Here’s your guide to visiting Sukhothai, Thailand and Sukhothai Historical Park, where you’ll find the ruins of the majestic temples that once graced this ancient city. For all the tips on making the best of a visit to this designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, read on!
What’s in our guide to visiting Sukhothai, Thailand?
2. Top Temples You Should See in Sukhothai
3. The Best Way to See Sukhothai Historical Park
4. What To Wear and How To Behave in Sukhothai, Thailand
5. How Much Does it Cost to Visit Sukhothai Historical Park?
6. Things To Do in Sukhothai when You’ve Had Your Fill of Temples
7. How to Get to Sukhothai
8. Where to stay in Sukhothai Thailand
9. Recommended Sukhothai Tours
Sukhothai, Thailand is a small town 427 km north of Bangkok which was once the capital of the first Thai kingdom. For tourists, the main attraction in town is the ruins of the ancient city of Sukhothai (or สุโขทัย in the Thai script, which was, incidentally, invented in Sukhothai).
The ancient city centre — now known as Sukhothai Historical Park — is 12 km east of the modern city and it is filled with stunning temples that evoke a bygone era.
The kingdom was established in approximately 1238 by Phokhun Si Intharathit, the founder of the Phra Ruang dynasty.
The city’s name translates as “the dawn of happiness” and for just over a century, Sukhothai retained its power and its ability to make the local power-brokers very happy. In the late 14th century, the kingdom of Ayutthaya to the south took over power in the region and the sun set on Sukhothai’s happy era.
But now, hundreds of years later, people come from all over the world to see the remains of the grand temples that once stood here.
Read on for our guide to…
Visiting Sukhothai, Thailand and the Sukhothai Historical Park
Practical Information for Visiting Sukhothai
What Areas of Sukhothai Should You See?
Sukhothai Historical Park is divided into five main areas. The Central Zone sits inside the ancient city walls and is where you’ll find most of the sites to visit. The Northern Zone has the second most popular temple, so you’ll want to make time to visit it as well.
And for the adventurous traveller, there is a nice hike up a hillside in the Western Zone that leads to incredible views from the hilltop temple there.
If you don’t have a lot of time to visit Sukhothai, we recommend focusing your trip on the Central Zone. This will allow you to see most of the famous sites in Sukhothai. Within the Central Zone are the remains of the royal palace and a whopping twenty-six temples.
This Central Zone is walkable, so you can explore the area without a bicycle or guide, although a bicycle will allow you to zip around more quickly and keep a little cooler while viewing temples under the hot Thai sun.
What’s the Best Time to Visit Sukhothai Historical Park?
It gets very hot during the day in Thailand, so it is best plan for an early morning visit. Even if you plan to leave early, make sure you bring a sunhat, sunscreen, and lots of water (in your refillable water bottle, of course).
Sunrise is a great time to photograph the hundreds of Buddha statues and dozens of stunning temples. The orange glow of magic hour makes them even more magical. The sun rises between 6am and 7am depending on the time of year, so it does make an early start to your day.
On Saturday night, the park stays open until 9pm and the temples in the Central Zone are illuminated with colourful lights, so you can get some great pictures then as well. Plus, it’s a whole lot cooler to walk around the park after dark.
Confirming the exact opening times of the park is challenge as they seem to change without notice.
But, roughly, the Central Zone opens from 6:30am to 6pm, except Saturdays, when it stays open until 9pm. The Northern Zone closes at 5:30pm daily and the Western Zone has slightly shorter hours, open daily from 8am–4:30pm.
Understand the Language of Ancient Temples
If you understand some of the architectural terms related to this era of temple, your visit to Sukhothai will be much more interesting. It’s good to familiarize yourself with some of the key terms before heading out into the hot Thai sun, which will bake your brain and leave you unable to learn anything new.
- Wat. In casual usage, the word wat refers to any Buddhist temple.
- Stupa. A dome-shaped structure used to house religious relics.
- Chedi. Another word for stupa, especially used in Thailand.
- Prang. A richly carved tower-like structure, only found in the most important Buddhist temples.
- Mandapa. A pillared open-air hall, usually found in Hindu temples.
- Stucco. A material used as a decorative coating, can be made into intricate designs applied to walls and ceilings.
- Khmer. Ancient (11th Century) kingdom in the Mekong valley.
Top Temples You Should See in Sukhothai
The three most impressive temples in the Central Zone are Wat Mahathat, Wat Si Sawai, and Wat Sa Si.
Wat Mahathat (also known as Wat Maha That and Mahathat Temple) is the most important temple in all of Sukhothai Historical Park, because it is said to house authentic Buddha relics. It is not only the epicentre and spiritual centre of the park, but was also the centre of the entire Sukhothai Kingdom.
