Sukothai – Tracing the last bricks of ancient Siam

Once a glorious capital city, now a small town – Sukothai filled with incredible architectural ruins, the best massage place and fantastic food- of course smiling Thai people. The lotus pond, lush green forest, endless grasslands – Sukothai got the best of everything!

Index

How to get to Sukothai

Brick temple ruins and big buddha statues behind old wide tree at Sukothai historical park

Wat Mahatat

A strong reason tourists skip Sukothai is that reaching here isn’t straightforward. It involves two-three changes in transportation. Phitsanulok ( 70km away from Sukothai) is the nearest railway station The trains connecting Northern and central Thailand run through here.

From Phitsanulok train station, you hire a tuk-tuk to the 2km away bus stand & catch the bus to Sukothai. Or hire a private taxi (expensive) or a cheaper private songthaew directly to the town. I chose private songthaew for 800 baht. The journey was comfortable, and the openness of the songthaew let us enjoy the countryside journey better on that hot day.

How far is Sukhothai from Bangkok?

Getting to Sukothai from Bangkok / Ayuttaya is better by train.

How do you get from Chiang Mai to Sukhothai?

Getting to Sukothai from Chiang Mai is better by 5 hr bus journey by the Wintour yellow buses. 

Where to stay in Sukothai?

Blackened brick chedis with white lime stone base consisting of ruined elephants had at Sukothai

You have to choose between the two neighbourhoods – Old and New town.

Old Sukothai

This is just one road neighbourhood with hotels, markets, 7/11 stores, and massage parlours – All probably within 2km in length. If you are in Sukothai for two to three days and want to be closer to the historical area, this area is suitable.

Advantage – Calm and peaceful town with decent options for food. Hiring a golf truck or tuk-tuks, and bicycles are easy here. You can get to the Historical park whenever you want without waiting.  Disadvantage – I found none. But tourists who like nightlife and want to explore multiple options for food find it boring here.

New Sukothai: We crossed the town while coming to the old town. Though it is referred to as a New town, the town looked older. It is relatively newer than Old Sukothai. This is like any typical town with many eateries, cafes and bars, and bustling markets. The disadvantage is that you have to take public songthaew, tuk-tuks for 12km every time you go to the historical area.

We stayed at  Old City guest house, Closer to the historical park entrance. It was comfortable and worth the money.

How long do you need in Sukhothai?

Wat Sa si (central zone)

We were in Sukothai for two full days. I wish I had stayed for one more night to get to the villages and go hiking further. I could have seen more sunsets and had more massages. So a minimum of two days is needed to brush the surface. Three days be ideal.

We met a family from Russia in the guest house, who were in Sukothai for five days. The Old city landmark cafe owner said that sometimes rooms booked for four days get vacated after two days because tourists get bored! Some backpackers stay here for 10 days too!

Is Sukhothai Thailand worth visiting?

Cities are great, but I think you get the essence of the nation better in rural areas. Mostly, they stay unadulterated by tourism. So was Sukothai! The old town catered to all our basic tourist needs., yet not over commercialised

We left early in the sunny afternoon to the historical park hoping for a “no headache” day. The historical park is so green and so big that walking in the sun was never a problem. The green patch with a gazebo by the canal side near Wat Sa si was perfect for mom to stretch her legs. The cold breeze, old ruins and smiling Buddha statues everywhere was the best place to spend a lazy evening chatting. I had seen sunset by the beach, behind the mountains. This is where I was stunned by the colourful skies behind ancient ruins.

Golden sky behind group of brick chedis surrounded by lawn at Central zone of Sukothai

Why is Sukhothai famous?

It is famous for its calmness, ancient architecture and relaxing foot massages. There was never a dull moment here! Even when we were waiting for the bus. Local school kids were out on a procession in the pre-celebration of Buddha Poornima with the band set. The big banyan trees behind the ponds, chedis, stupas, Buddha statues, dancing statues, lotus ponds – Can you expect a better place to walk or cycle in the fresh air? Warm-hearted people, homely neighbourhood – The two days in Sukothai remain one of the best spent days in my life to date.

Group of school Kids wearing white shirt blue skirt walking in a procession on the road at Old town sukothai

Tips for exploring the historical park in Sukothai

Printed map of Sukothai

Grab this map, it is available in every Sukothai hotel and is ultra-useful.

Sukothai is the first capital of independent Siam in the 1300s. The architecture style here is influenced by Cambodian, Sri Lankan and Indian styles.

Is Sukhothai the same as Ayutthaya?

Unlike Ayutthaya, where the ancient and modern worlds merge right in the city centre, Sukhothai Historical Park is 12km from the ‘new’ city. Tourists here are fewer, and the archaeological park is bigger than Ayuttaya. The heat and glare aren’t that bad like Ayuttaya. Sukothai is the beginning of Northern Thailand. So the weather is better here.

Bring cash. Most cafes, spas and historical parks accept only cash. If you need anything in rural areas, only Bahts work.

The Sukhothai Historical Park is divided into five zones and Each zone cost us 100baht each.

