Sukhothai Historical Park: An Insider’s Guide
Founded in 1248 CE by King Si Inthrathit, Sukhothai Historical Park holds historical significance as the former capital of the Kingdom of Sukhothai until 1438 CE. This ancient city marked the beginning of a series of independent polities that eventually united to form the Kingdom of Siam, known today as Thailand.
Presently, the remnants of Sukhothai stand as a testament to the rich heritage and diverse ancestry of the modern Thai people. The park showcases a harmonious blend of artistic influences from various cultures, including the Mon, Tai, and Khmer peoples, whose legacies are elegantly engraved into the timeless monuments. Even hints of ancient Indian and Hindu stylistic influences adorn the predominantly Buddhism-centered designs.
Sukhothai Historical Park is not only a place of ancient ruins but a living testament to the harmonious amalgamation of cultures that have shaped Thailand’s vibrant identity.
During the late 13th century, Sukhothai blossomed into one of the foremost centers of Theravada Buddhism, achieving great prosperity and fame. This flourishing period led to the rapid emergence of a distinctive art style that remains strikingly apparent to this day.
At Sukhothai Historical Park, one can witness the highly stylized representations of the Buddha, exuding an aura of virtue and elegance unique to this ancient city. Amongst the expansive grounds, Wat Mahathat stands out as a profound showcase of this remarkable artistic expression.
The architecture of Wat Mahathat exudes a captivating ethereal grace, with its grand Buddha images, bell-shaped stupas, and delicate lotus-bud finials, all harmoniously combining to form a majestic yet imposing Theravada monastery.
In the ancient city of Sukhothai, architects and engineers were granted a remarkable freedom of expression, enabling them to craft exquisite works of art. They brought to life grand monuments, skillfully carved from brick and stucco, that have stood the test of time.
These awe-inspiring creations showcase the ingenuity and creativity of their creators, leaving a lasting legacy of Sukhothai’s bygone era.
With its meticulously detailed prangs, rising elegantly to the sky, Wat Si Sawai presents a striking contrast to the serene Buddhist pillars of Wat Mahathat. This temple, with its Hindu architecture, is among the oldest in Sukhothai, its roots tracing back to the Khmer era of the late 12th century.
(a prang is a tower with a conical shape and broad base that gets narrower towards the top – it’s meant to symbolize Mount Meru, a sacred mountain that stands in the center of the universe)
Just a few hundred meters away from Wat Si Sawai, you’ll find the remnants of Wat Tra Phang Ngoen, a historical gem dating back to the 14th century. Despite its weathered appearance, this ancient chedi and viharn still hold significant cultural and religious value. Inside, you’ll discover a stuccoed image of the Buddha seated in the Bhumisparsha mudra.
(the Bhumisparsha mudra depicts the Buddha touching the soil with his right hand – it’s meant to symbolize the liberation of the human spirit from worldly trappings and temptations)
Adjacent to Wat Tra Phang Ngoen stands an emblematic Walking Buddha image, radiating an aura of grace and elegance. This unique pose, characterized by the Vitarka mudra, is a testament to Sukhothai’s patrons of the arts who crafted this symbolic expression. Today, this pose has transcended borders and is admired and replicated worldwide.
(the Vitarka mudra symbolizes the act of teaching – it’s meant to depict the transmission of knowledge and insight, gained after reaching enlightenment)
When approaching Wat Si Chum on foot, your eyes are immediately drawn to the mesmerizing gaze of a colossal Buddha, peering through the narrow slit of its 13th-century chamber. While under the statue’s imposing presence, you’ll be humbled by the weight of history and the depth of faith that surrounds this sacred site.
This confined, brick-stuccoed behemoth is known as Phra Achana – which roughly translates to “the one who is unstirred, who remains calm.” Sculpted in the style of Srivijaya art, Phra Achana is the largest Buddha image within Sukhothai (measuring 15 m high x 11.3 m wide) and is enshrined inside a roofless mondop (a cubicle-shaped pavilion) with a geometric design.
