A Guide to Sukhothai Historical Park
Getting There: if you are staying in Old Sukhothai the National Park is practically on your doorstep. If you’re in New Sukhothai grab a public bus for ฿40 from the West side of the bridge running along the main road.
Costs: ฿100 Entrance fee for each of the zones, the Central Zone has the main attractions so if you are short on time and cash just head for this one. ฿50 to hire a bicycle from the guesthouses and then ฿10 fee for riding your bicycle around the park. Total costs with Bus ฿200.
Suggested Time: I’d recommend that you start early and hit the main temple sites in the central zone, you can leave the park for lunch and re enter in the afternoon to miss the heat of the day
I’ll start off by saying I was pretty fortunate while I was here in that there were no entrance fees for any of the historical sites I visited during the month of January. While it may have saved me a fair amount of money the reason for this is much more solemn, as the King of Thailand died in October 2016, and as is traditional in Thai culture a year of mourning then begins from that date. As part of this year of mourning an abundance of the main historical sites stopped charging entrance fees for a short period at the beginning of 2017.
Why am I telling you all this? Well it meant that I could explore the entire park for free, so I wasn’t concerned about entrance tickets for each of the three historical zones, Central, Northern and Western. I could move freely between the three, however if you are paying for entrance fees I wouldn’t necessarily recommend buying all three as once you’ve explored the Central zone you’ll be pretty content that you’ve seen enough of this incredible ancient city.
It’s by far easiest to hire a bicycle to explore the historical site yourself without the need for a tour guide, with 193 different temples and ruins to explore it makes sense that there are a huge amount of bicycle hire places to choose from. Remember to negotiate on price and you can get them for as little as ฿20; they are mediocre bicycles but they’ll get the job done as the entire park is flat. The sites are beautiful, filled with lush green parks and nice cycle paths.
Once you enter through the main gate the main attraction to see is Wat Mahathat to the left of the entrance, this is the largest and most important in Sukhothai. Constructed in the 13th century by the first King of Sukhothai the name translates to ‘Temple of the Great Relic”, although the original construction was smaller it has since been expanded by ensuing Kings. The temple is surrounded by a moat and brick walls and consists of a main Chedi, with a further eight Chedi’s surrounding it and a number of other smaller structures and a Viharn (assembly hall). There are also several giant structures of Buddha including the 12 meter tall standing Buddha, Phra Atthorat.
The second most visited site is Wat Si Sawai, a short cycle ride to the North-west from Wat Mahathat; this is one of, if not the, oldest temple in Sukhothai and you’ll notice straight away that it has a different style and aesthetic. The temple consists of three central Khmer style prangs, Khmer being native to Cambodians, with similarities to the style of Angkor Wat.
Personally my favorite of all the temples was Wat Sa Si, located on an island surrounded by bright pink blossoming lotus flowers; it was one of the most attractive temples to look at and photograph. You’ll notice again a completely different style of temple, as this is a Singhalese bell shaped Chedi set on a square base. What made this particular temple special was the lake setting, the lotus flowers were everywhere and as I crossed the small bridge connecting the island to the main park I felt as though I was stepping back into time.
Within the Central Zone there are vast array of smaller temples and ruins to explore and you can easily lose track of time as you cycle around the beautiful surroundings taking in the history of what used to be a dominant city in Thailand.
Outside of the Central Zone the most notable site is Wat Si Chum, which houses a magnificent seated Buddha which measures 15 meters high and 11 meters wide and is almost impossible to fit into a photograph except when you view it from outside through a narrow slit in the temple. You’ll have to pay a further ฿100 ($2.50) for entrance to the Northern Zone and if you’ve got the time and budget this is well worth the visit just to marvel at this ancient temple.
Sukhothai is also well worth a visit, and if you’re choosing between Ayhuttaya and Sukhothai you’ve got a difficult choice on your hands. While Ayhuttaya has impressive temples they are more spread out around the city, whereas Sukhothai is so well contained you can easily cover it all in one day before moving on to your next destination. If you’ve got the time hit both, they are both special in their own way.