  1. Central
  2. North
  3. South
  4. East,
  5. West Zone.

You can buy a combo entry ticket for all five zones at one go, but it is valid for only one day. Don’t buy a combo ticket if you are in Sukothai for more than a day. Pick each zone each day and buy the tickets accordingly.

Best time of the day to visit Sukothai

The best time of the day is as early as 6.30. The park is open from 6.30 AM to 7.30 PM.  October to June 2nd week is the best time to visit Sukothai. Monsoons make it the wrong time to cycle around the hike.

How do you get around Sukhothai?

You can either walk or rent bicycles, motorbikes and tuk-tuks to go around all the zones. While cycles are allowed in every zone, motor-run tuk-tuks and motorbikes aren’t allowed in the central zone. The same tuk-tuk driver will have either an electric run cart or a golf cart to take you to the central zone.

Wat Sorsak – “Chedi surrounded by elephants” in Sukothai

You can hire tuk-tuks in the old city near the park or the entrance ticket counter. We hired it for three hours, covering Central, North, South and East.

The central zone of Sukothai

The central zone is where you can witness purplish-pink sunset behind the ruins. That is where you capture that famous photo of temple ruins reflected in water (if the weather favours you and the ponds are free of algae). So keep more time for the Central zone than the other zones. We went twice- Once in the evening and the next morning.

Where is the Pond???

You will find shops selling basic snacks and water near famous ruins, but not everywhere. If you are going for day-long cycling and hiking, carry enough water and food. There are very few toilets for tourists in the archaeological park.

Wear comfortable, modest clothes with the proper footwear. Sukothai historic area and the town is kept very clean. Don’t litter with plastic and other trash.

The Friday market at the Sukothai historical park is overhyped! I prefer the local market for food and shopping over the Friday night market.

Top things to do in Sukothai

Walk and sit by the lotus ponds in the Central zone.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 20190713054744-1-1.jpg

This is a treat to all your senses. The aroma of lotus and the watery mud, the soft whistle of the wind, the coldness of the breeze, colourful lilies and the ancient ruins – You can read a book sitting here or keep on conversing or plug your ears with some good music for hours together by the pond side.

Drive in the rural Sukothai

The nightlife in Thai cities is so significant that we often overlook the countryside. It is good to be surrounded by essential amenities, but rural areas with paddy fields and banana farms attract me more. These rugged roads, cows grazing, muddy ponds with storks standing still like statues and at the horizon, you see an ancient brick tower covered with creepers. Hire a tuk-tuk for a few hours. Usually, Sukothai people are friendly, and the drivers are chatty. They narrate their childhood stories and countryside life well while taking you on the mud road. 

Indulge in local delicacies

Thai crepe – Khanom bueang

The eateries in Old Sukothai aren’t as crowded in Ayuttaya or Bangkok. The chef or the host briefs you nicely with what elements they use when you order something! The farm-fresh ingredients make Sukothai food the best of all in Thailand. The smaller cafes even let you customise on request! Don’t forget to try coconut rice with corn and veggies and egg crapes here.

Watch the sunset behind the brick chedis of Sukothai.

silhouette of Chedis and the outline of statues after the sun goes down at Sukothai

One of the fascinating things to do in Sukothai is to wait for the sky to turn purplish pink from yellow! The white sandstone Buddha statues stand out; the bricks turn dark brown. The lush green tree leaves rustle more. In the end, you see the silhouette of Chedis and the outline of statues after the sun goes down. By sunset time, most tourists leave. The ones who are staying in Old Sukothai stay back

Take a relaxing Thai massage.

Thai lady massagaing tourist foot in Sukothai

Which place in Thailand is famous for massage?

In general Thai foot massage is the most relaxing. We both have taken seven massages in 15 days in different cities. No other massage was as good as the Sukothai one! The fragrance of the oil they used here was different. Places like Bangkok and Phuket had sophisticated places; Ayutthaya was a tiny place made for tourists. Sukothai’s massage was part of their living house! Don’t worry; they got private rooms if you want a full body massage. It is fun and relaxing at the same time to stimulate your blood circulation in such local places. While getting a foot massage, we happened to see an hour of Thai daily soap. Trust me; they are equally dramatic to our typical Indian serials.

It boosts your energy and gets you refreshed. Plus, it was cheaper than all the other cities we tried – 120 Baht/Person for an hour.

Of course – Explore different ruins.

Want to go here?

You may be thinking: what is so wow about seeing the similar sharp-ended chedis and Khmer style temple?” That is where Sukothai makes a big difference. The chedi base is ornated with lions and the other ones with elephants. You see a 14m height Buddha sitting in a room with a geometrical cut in the roof!

You spot a strange structure like Rings stacked that resembles a kids’ toy! There are hundreds of Buddha statues everywhere, but you will wonder only why a few of them are draped in yellow clothes. A dancing lady, standing / sitting Buddha – it goes on. The ruins give you a hint of how royal the city was. Sukothai is an experience, not a destination. 

Sip coffee in the old town, watching the daily life pass by.