Wat Si Chum’s magnificence draws monks on pilgrimage from all over Thailand, who come to pay their respects. When exploring this sacred site, you may be fortunate enough to witness a monk gently rubbing gold leaves on Phra Achana’s fingers – an act of merit-making that honors the Buddha’s teachings.
In close proximity to Wat Si Chum stands a temple of considerable historical significance, second only to Wat Mahathat in Sukhothai.
Dating back to the 12th century during the reign of Angkor King Jayavarman VII, Wat Phra Phai Luang is one of the oldest and most important monuments in the region. In its heyday, it served as a prominent religious center during the pre-Sukhothai era. However, as time has passed, the site’s grand stepped pyramidal chedi and principal viharn have fallen into a state of disrepair, with the ravages of time leaving their mark on these once magnificent structures.
At Wat Phra Phai Luang, the most well-preserved monument is a stunning 13th-century prang that once displayed intricate stucco reliefs depicting Hindu scenes, reminiscent of the artistry found in Angkor Wat. Sadly, over time, many of these precious depictions have been carefully removed and relocated to the protective confines of the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum.
Despite the site’s unrestored state, Wat Phra Phai Luang remains a captivating draw, given its architectural grandeur – the temple is surrounded by three separate moats.
In comparison to the imposing nature of the central and north zones, the west zone of Sukhothai was rather underwhelming, since its ruins are concealed by a dense forest.
We suggest saving your 100 baht and indulging in a bowl of Sukhothai noodles instead, unless you’re desperately itching to explore Wat Saphan Hin. The temple’s ruins sit atop a small hill and demand a brief 7-minute hike over slate rocks to access.
Trust us, it’s okay to skip the west zone in good conscious. Baht for Sukhothai noodles > Wat Saphan Hin.
Our overall impression of the historical park was one of admiration, as all three paid zones were impeccably clean and well-maintained, standing in stark contrast to Ayutthaya.
The park’s historical significance was also unrivaled, with Sukhothai’s vibrant cultural legacy during the 13th and 14th centuries leaving an everlasting mark on Thai art and language. Even today, Sukhothai is revered as the birthplace of Thai culture.
The distinctive architecture and artistic stylings showcased within the walls of Sukhothai’s Historical Park make it an absolute must-see destination in Thailand. Whether you’re enthralled by history, culture, or simply drawn to the beauty of ancient ruins, this remarkable site is sure to leave a lasting impression on any traveler.
Orchard Hibiscus is the best value hotel in the Old City and it’s only a short bike ride away from the historical park. Alternatively, if you’re craving a place with a bit more luxury then you can check out, Legendha Sukhothai, which is located a stone’s throw from the park.
The best time to visit Sukhothai Historical Park in Thailand largely depends on your preferences and the weather conditions. Below are a few factors to consider when planning your visit:
Dry Season: The dry season, which typically runs from November to February, is considered the most favorable time to visit Sukhothai Historical Park. During this period, the weather is generally pleasant with cooler temperatures and lower humidity levels. It’s an ideal time for exploring the park’s ruins and temples on foot without excessive heat or rainfall.
Avoiding the Rainy Season: The rainy season in Sukhothai spans from May to October, with peak rainfall occurring in August and September. While the park retains its serene beauty even during the rainy season, frequent showers can make it challenging to explore comfortably, and some areas may become muddy or slippery. If you plan to visit during this time, be prepared with appropriate rain gear and be mindful of potential weather-related limitations.
Shoulder Seasons: The months of March, April, and October can be considered as shoulder seasons. March and April can be hot, with temperatures rising, but the crowds are usually thinner compared to the peak tourist season. October marks the transition from the rainy season to the dry season, and while there may still be occasional rainfall, it can be a good time to visit with fewer visitors.
Weekdays: If possible, consider visiting Sukhothai Historical Park on weekdays rather than weekends. Weekdays tend to be less crowded, allowing you to explore the park’s ancient ruins and temples with more tranquility and fewer interruptions.
It’s important to note that weather patterns can vary, and unexpected rainfall can occur even during the dry season. Checking the weather forecast before your visit and being prepared with suitable clothing and protection from the sun or rain is advisable.
