Sukhothai Historical Park contains nearly 200 temple ruins and covers 70 square kilometres. It is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once the capital of a powerful kingdom, Sukhothai is considered the cradle of Thai civilisation. It is a must-visit for anyone interested in the history of Thailand.

How to get there

Sukhothai is located roughly halfway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. It therefore makes a great stop for a few days to break up the journey between these two places. There are direct buses, but the train and bus combination is a more comfortable option. The best way to get there is to get a train to Phitsanulok and then get a 1 hour bus from there to Sukhothai. Phitsanulok is about 6-7 hours from both Bangkok and Chiang Mai. In Phitsanulok, you will need to take a tuktuk or walk the 2 kilometres between the train and bus stations.

Sukhothai: Old & New

It’s important to note that Sukhothai can refer to Old Sukhothai (or Sukhothai Historical Park) where all of the ruins are, or New Sukhothai, a small city 12 kilometres away. There are places to stay near the historical park, but I think the better option is to stay in New Sukhothai. It has more accommodation and eating options, and it also gives an interesting look into life in a small Thai city that is not entirely on the tourist trail. Large public songthaews (basically a flatbed truck with wooden benches in this case) continually run between New Sukhothai and Old Sukhothai from about 6:30am to 5pm. They cost 30 baht (A$1.15). Tuktuks are also available at a higher price.

New Sukhothai

There are plenty of guesthouses in New Sukhothai. The one I stayed at was called Somprasong Sukhothai Guesthouse (map). The private rooms were basic but clean and cost about A$10 a night. All of the rooms are ensuite and have either fans or air conditioning. Somprasong also serves up good pizza and other western food. It is just around the corner from a 7-11 and also from where the local bus leaves to go to Old Sukhothai.

For cheap and delicious local food, the best place to go is the small night market on the opposite side of the river (located here).

New Sukhothai
One of the places to eat in the Sukhothai night market


The Kingdom of Sukhothai existed from roughly 1238 to 1438 CE. Sukhothai has traditionally been considered the first capital of Thailand and plays a huge role in Thai nationalism. King Ramkhamhaeng is credited with the invention of the Thai alphabet, the spreading of Theravada Buddhism and establishing relations and trade with Yuan Dynasty China. There were actually other kingdoms in what is now Thailand both at the same time and before, and it seems more likely that the alphabet was adapted from the Old Khmer alphabet. Regardless, Sukhothai was important in the early development of a Thai identity, and remains an important symbol of Thailand.

King Ramkhamhaeng
The statue of King Ramkhamhaeng in the central zone

Visiting Old Sukhothai

As mentioned above, songthaews continually run between New Sukhothai and Old Sukhothai between about 6:30am and 5pm. It is best to go as early as possible to be there when it is still cool and before a lot of the tours arrive.

The park itself is divided into a number of different sections; the central, north, south, west and east zones. It costs 150 baht (A$6) to enter each zone and 10 baht extra for a bicycle. The entire place is absolutely massive but it is not necessary to visit every zone. I think the best thing to do is cover the central and northern areas, and maybe add on another if you have the time and energy to do so. To get around easily a lot of people hire bikes, which can be done near the main entrance to the park for about 30 baht (A$1.15). It is possible to walk, but the distances are vast, so I wouldn’t recommend it unless you walk a lot normally. I actually did walk, but it got very tiring as the day went on.

Surviving the heat

Keep in mind that it can be very hot at any time of the year. I recommend starting early when it is cooler, drinking a lot of water and wearing a hat. There are, thankfully, plenty of trees for when a break in the shade is needed.

Wild dogs

It is worth being aware that, like a lot of places in Thailand, there are a lot of wild dogs around. They generally don’t bother anyone in the more highly visited areas but can be vicious and territorial in the more remote areas of the park. In an out of the way area in the west of the park I was sure that one of the dogs was going to bite me. It chased after me but stopped and turned back once I was far enough away from its territory. I was there by myself but if you are in a group then I imagine this would be much less of an issue.

Central zone

The central zone contains some of the most important, interesting and picturesque sites. It encompasses the area within the old city walls and definitely should not be missed. A ‘wat’ is basically a temple, by the way.

Wat Mahathat

The largest wat in the entire park. Located close to the middle of the central zone, it is a good place to start.

Wat MahathatWat MahathatWat Mahathat

Just behind Wat Mahathat is a small island connected by a bridge. There are some lovely views of the temples and scenery reflected in the lake.

SukhothaiSukhothai, Thailand

Wat Si Sawai

Wat Si Sawai is a few hundred metres south of Wat Mahathat. It has 3 Khmer-style prangs (a prang is a tall richly-carved spire). Probably one of the oldest temples in Sukhothai, it seems that Wat Si Sawai was originally built as a hindu temple before later being converted into a buddhist one.

Wat Si Sawai Wat Si Sawai

Wat Tra Phang Ngoen

A smaller, yet extremely picturesque, wat a few hundred metres to the west of Wat Mahathat.

Wat Tra Phang Ngoen

Wat Sa Si

Wat Sa Si is located on an island to the north of Wat Mahathat and Wat Tra Phang Ngoen. It is connected by a bridge.

Wat Sa SiWat Sa Si

Wat Sorasak

To the north of the central zone (and on the way to the northern area) is Wat Sorasak, The rows of elephants on all sides make it definitely worth a visit.

Wat Sorasak Wat Sorasak

Northern zone

The next most interesting area is the north. After that, the other interesting sites are more spread out, with one or two main things to see in each other area.

Wat Phra Phai Luang

Located not too far north of the northern gate. This collection of ruins is not as well preserved (or restored) as many in the central zone. It is still interesting though, and had a lot less people around as it is a little further away.

Wat Phra Phai Luang Wat Phra Phai Luang Wat Phra Phai Luang

Wat Si Chum

If you continue through Wat Phra Phai Luang (heading west) you will reach Wat Si Chum. This is definitely the main reason to venture into the northern part of the park. The temple’s huge walls surround an almost 15 metre tall stucco buddha. The statue’s huge right hand is covered in gold leaf left by devout visitors.

Wat Si Chum Wat Si Chum Wat Si Chum

Don’t forget to wander

I’ve included some of the most impressive places in the park here, but another thing that makes Sukhothai great is being able to wander without knowing what you will find, stumbling across crumbling ruins that conjure up ideas of the greatness of this incredible civilisation.

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