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Visiting Sukhothai Historical Park

thailand sukhothai ancient siam ruins buddha wat temple structure stone brick bodhi tree thai food summer travel photo shershegoes.com sher she goesthailand sukhothai ancient siam ruins buddha wat temple structure stone brick bodhi tree thai food summer travel photo shershegoes.com sher she goesthailand sukhothai ancient siam ruins buddha wat temple structure stone brick bodhi tree thai food summer travel photo shershegoes.com sher she goesthailand sukhothai ancient siam ruins buddha wat temple structure stone brick bodhi tree thai food summer travel photo shershegoes.com sher she goesthailand sukhothai ancient siam ruins buddha wat temple structure stone brick bodhi tree thai food summer travel photo shershegoes.com sher she goesthailand sukhothai ancient siam ruins buddha wat temple structure stone brick bodhi tree thai food summer travel photo shershegoes.com sher she goesthailand sukhothai ancient siam ruins buddha wat temple structure stone brick bodhi tree thai food summer travel photo shershegoes.com sher she goesthailand sukhothai ancient siam ruins buddha wat temple structure stone brick bodhi tree thai food summer travel photo shershegoes.com sher she goesthailand sukhothai ancient siam ruins buddha wat temple structure stone brick bodhi tree thai food summer travel photo shershegoes.com sher she goes

On the heels of visiting Ayutthaya, we continued northwards and visited Sukhothai Historical Park the next day. Old Sukhothai is a UNESCO world heritage site covering the capital of the 13th century kingdom and features the remains of the royal palace and 26 buddhist temples.

We decided to rent bikes again and had fun zipping around the park touring the sites. Compared to Ayutthaya, I thought the wats were larger and more impressive. More of the buddha remained intact and the structures themselves were gorgeous. Sukhothai as a whole is much, much larger. There is a central zone (where the park begins) which features the most famous wats like Wat Mahathat, as well as Northern and Western zones outside the main city walled perimeter. Each zone has a separate entrance fee, but we found ourselves in the North without paying an additional fee… (I think because there was construction being done and the admission gates were not in use). We skipped the Western Zone – it’s essentially just ruins and a bit too far out.

While I think you could have gotten by on foot in Ayutthaya, bikes (or motorbikes or cars) are definitely a necessity in Sukhothai. Exploring the central zone alone took most of our energy and we made a brief pit stop to the Northern section as well, where the elephant structure is located. Any of the bike rental shops across the street from the entrance will provide you with maps of the site.

The most notable include: Wat Mahathat, a large buddhist temple, Wat Si Sawai, my favorite which had a central platform area and pillars surrounded by greenery (5th row image from the top), and Phra Achana, the large buddha structure famous for its long fingers. All are in the Central Zone.

So the big question remains… which was more worthwhile to visit?

Ayutthaya or Sukhothai

When planning our trip to Thailand, I couldn’t decide between the two as on paper, as they’re both pretty similar: ancient Siamese kingdoms, crumbling temples, oversized Buddha statues…check, check, check.  I browsed a number of blogs and the general consensus seemed to be that 90% of people just did Ayutthaya because the site is more convenient to access (Ayutthaya is roughly a 3 hour train ride north of Bangkok and can easily be done in a day trip from the capital). Sukhothai on the other hand, is a pretty big pain to get to, especially if you’re travelling on your own (i.e. not on a tour). But, those who went raved about it being second only to Angkor Wat and much preferred over Ayutthaya.

I didn’t get a decisive answer either way and so we decided to tackle BOTH! Having done that, I feel the need to reiterate how incredibly difficult it is to get to Sukhothai. The “easiest” route if coming from Bangkok is to take a train from Hua Lamphong rail station heading northwards to the town of Phitsanulok. We departed Bangkok in the early morning, visited Ayutthaya briefly (the site can be done easily in ~3.5 hours) and departed around 2pm. The 6 hour leg from Ayutthaya to Phitsanulok is to be quite honest…brutally boring. Bring a book / kindle / ipad /cards etc to keep you amused. Thai trains generally seem to operate late and we rolled into Phitsanulok around 10pm in pitch black darkness.

In Phitsanulok, we booked the Pailyn Phitsanulok hotel that we couldn’t quite find on our own and after spinning in circles in the rain with our bags, we were saved by some kind Thai locals who offered to drive us to our hotel. In sheer desperation, we jumped into the back of the pickup truck… which in hindsight was probably not the safest idea. If you are thinking of visiting Sukhothai, Phitsanulok is the closest town served by the train station and the most convenient place to overnight.

Anyway, that still was not enough travelling to get to Sukhothai. The next morning, we took a cab to the bus station, then took a bus to Old Sukhothai. If you’re lucky you’ll catch the same bus which drops you off directly at the park (i think there are 3 direct buses per day). Most of the others drop you off at New Sukhothai (a bustling, regular city), from which you’d then need to hail a songthaew pickup truck to take you to the park.

If you’re willing to put up with the travel, I recommend Sukhothai. Having done both, I preferred the open layout of Sukhothai and how different each temple site was. Sukhothai is also famous for its noodles, called kuaytiaw Sukhothai,  so try some if you’re in town! Having spent all day a the park, we unfortunately just missed closing time at Jayhae, one of the more famous spots in town for the noodles. But – the bus station in Old Sukhothai has a small road of restaurants where we had the best spicy basil chicken ever! It was a super affordable roadside spot and so delicious we ordered 2 servings… and then had burning tongues from all the spice!

