Sukhothai Historical Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, contains the ruins of the capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom, which existed from the mid-1200’s to the mid 1400’s.
You really, really shouldn’t go to Sukhothai. Why? Well, let me tell you.
Sukhothai is hard to get to. Our understanding is that most people traveling from Chiang Mai either: (1) take a bus; or (2) take a train to a nearby town followed by a taxi or bus. Information about the direct bus is pretty scarce — we couldn’t find an official current timetable or a site to buy tickets in advance. All we could find was a website that purported to list a timetable, but when you clicked on “buy tickets,” it said no tickets were available. And, while information about the train is more robust, information about the follow-on bus is likewise scarce. Bangkok Airways flies to Sukhothai from Bangkok, but their website wouldn’t let us buy a ticket from Chiang Mai to Sukhothai via Bangkok. So, we totally splurged and hired a private car to drive us door to door. And, you know what? It was 100% worth it. It shaved hours off of our transit time and we didn’t have to deal with the hassle of going to the bus station, trying to find a ticket office, hoping we arrived close to a departure time, and then sitting on the hopefully not over or under air conditioned bus for 5-6 hours.
The mosquitoes are fierce in Sukhothai. Seriously, the mosquitoes here are vicious. Every night, we slather on the Deet (knowing full well it is probably going to kill us down the road). And the mosquitoes still attack. They bite right through T-shirts. We have a nice little sitting area outside our hotel room and we cannot use it because of the intensity of the mosquitoes.
Sukhothai is brutally hot. Our first day here, the “real feel” was 107 degrees Fahrenheit. It is so hot that we got up at 6:30 to get our sightseeing done before noon. It is so hot and the sun is so brutal that it isn’t even that relaxing to hang at the pool until the sun goes down a bit and we can be entirely in shade.
Most people get around Sukhothai by bicycle, and the bikes suck. I returned one bike after riding a few blocks because there wasn’t enough air in the tires. The replacement bike simply refused to coast unless going down an incline and had only two gears plus the light didn’t work. Poor Robert had to bike back to the hotel one day with a flat tire and swap out his bike for another bike. (The funniest part about that story is that I only barely beat him to the park even though he had to backtrack because he is a biker and I am not).
The food in Old Sukhothai (where we stayed and the area closest to the Historical Park) is mediocre at best. Our first night, we were served pad thai that was a glutinous mess — the noodles were so overcooked they were all stuck together in a big ball. In most parts of Thailand, a chef would be mortified to serve such a disaster of a meal. But not in Sukhothai.
There do not appear to be any bars in Old Sukhothai. You can get drinks at cafes, but the options are minimal. Beer is everywhere, hard alcohol is available some places, but wine is close to non-existent. I ordered a wine cooler one night (seriously!), and the waiter ran to the 7-11 to buy it. And, he only came back with one so I felt too guilty to order another round.
The hotels are overpriced. We are paying far more for our hotel here than we did in Chiang Mai, and it isn’t nearly as nice.
But the real reason you shouldn’t visit Sukhothai is this: it is one of the most peaceful places we have ever been. There are almost no tour buses. There are almost no tourists. The Historical Park isn’t crowded. We sometimes had temples entirely to ourselves. There are no touts begging us to buy mass-produced souvenirs. The tuk-tuk drivers leave everyone alone. And, if everyone starts visiting, that will change. So don’t visit!
If you refuse to take our tongue-in-cheek advice and do visit Sukhothai, the Historical Park is divided into five zones. You have to pay 100 Baht per person to get in the central, west and north zones, plus another 10 Baht per bike in the central and west zones. We only visited one temple in the east zone and didn’t have to pay to get in there. And, we didn’t visit the south zone at all. Many people only spend a day visiting the temples, but we spread our visit over two days to avoid the afternoon heat.
We spent the first day in the central zone, which seems to have the highest concentration of impressive sites. We thought Wat Mahathat was one of the most impressive. It is supposedly one of the oldest temples in Thailand and was built in the 13th century.
We also really enjoyed Wat Sa Si in the central zone. It is built on an island and was built in the late 14th century.
We saw a few other temples in the central zone, but I would say Wat Mahathat and Wat Sa Si are the two you absolutely cannot miss.
On day two of our stay, we started by biking to Wat Saphan Hin in the western zone. It isn’t that far — only about 3.5 miles — but by the time we arrived, we were both hot sweaty messes given the sun and the heat (even early in the morning). And then, when we arrived, we realized it was on top of a hill. But the climb was worth it. The temple is fairly small, but there is a large (12 meter high) Buddha and nice views of the countryside.
After Wat Saphan Hin, we biked over to the northern zone to see Wat Si Chum, another 13 century temple, This is the only place where we ran into large tour groups, but none of them stayed long and we were able to get some amazing photos of this very unique temple.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped briefly into Wat Sorasak, a temple that is not really in any of the zones. The elephants were pretty impressive (although we are pretty sure they were restored instead of originals).
Bottom line, we loved the Sukhothai Historical Park and are very glad we visited it (even after all the temples we visited in Siem Reap). If we are being honest, we didn’t love Old Sukhothai, but sometimes you have to put up with the bad to get the good.