The temple was built between 1292 and 1347, and its construction was overseen by Sri Indraditya.
The main chedi (conical tower also known as a stupa) has the shape of a lotus bud and was built to enshrine the relics of the Buddha. Its base is adorned with 168 carvings of Buddhist disciples walking with their hands clasped together in salutation.
It is surrounded by 8 smaller chedi. The 4 corners are in Mon Haripunchai-Lanna style and the 4 have a Khmer influence. The temple also includes an assembly hall, ordination hall, and 200 smaller chedi.
To capture the most iconic photos of the temple, head to the eastern side for an incredible view of the giant seated Buddha behind rows of half-collapsed columns.
Wat Si Sawai
This temple (also sometimes spelled Wat Sri Sawai) stands out in Sukhothai for its 3 distinct Khmer-style prangs (towers) reminiscent of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The towers are surrounded by a double rampart and a moat. It is one of the oldest temples in Sukhothai, constructed in the late 12th or early 13th century.
Like Angkor Wat, Wat Si Sawai was originally a Hindu temple constructed by the Khmer people before it was converted to a Buddhist shrine during the Sukhothai period. Si Sawai was originally dedicate to Lord Vishnu, with the 3 prangs each dedicated to one of the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu.
The temple is a short walk away from Wat Mahathat and close to the southern gate of the old city walls.
Wat Sa Si
Just north of Wat Mahathat is Wat Sa Si. It is set in the middle of a reservoir (called Traphong Trakruano) and to get to the temple you have to cross a wooden footbridge. It is a simple temple but a stunning setting.
You’ll definitely want a picture of the footbridge, reservoir, and the temple with a Buddha statue sitting in front of it.
Wat Traphong Tong
This is the only working temple in the Old Sukhothai area. The Traphong Tong (“golden pond”) reservoir separates the museum from the temple.
Loi Krathong is a national Siamese festival celebrated each year. It’s on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. During the festival, traditional krathong (decorated floating baskets) are filled with flowers, a bit of food, and a candle, and then floated on a river.
Not only is Wat Traphong Tong central to the Loy Krathong celebrations that take place in Sukhothai, but it is said the festival began here on the golden pond!
As well as laying claim to the origins of Loy Krathong, the temple is famous for a stone sculpture of the Buddha’s footprint which dates back to 1359.
Wat Trapang Thong Lang
This temple has 3 intricate stucco relief images of the Buddha performing miracles.
These reliefs can be found on the outer mandapa (a pillared hall) walls, which is easy to find as it is the only structure left standing on the temple grounds. Many of the relief images have been lost to time but the structure still retains its mystical beauty.
Wat Phra Pai Luang
Wat Phra Pai Luang sits on the original spot where the Sukhothai Kingdom was founded. The temple is a mix of Khmer and Lopburi architecture and dates back to the early 13th century.
All but one of the 3 centrepiece Khmer prangs have collapsed, but the remaining tower retains some elaborate stucco decorations, which was an art unique to Sukhothai’s craftsmen.
The Northern Zone is home to a giant “talking” Buddha at Wat Si Chum. It is the main attraction outside the Central Zone.
Wat Si Chum
Also know as Wat Sri Chum, this temple is famous for its giant (15 m high) seated Buddha with golden fingers known as the talking Buddha. This is one of the most famous Buddha statues in the world.
The legend says that King Naresuan (1555–1605) had one of his minions climb the passage that leads up to the Buddha’s head and give a speech to the gathered army to encourage them in their upcoming battle against the Burmese.
The walls of the mandapa that houses the Buddha feature the oldest murals in the country, but sadly most of these are no longer visible.
Because this temple is small, it can get quite busy, so you may want to start your visit here.
Wat Phra Phai Luang
Wat Phra Phai Luang has a Khmer-style prang. This type of prang always looks great in pictures. There is also has a large assembly hall, which would have once had a roof, but now sits roofless.
Luang Pho Petch
Located near Wat Si Chum, this is a very small temple (also known as Luang Po Ta Petch). It is noteworthy for its Buddha statue with diamond eyes. Rumour has it the original diamonds have been replaced with cut glass so that they can’t be stolen.
The temple is just south of Wat Si Chum along the main road and is hidden behind trees at the corner of a courtyard. You’ll probably spot a few monks sitting around and that’s how you know you’re in the right spot. You’ll need to ask a monk to give you access as the temple is locked.
Of course, the monk will want a small donation for the privilege of going inside. Somewhere between 20 and 100 baht is plenty!
