Near the end of my time in Thailand, I booked a $7 bus one-way from Chiang Mai to the city of Sukhothai. Sukhothai was the capital of Siam Kingdom in the 13th and 14th centuries. Buddhism boomed there at that time resulting in the construction of many monasteries and other structures. Today, the ruins of the old kingdom are a UNESCO World Heritage site. The area is expansive and has well-maintained roads and pathways throughout making it best viewed by bicycle! I had the chance to spend a whole day there just before leaving Thailand.
Getting there and getting around
The morning after my arrival to the city of Sukhothai, I caught a 30B (<$1) bus over to the “old city” where the ruins are located. The ride there was already a fun experience. The transport buses around Sokhothai are all open on the sides and back—a good idea in the heat!
I was dropped off at the corner of the old city next to a bicycle rental. A comfortable bicycle was essential since I planned to spend the whole day riding it. I tested out a few then paid them 30B to take it for the whole day.
Ruins outside the city walls
I immediately headed to the northern side, outside the city walls, where I had heard there were some less well-preserved ruins. I wanted to see them in their most dilapidated state first!
I had an easy time accessing the back area by bicycle despite it being a bit of a rugged path. There were no other people in this part of the park! Parking the bicycle, I could walk the unbeaten path (and unstable bridge walkways!) in solitary up to and around Wat Sangkhawat and Wat Tao Thu Riang to observe all their broken pieces and fallen columns. I could almost imagine what it might have looked like, newly built, and worshipped by the Siamese people who lived there.
Next was Wat Si Chum where a very famous statue of Buddha sits inside the temple. The Buddha’s golden hand is the big attraction here, but I loved the opening at the top of the temple. The sound of pigeons flapping near the top could be heard echoing around the walls of the chamber.
Use of the ruins today
Wat Pha Phrai Luang had some interesting monuments, but what made it extra special was the sounds of monks chanting in the newly built area nearby. The park ruins are still very much in operation today alongside the tourism it gets. Cattle graze freely around parts of the site, locals come there to worship and leave offerings to Buddha, and monks visit to study, pray, and act like tourists a bit, too! ;)
The site is also used for various traditional festivals. When I visited, there were remnants of the Loy Krathong festival in the waterways within the city walls. An impressively enormous krathong was still set up. I learned people released krathongs in the waterways and let go of lanterns from within the city walls. Because of the historic relevance of the area, Sukhothai must have been a really special place in which to participate in these traditions.
Within the walls
The biggest, most well-preserved and maintained part of the old city is the central section within the city walls. This area has huge monuments, statues, and gardens, with pathways running through all of it. I loved riding a bike here. The ability to hop off to get a closer look and back on again to check out the next was the best way to cover lots of ground.
I got to play around with my camera timer a bit here, trying to capture the size of the monuments and the awesome banyan trees nearby.
Construction was going on all over the site. The Thai Fine Arts Department oversees Sukhothai’s maintenance and employs Thai people to use traditional methods and materials to make the repairs and restorations. Soon, there will be even more parts of the site to visit in the form and style they would have been hundreds of years ago.
I really loved these ruins and the ease at which I was able to explore them. This was an excellent, inexpensive single-day adventure to round out my travels through Thailand. Next stop: New Zealand via Bangkok.