Instead, we caught a late lunch at one of the restaurants near the bus station and it turned out to be one of our favorite meals (some kind of spicy basil chicken and rice dish) – a steal at only 30 B!

 

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EricaAugust 5, 2014 - 10:28 pm

Your photos are absolutely beautiful! And sounds like an amazing and life-changing experience. Hope you enjoyed the rest of your trip! xx

JoyceAugust 6, 2014 - 10:40 pm

Loving all your pictures, they’re inspired and the temple looks etheral. Thanks for all the tips too!

http://www.charactersandcarryons.com

SherAugust 8, 2014 - 1:43 pm

Thanks for stopping by Joyce! xx

ChalsieAugust 14, 2014 - 3:52 am

Wow! I’ve always wanted to visit Thailand, but I just haven’t got around to it yet. Your trip and images have really got my dreaming though!!

Chalsie | The Workshop Co.

SherAugust 19, 2014 - 6:20 pm

Aw, thanks Chalsie! Hope you make it out there soon :)

SherAugust 19, 2014 - 6:21 pm

Thanks Erica – I had the BEST time!

Rachel KohAugust 27, 2014 - 2:42 am

I’ve been looking through your blog and your travel photos look phenomenal, especially those you took in Japan and Thailand! Ignited my wanderlust!

xo, Rachel
incipientdreams.blogspot.com

SherAugust 28, 2014 - 1:39 pm

aw thank you Rachel!

[…] that advanced planning…we missed the train. We were staying in Phitsanulok, a town close to Sukhothai Historical Park, and had opted to book another night at the hotel to freshen up and nap after visiting the ruins. […]

Elsa KawaiOctober 7, 2014 - 8:43 pm

Love it… bringing back good memories…

[…] If you’re interested in more ruins and temples, check out Old Sukhothai Historical Park. […]

Paulo@Travel BugsMarch 17, 2016 - 10:51 am

Certainly one in my bucket lists. Thanks for sharing!

SherMarch 20, 2016 - 12:09 pm

Hi Paulo – thanks so much for stopping by!

[…] 14 day itinerary across the best of Thailand’s cities and islands, including Bangkok, Ayutthaya, Sukhothai, Chiang Mai, Ko Samui and Ko […]

JoshApril 21, 2016 - 8:33 am

Great post. We have not been to Ayutthaya yet, but we have visited Sukhothai and we loved it. We can not wait to visit Ayutthaya after reading this and if compares to anything like Sukhothai then it will be nothing short of amazing!

Cheers!
Josh

VanessaAugust 17, 2016 - 8:56 pm

Hi! I can’t decide either! I’m visiting Ayutthaya and Sukothai this year…But I’d like to know why did u take the train to phitsanulok and then a bus to suk instead of take the bus that goes from Ayutthaya to sukothai (night bus)???

Thanks,
xoxo

SherAugust 17, 2016 - 9:06 pm

Hey Vanessa – glad to hear you’re doing both too! I preferred Old Sukhothai and my bf preferred Ayutthaya so I think it depends on the person :)

Regarding your question – as far I as know, there is no direct bus from Ayutthaya to Sukhothai Historical Park.

The bus station in Ayutthaya is not near the center of the tourist zone, it’s by the Asia highway and a bit of a pain to get to unless you have a car or hire one. The bus terminal in Sukhothai is not actually in the Sukhothai historical park (when they say Sukhothai it refers to “new” Sukhothai, aka the current town. The ruins are at “Old Sukhothai” a couple km away, so you still need to take a songthaew or tuk tuk.

We did a day visit to Ayutthaya to see the ruins and left our luggage at the train station. For our route, it made sense to just head back to the train station, pick up our bags and hop on the next train.

Also from Phitstanulok, we took the overnight train service up to Chiang Mai so it made sense to stay overnight in a town that had a rail service. Otherwise, if an overnight bus exists, we would have arrived tired, had to rent a hotel for a night to see the Sukhothai ruins, then left to Phistanulok to rent another hotel to catch the overnight train up north. I think it just depends what you’re planning to do before/after and how long you plan to stay in each stop along the way!

If there is a direct bus now and you end up taking it, I would love to know how it goes after your trip! I try to always have the most updated info on my site to help out anyone else who also enjoys planning their own trips. I’d be happy to credit you :) I last visited Thailand a couple years ago so bus routes could have changed and such.

stephanieNovember 21, 2016 - 9:32 am

Last year I did Ayutthaya with an organised daytrip from Bangkok. This year I did Sukhothai by myself. I took the bus from Chiang Mai to Sukhothai and slept in Sukhothai. So both were not to difficult to arrange.
I like riding my bike through Sukhothai Historical Park.

I think both ruinsites are wonderful and worth a visit. :)

x

[…] requirements like in Bangkok (the King’s Palace is especially strict and also Ayutthaya and Sukhothai temples) but they did not. I’m sure if you visit Muslim temples in Indonesia they will have […]

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