Most people come to Sukhothai for one day and most of those people never make it to the Western Zone. So, if you do head here, you will likely have the area all to yourself. The temples here are mostly ruins but are set in the countryside with no traffic. If you’re riding a bicycle around it’s a pretty special spot.
Wat Saphan Hin
The name Saphan Hin translates as stone bridge and there are well preserved remains of the slate stone path that leads all the way from the bottom of the road to the top of the hill. This same path was walked by former kings of Sukhothai on pilgrimage to the temple.
The main temple has collapsed, which leaves the 12 m tall standing Buddha as the main attraction here. Apart from the views, that is! The hill sits 200 m above the surrounding plain, so if you do visit this temple you’ll be rewarded with views over the Thai countryside.
Access the temple by climbing up the steep hill — you’ll need to park your bike and make the climb on foot. It can be quite hard going in the heat but it is totally worth it for the views.
Wat Chang Lom
This is probably the most noteworthy temple in the Eastern Zone. It has a chedi supported by several elephants. Not real ones! Don’t be silly. They’re sculpted into the base of the chedi.
While not much is left standing at this temple, the remains are still impressive. There is a large square-based mandapa with some remaining stucco images of Buddha sitting, standing, walking, and reclining on the walls.
The Best Way to See Sukhothai Historical Park
The best way to get around Sukhothai is on a bicycle.
All the hotels we recommend below will sort you out with a bicycle for either a small fee or no extra charge. Definitely take advantage of this as it can be very hot during the day, and making your own breeze will cool off as you move between temples.
Please note there is a small additional fee to enter each section of the site if you have a bicycle. See all pricing information below.
If you like bikes, check out the Grasshopper Adventures bicycle tour from Bangkok to Chiang Mai that stops in Sukhothai, Thailand.
What To Wear and How To Behave in Sukhothai, Thailand
Although the temples at Sukhothai Historical Park are ruins, they are still Buddhist temples (and one, Wat Traphong Tong, near the museum, is still an active temple) so you need to dress appropriately.
Yes, you’ll see lots of tourists who do not dress appropriately, but you don’t have to be one of them!
Read our simple tips to visit the temples without offending anyone (while feeling superior to the improperly dressed tourists).
Cover your arms and legs. Bring a thin long-sleeved shirt, or light jacket, that you can put on before going into a temple. The easiest way to cover your legs is to bring a sarong and wear it whenever you are on temple property. It’s always hot in Thailand, so you’ll probably be cooler with a sarong than wearing long pants all day anyway.
Don’t point at people or at Buddha. Pointing is considered rude in Thailand. Instead, you can gesture with your whole hand with your fingers together.
Hide your soles. You must remove your shoes before entering a working temple but also be sure that you don’t show the soles of your feet in the temple (or anywhere). This is considered very rude in Thai culture.
Respect the Buddha statues. Of course, you should never climb on or sit next to a Buddha statue, nor should your rowdy gang of kids. Technically, you should never turn your back on the Buddha but that will be difficult in Sukhothai, where there are thousands of Buddha statues.
How Much Does it Cost to Visit Sukhothai Historical Park?
The pricing structure at Sukhothai Historical Park is fairly straightforward. Each of the three Zones in the park have an entrance fee of 100 baht (~$3 USD).
We have heard there is a combo ticket for 350 baht that includes access to all the zones but it can be tricky to find someone selling the combo deal. Ask at your hotel if you plan on seeing a lot of the area outside the Central Zone.
If you are exploring the ancient city by bicycle, there is an extra 10 baht charge per bike. This likely won’t ruin your budget as it’s only an extra $0.30 USD!
Things To Do in Sukhothai when You’ve Had Your Fill of Temples
Ramkhamhaeng National Museum
Close to the main entrance to Sukhothai Historical Park, the Ramkhamhaneg National Museum makes interesting stop if you’re into history and are spending at least a few days in Sukhothai. Otherwise we’d recommend spending your time wandering around the park.
The museum is home to archaeological treasures from the Sukhothai Historical Park including stucco reliefs, images of Buddha, ceramics, and Hindu bronze deities. The museum is open daily from 9am to 4pm. Entry fee is 150 baht (~$4.70 USD).
The Royal Palace
At Noen Parast (aka Palace Hill) you can view the remains of the royal palace of the Kingdom of Sukhothai. Noen Prasat was discovered in 1833.
Lak Muang City Pillar
Lak Muang City Pillar is a small shrine which is easy to miss. Each city has a city pillar (lak muang means city pillar) and as with most city pillars, Sukhothai’s is is dressed with fresh garlands of flowers daily and has many figures placed at its base.
The city pillars are said to be the home of each city’s spirit. While the pillar in Sukhothai may look old, the tradition wasn’t started until the 18th century and this pillar likely dates from the early 20th century.
