The town of Sukhothai is divided in to two sections. The old historic site (Old Sukhothai or the old city to the locals) connected by a 12 km long road to New Sukhothai. The word Sukhothai means “Rising of Happiness”. From what we can tell most folks in town live a pretty laid back lifestyle.
The main backpacker hub is located on and around Th Prawet Nakon. There are about 6 or so guesthouses to choose from right there and a few more on the outskirts that range from 200-600 baht(6-18 USD) depending on the amenities you desire. The main draw of the area is the old city but the people in New Sukothai are kind, the food stalls at the night market and restaurants are good, and accomadations are cheap with inexpensive transit to the old city.
The old kingdom was in its prime from the mid 13th to the late 14th century. What’s left has somewhat been partially restored and features around 45 sq km of ruins and is one of the most visited ancient sites in the country.
We opted for the most popular and budget friendly sorng taa ou, or open air mini bus that only cost 30 baht ($1). Not to be confused with a tuk tuk which is the even smaller version built a top a motor tricycle. The minibus drops you right outside the central zone entrance next to a bike rental.
We opted to rent bikes rather than go by car or on foot. The day was slightly overcast so it was the perfect temperature for a bike ride. Bikes were only 30 baht ($1) for the whole day. If you aren’t able bodied you can also take a vehicle into most of the areas of the historic site.
The most impressive ruins are in several different zones throughout the old city. They are divided up between the North, Central, and Western zones. We missed the Western Zone but rode around and thoroughly viewed the North and Central zones. Each zone costs 100 baht per person and an additional 10/30/50 baht for your bike/motorbike/car.
In the North zone we recommend seeing Wat Si Chum. The site houses a 45 foot tall seated Buddah statue, so large it was hard to capture in a photo. It’s elongated fingers were taller than Matt. There was also a new temple in the north we checked out that housed a large laying golden Buddah, so shiny and gold, it was hard to look at for long. It was at this temple a monk gave Matt and I a white string bracelet with a fancy knot in the middle and told us to wear it for good luck. He then instructed Matt to ring a bell three times.
The Central zone had the largest ruins of the site. There were large groups of Buddhist monks visiting the Central zone the same time as us so we were navigating a sea of orange-robed men, myself mainly trying to keep my distance as women should avoid touching monks. Oddly enough some of them had smartphones.
Our two favorites in the Central zone were Wat Mahathat, surrounded by a brick wall and moat, representing the cosmic ocean and outer wall of the universe. Also Wat Si Sawai, originally a Hindu temple made of brick walls with many doorways ultimately leading you to three large Khmer-style cheti spires surrounded by a moat.
We noticed they had spotlights everywhere so this place is probably just as amazing to see at night, though not navigable by bike if that’s the case. We skipped the Western zone as we were running out of daytime but we also should mention there are some ruins you can visit outside of the main zones that are free of charge if you’re on a very tight budget. If you can only budget for one zone we’d suggest the Central.
If you like taking photographs I’d go as far as calling this place a photographers paradise. We very much enjoyed our visit.
A few tips:
Go early or late to avoid crowds, they open at 6:30 AM and stay open until 7PM everyday except Saturday’s until 9 PM. We went around 8 AM and it was still pretty quiet.
Rent bikes! It’s fun, good exercise, and they have bells you’ll find yourself using because it’s a novelty.
Bring a bottle of water. It’s easy to get dehydrated in these climates though if you run dry you’ll see some site side stands where you can replenish from a local.
Bring a good attitude! Most people here are visitors just like you, offer to take a picture of someone or a traveling couple, they will likewise return the favor.
“Take pictures, leave only footprints”