A UNESCO World Heritage City, Sukhothai houses a vast number of historical sites and temple ruins. As the first capital of Siam, the Sukhothai Kingdom (1238 – 1438) was the cradle of Thai civilisation – the birthplace of Thai art, architecture and language. ‘Sukhothai’ means ‘the dawn of happiness,’ and the kingdom did enjoy an extended period of peace and prosperity until it was annexed by the Ayutthaya Kingdom.
Due to its location (about 427 km north of Bangkok (60 km from Phitsanulok) and sitting relatively in the middle of nowhere), Sukhothai sees a smaller number of visitors than its more popular counterpart Ayutthaya. Sukhothai’s historical sites, however, are by no means less splendid. Most historically significant temple ruins are housed inside the Sukhothai Historical Park and nearby Si Satchanalai Historical Park.
Apart from visiting the historical sites, Sukhothai itself is a quiet rural city where you can still relish the charms of Thailand’s rustic lifestyle.
Arriving in Sukhothai is like taking a journey back in time, since history continues to dominate the area. Twelve kilometres west of the new city, the Sukhothai Historical Park houses all the historical ruins dating back to the ancient Sukhothai Kingdom (1238 – 1438). Divided into five zones, the park contains more than 190 ruins, all spread across its 70 sqkm area. The central zone – the most frequently visited – is the site of the royal palace (now collapsed) and the spiritual centre, Wat Mahathat.
Also worth a visit, if you have time, is the Si Satchanalai Historical Park located about 60km north of Sukhothai Historical Park. It houses a number of important historical sites, such as Wat Chang Lom and Wat Nang Phaya. This was the birthplace of the beautiful glazed ceramic ware called ‘sangkhalok’ – a predecessor of celadon.
Sukhothai Historical Park
Sukhothai Historical Park covers an area of about 70 sqkm and contains more than 190 historical ruins. Inside the city wall and moat, Wat Mahathat stands at its epicentre, as the spiritual centre of the kingdom, and the royal palace (now collapsed) lies to its northwest. To the city’s immediate north is a small contained area, housing Wat Phra Pai Luang, believed to be the original foundation site of the Sukhothai Kingdom. Strolling through the grounds of the historical park, you will encounter at least three architectural styles.
Early Sukhothai people shared the same beliefs in the system of the universe with the Khmer. Temples were laid out according to the Mount Meru concept with the central prang being the tallest and most significant structure. Only after Theravada Buddhism entered the kingdom did the Ceylonese bell-shaped chedis replace the corn-shaped prangs. Sukhothai craftsmen also developed their own style, known as the lotus-bud chedi. About 60 km from Sukhothai Historical Park is its sister
city Si Satchanalai, a flourishing centre for trade with China at the time. If you have time, definitely pay Si Satchanalai a visit in order to get a complete picture of the Sukhothai Kingdom.
Si Satchanalai Historical Park
Si Satchanalai Historical Park at Sukhothai is listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites and maintained by the Fine Arts Department of Thailand in association with UNESCO which is recognised for the importance as part of the original Thai kingdom and for the lasting legacy to Thai architecture and the arts. There are numerous temples, Buddha statues and shrines in and around Si Satchanalai Historical Park.
Being a quiet rural town and a UNESCO World Heritage City, Sukhothai and nightlife just don’t mix well. In fact, nightlife takes on another meaning here; instead of a party scene, there’s a more spiritual kind of nightlife, the light and sound show at the Sukhothai Historical Park, called Sukhothai Night (Fri-Sun, 19:00 – 20:00). This is a rare opportunity to see the spectacularly lit ruin sites after sunset, as the park’s closing time is normally at 18:00. There’s also a walking street outside the historical park every Saturday, starting at 22:00, where you can enjoy local food as well as browsing through handicraft stalls.
But this is not to say that there are no watering holes in the entire city area. You’ll find that they’re mostly concentrated along the road that connects the new city with Sukhothai Historical Park. Chopper Bar offers cheap local beers and live band music.
Sukhothai is best known for sangkhalok ware, gold craft and silver jewellery. With its grayish blue/green matte glaze, featuring simple designs, sangkhalok ware will add a classic touch to any room. Modernised versions of the sangkhalok ware showcase more complex designs and feel rather contemporary.
Sukhothai’s gold and silver jewellery craft is equally as unique. Rather than molded into a pre-desired shape, these jewellery pieces are hand-woven into various designs from tiny strands of gold or silver. The designs are usually modelled after the relief patterns found inside Si Satchanalai and Sukhothai Historical Parks. If you are looking for a piece of fabric to embellish your home, head to Hat Siao textile village and have a look at their colourful collection of embroidered textiles.
Sukhothai Loy Krathong and Candle Festival
Venue: Sukhothai Historical Park, Sukhothai
Although Loy Krathong festival is now celebrated throughout Thailand, the ritual originated in Sukhothai, the first Thai capital. This year, Loy Krathong Day is celebrated on November 19, 2021. This is the day when they have parades, beauty pageants and the floating of krathongs. The Sukhothai Loy Krathong and Candle Festival will take place over a period of ten days. Visitors can enjoy a float procession of large krathongs from 17 Northern provinces, a Krathong design contest, the Miss Noppamas Beauty Contest, Sukhothai arts and culture performances, traditional fireworks, a night bazaar and many more activities. Every evening there will also be a light and sound show at Wat Mahathat.