Sukhothai Historical Park typically has the following opening hours:
Central Zone: The central zone, which contains the main archaeological sites and historical structures, including Wat Mahathat and Wat Si Sawai, is open from 6:30 AM to 9:00 PM.
Northern Zone: The northern zone, which features notable sites like Wat Phra Phai Luang and Wat Si Chum, follows the same opening hours as the central zone, from 6:30 AM to 9:00 PM.
The Sukhothai Historical Park is comprised of 5 zones – two zones (the South & East) are free while the three main zones (Central, North, & West) each charge an entrance fee of 100 Baht for foreigners / 20 baht for Thai, plus an extra 10 Baht per bicycle. Free maps of each paid zone are available at the ticket office.
Yes, Sukhothai Historical Park is definitely worth visiting for its historical and cultural significance. Below are some reasons why:
Historical Importance: Sukhothai was the capital of the Kingdom of Sukhothai, considered the cradle of Thai civilization. The historical park preserves the ruins of this ancient city, which was once a thriving center of political, religious, and cultural development. Exploring the park allows you to immerse yourself in the rich history of Thailand and gain insights into the early foundations of the Thai nation.
Architectural Beauty: The park is home to numerous well-preserved temples, statues, and other architectural structures. The intricate carvings, elegant Buddha images, and unique architectural styles showcase the artistic and architectural excellence of the Sukhothai period. It’s a treat for history enthusiasts, art lovers, and those interested in ancient architectural marvels.
Peaceful and Serene Atmosphere: Sukhothai Historical Park offers a tranquil and serene atmosphere. The park is vast, with sprawling green spaces, serene lotus ponds, and shaded areas. It provides an ideal setting for peaceful walks, contemplation, and meditation. The serene ambiance of the park allows visitors to connect with the spiritual and cultural heritage of the region.
Bicycle Exploration: The park is designed in a way that makes it ideal for exploring by bicycle. Renting a bicycle and cycling through the park’s designated paths and trails adds a sense of adventure and allows you to cover a larger area within the park. It’s a fun and enjoyable way to discover the various temples and archaeological sites scattered throughout the park.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Sukhothai Historical Park is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, further highlighting its cultural and historical significance. The UNESCO designation acknowledges the park’s outstanding universal value and the need for its preservation for future generations.
Visiting Sukhothai Historical Park provides a unique opportunity to step back in time, appreciate Thailand’s ancient heritage, and witness the remnants of a glorious past. Whether you’re interested in history, architecture, or seeking a peaceful escape, the park offers a rewarding and enriching experience.
While there is no specific dress code enforced at the Sukhothai Historical Park, it is generally recommended to dress modestly and respectfully when visiting religious and historical sites in Thailand. Below are some basic guidelines to follow:
Covering Shoulders and Knees: It’s advisable to wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees. Both men and women should opt for shirts or tops that have sleeves, such as T-shirts or blouses. Wearing long pants, skirts, or dresses that cover the knees is also recommended.
Loose and Lightweight Clothing: Considering the hot and humid climate in Sukhothai, it’s best to choose loose-fitting and lightweight clothing that allows for comfortable movement and breathability. Light fabrics like cotton or linen are ideal to keep you cool and comfortable during your visit.
Footwear: Since you’ll be exploring the historical park on foot, comfortable footwear is essential. Opt for closed-toe shoes or sandals that provide good support and protection, as you’ll be walking on uneven terrain and potentially climbing stairs at some temple sites.
Sun Protection: Don’t forget to wear a hat or cap, use sunscreen, and bring sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun’s rays. Staying hydrated by carrying a water bottle is also essential.
Tip #1: A bicycle rental shop can be found at the entrance of the Central Zone. Rentals only cost 30 baht per bicycle – we highly recommend utilizing this service as the grounds are pretty big. The bicycles are generally in decent shape, but don’t expect anything fancy.
Tip #2: In Sanskrit, Sukhothai roughly translates to the “Dawn of Happiness.” Yes we know, this isn’t really a tip, but it’s good to know – your welcome.
Tip #3: Consider combining a trip to Sukhothai with a stopover at Phitsanulok’s Noen Maprang district – it’s a picturesque area with a lot of great photo opportunities (see the pic below).