We arrived at the entrance to the ancient city of Sukhothai and glanced skyward. It was a grey, hazy morning — our luck for having clear skies above almost every archaeological site we’d visited around the world had deserted us. Things would improve though — the sun eventually shone (for a while) and the ruins were almost devoid of other tourists.
Cycling between ancient ruins in Sukhothai is a great way to spend a day — here’s a quick look at some the best temples to visit (there are a few different zones) and some tips.
The Central Zone
The central zone is by far the best set of ruins in Sukhothai. Wat Mahathat, a complex full of Buddha statues and chedis, was our first stop. The crowds were at their worst at Wat Mahathat but we waited it out for a while and they disappeared pretty quickly. We actually visited this area twice — it was grey and depressing first thing in the morning so we raced back there at the first sign of sun in order to get better photos.
Another highlight of the central zone is Wat Si Sawai, an ancient Khmer temple originally dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. There are also some other interesting ruins scattered around the central zone, including Wat Trapang Ngoen and Wat Sra Si, which both feature elegant “walking” Buddhas. The grounds of the central zone are well maintained and feature lots of trees and ponds.
Wat Sorasak, a small temple encircled by elephant carvings, is located just outside the central zone and is well worth venturing to. We were the only people there when we visited — make sure you get a map and mark this temple down as it’s easy to miss.
The Northern Zone
The northern zone is a lot smaller than the central zone but it is worth a visit. The highlight is Wat Si Chum, which features a massive seated Buddha housed in a brick enclosure. The sun decided to make an appearance when we visited — we were doing pretty well for what was a mostly cloudy day. This is one of the most impressive Buddha statues in Thailand and it’s worth cycling to the northern zone just to see it.
Another popular spot in the northern zone is Wat Phra Lai Luang, said to be the oldest (and most detailed) structure in Sukhothai. Again, we were all alone — where were the infamous tourist hordes that I’d heard overrun the ruins in Sukhothai?
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The western zone
The heat was starting to get to us but we pushed on towards the northern zone. I had read that Wat Saphan Hin was the one must-see temple in this group, so that’s where we headed first. While riding down a country road I spotted the hilltop temple in the distance. We decided to admire it from afar and head back to town. Even though the distances between the various sites are quite short it is exhausting cycling around them, especially in Thailand’s hot / dry season, when afternoon temperatures can get extreme.
Cycling Between Ruins in Sukhothai FAQs
- How old are the Sukhothai ruins and who built them? The city of Sukhothai, the first capital of Siam, was established in the 1200s and flourished for 200 years. Most of the ruins you see today date back to that period. The first Thai script is said to have been developed by one of the Sukhothai kings.
- Should I stay in new Sukhothai or old Sukhothai? The “new town” is around 14 km from the ruins and has a good selection of guesthouses and restaurants. You can get a cheap (30 Baht) songthaew from the new town to the ruins — it runs from 7 am until 5.30 pm. We stayed in the new town but if I had my time again I’d stay closer to the ruins. There are some decent (and cheap) guesthouses right next to the entrance. The advantage of staying in the old town is that you can get to the ruins early (maybe even for sunrise), look around for a while, go back to your guesthouse to escape the afternoon heat and return for sunset. We wanted to see the sunset but finished exploring the ruins at about 2 pm — 4 hours was a bit too long to wait around (and it was cloudy).
- How much does it cost? Each zone has a separate ticket, all of which are 100 Baht. We only went to the central and northern zones and 200 Baht was a pretty good deal considering all the ruins we saw. You can hire bicycles for 30 baht close to the entrance. We couldn’t find any bikes (except for a child’s one) which had baskets in the front, so pack light or, if you have a kid, load its bike up with all your stuff.
- Do you need to visit Si Sachanalai and Kamphaeng Phet? We had originally planned to visit one or maybe even both sets of ruins, which are located close (ish) to Sukhothai. I read some reviews which raved about these ruins because they were far quieter than Sukhothai, even though the ruins themselves weren’t quite as impressive. We decided to skip them because Sukhothai was so quiet anyway — the crazy tourist crowds that I’d heard so much about just weren’t a reality when we visited. I’m sure the other sites are good, and I know I’ll visit them one day, but we were satisfied with our Sukhothai experience.
- Sukhothai VS Ayutthaya…? I’ll start with the typical travel blogger response…they are both different and are worth visiting in their own right. That is true, but if you can only visit one I’d recommend Ayutthaya. The ruins there are larger and there is also a lot more variety. The Ayutthaya ruins are spread throughout a busy little city instead of dedicated historic zones, which seems to put some people off. I actually prefer it as it was a very different experience to the other ancient ruins that I’ve been to. Ayutthaya is also close to Bangkok while Sukhothai is kind of in the middle of nowhere, roughly halfway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Cycling around the ruins in Sukhothai is tiring but it’s definitely the best way to see them. It makes for a fun day out and the temples and ruins, particularly the huge Buddha statues, are different enough to the other ancient ruins in Asia to make it worth visiting, even if you’ve been to Ayutthaya, Angkor Wat and Bagan.
Would you like to cycle between ancient ruins in Sukhothai? Have you been to any other ruins in Southeast Asia? Let me know in the comments below!
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