We’ll admit, when you see ancient temples nearly every day for nine months you can get a little bleary-eyed and jaded…but our visit to Sukhothai was anything but an ordinary stop in Southeast Asia. While going through our photos for this post we realized we had forgotten how stunning and cutting-edge the first capital of Siam was. Literally translating to “Dawn of Happiness,” Sukhothai was said to have sparked a Golden Age in Thailand and become the model for the country’s architecture, politics, monarchy, and religion. Today Old Sukhothai is a quiet little town with a massive 193-temple complex to make UNESCO swoon. It was a lovely place to get lost for a few days (especially Saturday nights when they light the temples!) and a solid way to end our six-week tour of Thailand.

The Sukothai Historical Park

The Sukothai Historical Park is basically divided into two sections—the dense and highly preserved central complex and the wilder sprawling ruins to the northwest. The central complex was a natural and dazzling place to start with three square kilometers of regal ruins interspersed with moats, lakes, and bridges to island-bound chedis.

Mat Mahathat Sukhothai

Before it became the capital of Siam, Sukhothai was an outpost for the Khmer Empire. The style of this temple is distinctly different but acts as a bit of inspiration for the developing Sukhothai aesthetic. (Thanks audio guide!).

Mat Mahathat Sukhothai

The Mat Mahathat section is one of the most spectacular and most extensive with assembly halls, religious buildings, and massive Buddhas to leave any visitor in awe.

Historical Park in Sukhothai

“Historical Park” sounds like a cheesy name but the way the ruins unfold across the lush grounds made it a fitting title. To visit this temple you walk down a long shady promenade across a footbridge to the middle of a lake…that’s a cooler experience than your average “archaeological site.”

Old City Guest House Sukhothai

No, this isn’t another ancient ruin…it’s our hostel, Old City Guest House! Gotta love that they went the extra mile for style and still only charged $7 a night. We popped back here for a few evening picnic supplies, to reserve our bicycles for the following day, and then set back out to the Historical Park.

Thailand Spiders

Okay, Mike and I have this debate nearly every time we edit photos for a blog post: “Beauty vs. Meaning.” We try to choose images that help us tell a story, which often relegates some of the best detail, nature, and arty shots to the slideshow (so if you love photography or you want to really dive into a location we visited, make sure to always check our slideshows at the bottom of each blog!). So to get Mike’s spider pic in this blog and also satisfy my editorial sensibilities…I’ll tell you that this spider is walking on the Thai Alphabet that was invented by Sukhothai King Ramkhamhaeng. Win-win!

Sukhothai lotus pool at sunset

Now back to our evening at the UNESCO World Heritage Site! As luck would have it, we were in Sukhothai on Saturday night–the one time per week that the historical park stays open late and lights the ruins. We took our picnic to one of the lake islands for sunset and watched the reflections of the hot pink sky and golden temples mixed in the water like an Impressionist painting.

Exploring the Temples of Sukhothai Thailand by night

Once the sun went down, we ventured back into the ruins with a bit of trepidation. Somehow in the dark, you think less about the architecture and more about the people that once roamed here….and perhaps the ghosts that still do!

Biking the Temples of Sukhothai Thailand

We woke up at sunrise to bike the northwestern ruins before the mid-day heat. The ruins aren’t maintained as well in the outskirts but happily this means very few tourists.

Wat Saphin Hin Sukhothai

The most impressive in the group was Wat Saphin Hin. We parked our bike and climbed the hill to see the temple where King Ramkhamhaeng, the honorary founding father of the Thais, would arrive each sabbath on his white elephant to pray.

PB & Jelly at Farming the temples of Sukhothai

We had this neighboring chedi all to ourselves for a hearty breakfast of trail mix and peanut butter sandwiches–a HoneyTrek Classic!

Farming the temples of Wat Phra Pha Luang Sukhothai

With a protein-packed belly, we rode east toward to the large Wat Phra Pha Luang complex. Passing the smaller and more dilapidated temples, you’d see shepherds bringing their herds to graze between the ruins.

Wat Phra Pha Luang Sukhothai

The stucco reliefs of Wat Phra Pha Luang have faded away in the most beautiful and surreal way. It’s as if this figure is vanishing before us.

Wat Sorasak Sukhothai

Our final temple on our bike loop was Sorasak, the charming wat propped up by stucco elephants. Once again no one was to be found at this pristine temple except for a few locals collecting tamarind pods. We joined them, gathering a bunch of these sweet snacks (they taste almost exactly like Fruit Rollups!) for our night bus to Bangkok.

Buddahs Feet in Sukothai

Halfway between Chiang Mai and Bangkok, Sukhothai is a fabulous stopover…but most people seem to travel directly between the two cities and miss this UNESCO gem. If you visit Thailand we hope you make time for Sukhothai…you’ll appreciate it no matter how many temples you’ve seen!

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  1. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) says:

    I enjoyed the time we spent in Sukhothai, but when it comes to Thai ruins, my favorite stop was Ayuthaya. Not only did I find the ruins there more reasonably priced (not that Sukhothai will break the bank, but still!) but that city also had one of the best night markets we visited in all of Thailand! Ancient ruins + amazing Thai food… what’s not to love?

    1. Ah we almost went to Ayuthaya…but there wasn’t enough time for both. If you liked it even more than the lovely Sukhothai, then we have to go back to see it…for the ruins and the food!

  2. I’ve been to Thailand three times and I’ve never been here! How did I miss this place? It looks beautiful! Oh, and I love the peanut butter and trail mix sandwich 🙂

    1. Wow, you’ve been to Thailand three times–that’s fab! We’ll next time, you’ll have to add Sukhothai to your list! It’s about 4-6 hours from Bangkok so make sure to pack your PB&TM sandwich 😉

  3. World Journeys says:

    it looks like you’re cooking your sangers in the sunlight there! I hadn’t heard of this amazing place before today. where in Thailand is it??? 🙂 great post!

    1. I had to urban-dictionary “sangers” lol. Yes those sun-baked sandwiches were awesome! Sukhothai is about 4 hours drive south of Chiang Mai and 5hrs north of Bangkok (by car). So glad you liked the post and hope you can check out Sukhothai some time!

  4. Tyson Priddle says:

    We loved Sukhothai, I think you’ve captured the town extremely well!

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