There can’t be anything better than observing the local life, away from the regular travel spots. Sukothai being a small town is home to observing the real Thai people.

Tuk Tuk driver & a stolen bag story.

Wat Tra Phang Ngoen in the morning

After spending more than a week travelling in Thailand, we felt confident and safer in the country. We had never been in an isolated or deserted place until that morning. What happened to us that is something you must know.

Haggling with the tuk-tuk driver, we started our ride with a golf cart in the Central Zone, which we were familiar with because of the previous evening’s visit. The driver ( I don’t remember his name, so I call him Chang) took us everywhere and clicked our photos. He was friendly and chatty in a positive way. We managed to communicate in his broken English and our poor Thai!

The green fields of Sukothai in the nearby village with hardly any tourists

Once we shifted to his Motorbike + tuk-tuk to explore the different areas, the houses and hotels slowly disappeared. Thick forest and lush green fields appeared. Chang stopped whenever he saw big birds and mounds of some ancient ruin. Wherever there was a little shop or small cafe appeared, Chang pointed at it and asked us something. Gratified in the countryside beauty, we ignored his words.

We reached Wat Si Chum at 7.15. There was a shop with two workers waiting for the manager to come and open the counter. The lady set her desk and cleaned her cabin to settle for the day at the ticket counter. Chang dropped us at Wat Si Chum entrance and said,” Your ticket there. See and come,” The rest of his words are in Thai.

In that overexcitement of seeing Wat Si chum – The famous Buddha statue behind the split, we ignored what he said and went to buy tickets.

The most famous temple in Sukothai is Wat Si Chum

When I was about to pay for the tickets, I realised I had left my bag in the tuk-tuk. My mom began to walk back to the tuk-tuk while Chang started the engine and left at the speed of light. 

Screaming at him to stop, we stood devastated and betrayed. He cheated us by taking our bags and leaving us at a place far from town. We had around 2000 bahts in the bag, along with my mother’s phone. In despair, we approached the shopkeepers for help. Neither of us understood each other. We cursed Chang and were angry at entering Thailand! We felt miserable for trusting the Thai people. With a poor network and no money, we could not even reach the police. When we asked the receptionist to help us call the police, she was laughingly making hand gestures and saying something in Thai! Watery eyes, fumbling voice – two women stood there helpless.

Are people from Thailand friendly?

We were surrounded by three Thai people in a forest area by the roadside. All three were smiling like typical Thais, and we wanted to shout at them for not helping us. You name a negative emotion; all of it had taken over us.  So at that moment, we decided Thai people are;t kind and helpful.

After five minutes we heard the sound of a bike! The sound increased, and it took a left turn to park in the Wat Si Chum. Oh my god, it was Chang who came back! Blood rushed through our veins! We sighed in relief. Even before we asked Chang where he had eloped, the locals spoke to him. All of them were laughing at us, and Chang seemed to be surprised! 

He understood what drama we created in those five minutes! Chang got to know we had misjudged him and appeared a little upset about us for doing so. He asked us to follow him and took us to a building behind the shop. It was a locked toilet! In his hand gesture and a few English words, he conveyed – Chang wanted to use the restroom badly. That small kiosk he showed us on the way had a toilet. He did inform us about going back to use it after dropping us at Wat Si Chum! The two ignorant/overexcited women ignored what he said and cursed an entire nation!

Are Thai people respectful?

Yes. Yes and Yes.

Though we mistrusted Chang, his behaviour towards us didn’t change afterwards. The only thing different was wherever he met his friends or locals, he was explaining the drama we made, and all the locals were smiling at us, saying,” No, sad. All ok, We Thai good.” Chang kept taking detours and narrating more stories for three hours, smiling.

We both were ashamed of how quick we were to judge a person! We could have waited patiently for him to return without creating a scene.

The moral of the story is –

  •  It was our stupidity to leave the bag in Tut-tuk. No matter what country you are in, who leaves personal belongings in a taxi?
  •  As a tourist, we should know their language a bit to understand what the locals say. 
  • When Chang tried to convey he was in a hurry to use the washroom, we ignored his talk – Never be that careless about what others speak.
  • We shouldn’t have cursed Chang and blamed entire Thailand so quickly without knowing the reality.
  • Sukothai is safe! Thailand is safe! There may be a few scammers to mint money from tourists in cities, but others are kind and helpful.

I wrote a long sorry note on Google translator at the end of three hours and showed him the same in Thai. He smiled and reported back on his phone in Thai, translated to English –

” I am not very rich; I need money. But I don’t cheat. Buddhism is a way of life for us; it isn’t just a religion to chant. You, tourists, are essential to our livelihood. Many people like me earn because of people like you. We never cheat you; at least Sukothai people don’t. Don’t be sorry. It is ok.”

We weren’t sure how to thank him. One way was to offer him extra money. It would be not very respectful to do so, we thought and invited him over for breakfast. He politely refused, shaking his fingers to convey his stomach wasn’t ok. All we could do was wave at him and not judge someone, not curse a country for our stupidity in the future.

Which is your favourite town in Thailand? Let us know in the comment section below.

.

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: