same area, the driver takes you there. 600 baht is a fair price for a full day.
- Old Sukhothai (Sukhothai Muang Kao)
Twelve km to the west of today's Sukhothai, this was the capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom from 1238 to 1438 and contains many ruins from that period. Its importance has been internationally recognised and it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The old city is a popular tourist attraction, and the site has seen much restoration since the 1960s. It is well maintained, exceptionally clean and well furnished with vendors, though with only a minimum of touts. The heavy restoration is worth noting, since with some ruins and Buddha figures it can lead to a feeling that it is a little over-sanitised, especially in the central zone. The other zones are much less "restored" and trips down unmarked tracks can lead to ruins in their untouched state.
The best way to see the ruins in the Sukhothai National Historic Park is by bicycle. These can be rented from a shop opposite from the main park entrance. It is feasible to walk around the central and northern zones in 6 hours or so. There is also a 40 baht guided tour by electric tram available.
The best time to see the ruins is mornings when it's a little cooler and before the buses arrive, at noon when they have lunch, or after 16:00.
The whole site covers an area of approximately 70 square kilometres (~27 square miles) and is divided into multiple zones. Every zone has an entrance fee. Admission to each of the zones is 100 baht for Westerners, and 20 baht for Thais (06:00-18:00), plus extra for vehicles, including bicycles (10 baht). A combined ticket (still found in most travel guides) does not exist any more. The central zone contains the majority of the ruins and a museum. Maps are free at the ticket office.
- Central zone - It contains 11 ruins in 3 square kilometres, interspersed with moats, lakes and bridges to some island-bound ruins. Mat Mahathat is one of the most spectacular, with a large seated Buddha figure set amid the pillars of a now-ruined sala, and a central chedi flanked by two standing Buddha figures. Wat Sra Sri also has a large chedi and Buddha figure, but is reached by a bridge to the island. There are some nice views from the other side of the lake.
- North zone - Wat Phra Phai Luang contains the remains of a number of buildings plus a large prang with stucco reliefs. More impressive is Wat Sri Chum, which contains a massive seated Buddha figure peering through an opening in its enclosure. Look for a stairway on the left as you enter the enclosure; it leads up and behind the Buddha image, though the passage is not always open.
- Rent a bike and explore the ruins of Old Sukhothai (walking will kill you). Several rentals - price range: 10-50 baht per day.
- Visit the park at sunrise and admire the Buddha figures in the orange glow of the morning sun.
- Pay a visit to the ruins at Si Satchanalai Historic Park, 55 km from new Sukhothai. Few tourists, great sites, quiet. Bike rental at entrance.
- Walk around the fresh market (In new Sukhothai) in the early morning and try the tastes of many kinds of local food Sukhothai people like, e.g., sticky rice with deep fried pork, sweet deep fried beef, or spicy pork salad wrapped with the banana leaf.
- Rent a motorbike in new Sukhothai and soak up the local lifestyle
- Have Sukhothai noodles - It's a must!
In Sukhothai Historical Park
A Buddha figure at the market at the historical park. Available in all historic styles, sizes, and materials. It's forbidden to export Buddha figures from Thailand, even though it is commonly done.
In New Sukhothai
Thongchai Wittayu: A large electronics shop with good prices for digital cameras, memory cards, MP3s, etc.
- Chopper Bar, Pravetnakorn Rd. A rooftop restaurant and bar with good service, live acoustic guitar music, and Thai and Western menus. From 40 baht for main course.
- Dream Café, 86/1 Singhawat Rd (downtown New Sukhothai), ☎ . In a charming rustic old Thai house, serves up a good selection of Thai and Western dishes. Attentive service, eclectic music, and charming decor. There is also a small guesthouse at the back. Chat with the owner Chabah if she's there. She is a genuine renaissance woman, Thai-style.
- Fueng Far (1 min by motorbike from the start of the). Mainly serves dinner. Also a drinking spot where you can enjoy sipping beer by the Yom River. The food is called "fish food". Sukhothai's local fish (bla) dishes.
- Kru Eew. One of Sukhothai's noodle restaurants in new Sukhothai. Not only Sukhothai noodles, but also Sukhothai-style pad Thai, Vietnamese food, desserts, etc. The restaurant is only open in the daytime which mainly serves for brunch and lunch.
- Poo and Kung, Charodvithitong Rd. This is a Belgian-run restaurant offering Thai and Western food and a wide selection of cocktails. From 30 baht for main courses.
- Sukhothai Night Market. Varieties of local food. The night market is called "To-rung". It encompasses the food stalls along the Rachathani temple's fence.
- Baan Thai, Pravetnakorn Rd. This is a typical guesthouse, with a restaurant and a number of rooms available. Rooms contain a fan and share a bathroom, with hot water available. 300 baht.
- Gardenhouse, ☎ +66 55 611395, +66 81 5968624. A great selection of rooms and bungalows to suit the needs and taste of the budget traveller. Together with a great location in new Sukhothai and a diverse range of facilities and services, Garden House is a great choice for those looking for location and service without the cost. 150-350 baht.
- New City Guesthouse (next to House Saberdee. There are signs all way from the bus station to town.). Clean rooms with big bed, fan and private bathroom with hot shower. Run by a Thai- and English-speaking Japanese woman and her tuk-tuk driving Thai-husband. 180+ baht.
- No.4 Guesthouse, 140/4 Soi Maerampan, Jarodwitheethong Rd, ☎ . Large, fan-cooled garden bungalows with private bath and verandah with daybed. Has a Thai restaurant, cooking classes and massage available. A 500 m walk from the bus station. Look for the signs. 200-300 baht.
- Sila Resort, 3/49 Moo 1 Wat Khooha Suwan Rd (close to the bus station, they provide free transport from there and to and from the buses that go to the Old City.). Very welcoming and efficient young staff, willing to please. Rooms are nicely decorated, the bungalows are very nice too. Rooms have fan or air-con and shared or en suite bath. 200+ baht.
- Le Sukhothai (near the backpacker area and behind 7-Eleven.), ☎ . A nice place to stay. Clean rooms with free Wi-Fi. There is a big difference between rooms. Take some time to check and bargain the price. You also get two Singha (500 ml) water bottles per day and dodgy bicycles to choose from for free. Plus they run a nice homey restaurant with OK prices. The staff are friendly and attentive. 200+ baht.
- TR Guest House, ☎ . Family-run guesthouse. Rooms with fan and air-con and bungalows with fan. All with private shower and toilet. Free Wi-Fi. Motorbikes for rent. Advice on touring the old and new city. Good for the price. 250-450 baht.
- Yupa, Pravetnakorn Rd. This is a teak house with a small number of basic rooms and some dorm beds. With fans, cold water and shared bathrooms, these are good value. 120+ baht.
- At Home Guesthouse (in front of Sukhothai Guesthouse). Very friendly staff, good information and free maps, very clean rooms with private bathrooms. Wi-Fi in all rooms. Small restaurant. Tuk-tuk price from bus station: 40 baht (day), 100 baht (night). Issara (the owner) organises great trips around Sukhothai. Wide selection of maps, guides and travel info at your disposal. 450 to 650 baht.
- Lotus Village, 170 Ratchathanee St, ☎ . A cozy boutique hotel in the heart of Sukhothai. All rooms are in Thai-style teak houses with verandas, surrounded by fish ponds, lotus flowers and beautiful tropical gardens. The lobby is an excellent place to relax and read a large selection of magazines, books and newspapers. Other services include local transport, travel bookings, cars with driver, and guides in French and English.
- Mountain View Guesthouse, 23/3 Moo 8, ☎ . Guesthouse with 6 rooms and swimming pool. Breakfast included. Owners very helpful and will take you to and from the historical park which is 4 km away.
- Orchid Hibiscus Guesthouse, 407/2, Old City Sukhothai, ☎ . A small guesthouse with clean rooms, a swimming pool and Italian/Thai owners. It is within biking distance to the old city, but there are only two restaurants within walking distance of the hotel. The owner is very helpful, but you are never quite sure if he understands your request. The pool, breakfast and the garden make up for this.
- Ruean Thai Hotel, 181/20 Soi Pracharuammit, Jarodwithithong Rd, ☎ , fax: +66 55 612456, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A big Thai house with a nice swimming pool in the city. Just take a songthaew to reach the historical park. Helpful staff.
- Hotel Sawasdipong, 56/2-5 Singhawat Rd, City Central (A 50 baht tuk-tuk ride from the bus station), ☎ . Rooms are air-con with TV and bar fridge. Has a restaurant and there are others within walking distance including street stalls. 390 baht (room only), 500 baht (inc. Western breakfast).
- Sukhothai Resort Hotel, 99 Moo 7, Sarmruen, Srisamrong, Sukhothai. 80 luxury rooms, restaurants, swimming pool, seminar room, karaoke, snooker club and "Country Road " musical club. 900 baht.
- Sukhothai Guest House Guest House, 68, Wicheanchumnong Rd, ☎ . A family guesthouse with clean rooms, beautiful decorated garden. Relax in front of the room with teak terrace. The "Panang curry" is a highlight of the restaurant.
- Thai Thai Sukhothai Guest House, 407/4 Moo 3 Napho-Khirimas Rd, Old City Sukhothai (behind the Orchid Hibiscus), ☎ . Beautiful bungalow-style guesthouse. Each bungalow is air conditioned and has a small terrace and garden view. Reception lends bicycles (50 baht/day), so everywhere you need is only a 5 min ride away. Massage in your room possible. Prices start at 1,000 baht with breakfast..