The thermometer flirted with 40°C (104°F) as we wandered from one marvelous temple to another in Thailand’s Sukhothai Historical Park. The scent of frangipani blooms danced in the air, and powdery dirt coated my skin from my knees to my toes.
All was quiet. It was a refreshing change from the bustling markets and hectic streetscapes of the city.
I tried to imagine what these grounds would have looked like 700 years earlier, when the Sukothai Kingdom was at its apex and this was the capital of the Thai Empire. Back then, Sukhothai had around 80,000 residents.
Despite being partially in ruin, the temples still looked magnificent. Shawn and I passed scenic moats, Buddha statues with golden fingers as tall as a human, and twisted tree roots resembling a braiding project gone beautifully awry.
We encountered a couple posing for wedding photos. The bride wore an elegant, buttercup-yellow outfit made from silk.
We marveled at the temples’ architectural details, including ornate prangs, weathered columns, and three-dimensional elephants. Though each temple had its own character, the reddish-orange bricks used to build them were a unifying feature.
Trying to combat the sweltering temperatures, we downed chilled water with a fury. When we spotted a man selling popsicles and ice cream from a tiny cooler, we couldn’t resist the sweet indulgence.
Just as we were savoring our chocolatey ice cream bars, a pick-up truck appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. It pulled over on the roadside near us and a police man – or perhaps a park security guard – hopped out, speaking only Thai, but wearing a uniform and a wide grin on his face.
Embarrassed by the ice cream smears on my face, and my hopelessly sticky hands, I tried to make the rapidly-melting dessert in my hand less obvious.
The man didn’t seem to notice, and he enthusiastically gestured to his phone. Through mimed motions, he ‘asked’ if we could take a picture together. We obliged, and after he’d snapped the smiley selfie, he opened his Google Translate app, trying to express more complex greetings. However, the app’s English translation was incomprehensible.
Before he hopped in his car and drove away, he playfully grabbed Shawn’s thigh, as he made a ‘strong’ gesture with his arms. And then he was gone.
We were both amused and perplexed by the encounter. It was only later in the day, when we met a pair of English-speaking locals, that we understood what the gregarious man had been trying to convey.
This pair expressed how surprised they were to see us exploring the historic park on foot, and not using bikes on such a sizzling day.
“You have much energy,” they said.
Indeed, as evening approached, the locals’ comments about feeling fatigued on such a hot day created a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. By this time, all we could think about was a refreshing shower, and our air-conditioned hotel room.
But one last highlight awaited us in Sukhothai — seeing the sun set behind atmospheric Wat Mahathat.
As the mandarin-rimmed orb dipped behind the now-silhouetted temple, the entire sky turned a sherbet hue. Birds soared overhead. Calmness reigned.
Summoning a burst of energy, while wanting only to savor the tranquil scene, we scurried off to catch the day’s last songthaew (shuttle).
Where in the World?
- Sukhothai is located about 430 km (265 miles) north of Bangkok. Chiang Mai is 310 km (190 miles) north of Sukhothai. We spent one full day exploring Sukhothai’s historical park, visiting temples in the Central Zone and the Northern Zone. An adult ticket for each zone cost 100 baht.
- Since we knew we were only going to be staying two nights, we wanted accommodation near Sukhothai’s bus station for easy access. We spent two nights at the Rueangsrisiri Guesthouse 2 (affiliate link). The owners were nice, and our room’s interior was brand new – complete with a showy rhinestone headboard. Small restaurants nearby offered tasty breakfast and dinner options (we opted for Thai fare). One night, we walked to Sukhothai’s night market for dinner. Though not as cosmopolitan as night markets in other Thai cities, it still had many stalls to choose from. After dinner, we chose to take a tuktuk back to the guesthouse because of some feral dogs near the outskirts of the night market.
- If you’re staying in a guesthouse near Sukhothai’s bus station, there is a shuttle (songthaew) at the bus station that’ll take you to the historical park. When we were there this shuttle was a vintage Isuzu with an ‘Old City’ sign on top. A one-way ticket cost 30 baht. We rode this songthaew back and forth.
- Unlike Ayutthaya, Sukhothai’s historic area is rather compact. We were able to see the following in one day, on foot:
- Wat Mahathat
- Wat Si Sawai
- Wat Traphang Ngoen
- Wat Sa Si
- Wat Si Chum
- Wat Phrapai Luang
- Wat Sorasak
- King Ramkhamhaeng Monument
- Peace Bell
- Sunset at Wat Mahathat
- We took a bus from Ayutthaya to Sukhothai, and the journey took about 5.5 hours. Our first-class seats were a nice splurge, and we were given a boxed snack, including coffee and a brownie. One ticket cost about 500 baht, but this amount also included the tuktuk fare to get to the bus station. For simplicity’s sake (we were not staying near the bus station), we had our wonderful hotel owner in Ayutthaya arrange our onward travel to Sukhothai. She added a fee, which was built into the total ticket price. The tickets would have cost less had we bought them directly from the bus station.
- After Sukhothai, we headed to Chiang Mai. The bus trip from Sukhothai to Chiang Mai took about 6 hours. Since we were staying at a hotel close to the Sukhothai Bus Station we were able to purchase our bus tickets directly. One bus ticket was 207 baht.
Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All rights reserved. My husband, Shawn, created the video.