Statue of King Ram Khamhaeng
The monument to King Ram Khamhaeng is an important site where Thai people come to pay their respects to one of the most influential figures in Thai history.
He ruled the Sukhothai Kingdom from 1279–1298, during its most prosperous era, and he is credited for the creation of the Thai alphabet as well as establishing Theravada Buddhism as the state religion of Thailand.
The Sukhothai Historical Park Night Food Market
There is a pretty touristy night market in the Historical Park on the weekends, but the food is high quality as the chefs are specially selected to take part in this food market. Also it’s usually not very busy since few tourists stay at the park until the evening.
The Sukhothai Saturday Night Market
If you’re looking for an authentic Thai night market experience, you need to head into the new city of Sukhothai. There are a few smaller food markets around town, but the biggest night market happens every Saturday night. Find the road next to the Yom River and you can’t miss the Sukhothai night market.
More than just a food market there is also a dance floor, often a public concert, and you’re likely to find local kids busting a move. Most vendors have arrived by 5pm and it begins to shut down around 9pm.
Ramkhamhaeng National Park
If you’re interested in nature, and have had enough of old temple ruins, we suggest you make your way to the 662-metre-high Khao Pha Narai peak in Ramkhamhaeng National Park. From the peak you can see views of Sukhothai city and another nearby city, Phitsanulok.
The park lies to the west and south of ancient Sukhothai roughly 20 km from the Central Zone, so you’ll need to organize transportation.
If you’re interested in visiting the park, we recommend you speak to the staff at your hotel to arrange a tuk tuk driver who can also act as a guide — ask for someone who has been to the park before and knows their way around.
How to Get to Sukhothai
Taking the Train to Sukhothai
There are no trains going directly to Sukhothai. You can travel by train from Bangkok to Phitsanulok (about 7 hours) and then take a local bus (#10) to Sukhothai, 59 km away (about 1 hour). You can take a tuk tuk instead of the bus, which should cost roughly 60 baht (~$2.00 USD).
Book your train tickets online using 12Go Asia, print the travel vouchers, and then exchange the vouchers for tickets at the train station.
Taking the Bus from Bangkok to Sukhothai
Air-conditioned busses depart from Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2) to Sukhothai daily between 9:45am and 10:20pm, departing with greater frequency in the morning. The journey takes 7 hours.
Check 12Go Asia for bus tickets, or contact private bus companies which operate daily bus services to Sukhothai, like Win Tour (Tel: 0 2936 3753 or 0 5561 1039) and Phitsanulok Yan Yon (Tel: 0 2936 2924-5, 0 5525 8647).
Taking the Bus from Chiang Mai to Sukhothai
From Chiang Mai there are ordinary/2nd class and air-conditioned busses that travel through Tak, (5.5 hours). Busses depart frequently between 7pm and 2am.
Taking the Train from Chiang Mai to Sukhothai
Fom Chiang Mai you take the train to Phitsanulok (5.5 hours). From Phitsanulok you then take a local bus (#10) to Sukhothai, 59 km away (1 hour). You can also take a tuk tuk, which should cost roughly 60 baht (~$2.00 USD).
You can book your train tickets online using 12Go Asia, print the travel vouchers, and then exchange the vouchers for tickets at the train station.
Flying to Sukhothai
There are flights between Bangkok and Sukhothai but we — humans, and travellers specifically — need to fly less if there is to be a world left to enjoy. So please don’t fly to Sukhothai!
The buses are air-conditioned and comfortable, and Thai trains are a great travel experience. Also, Sukhothai Airport is about 40 km north of town, so it’s still a journey to get to the temples once you land.
Where to stay in Sukhothai, Thailand
There are so many temples to visit in Sukhothai that you may want to spend more than one day. We recommend staying in the old city if you can because the modern city of Sukhothai is 12 km from the Central Zone.
If you stay on Saturday night, you can experience the temples lighted up for a night visit. To experience a proper Thai night market you’re going to have to head into the main town though, so that might be a deciding factor for you.
Resting Place Hostel
Rating 8.7, $12 double room, $9 dorm room bed
Just outside the Central Zone, Resting Place Hostel is a great choice for the budget-conscious traveller. You can get a bunk in a dorm room with shared bathrooms for $9 a night. There is air-conditioning in all rooms and breakfast costs $3 extra.
They don’t provide bike rentals, but can direct you towards a bike rental spot very close to the hostel.
Space Ben Guest House @ Muangkao
Rating 9.2, $22 double room, breakfast included
Located just outside the Central Zone, this is an incredibly convenient spot for an affordable stay in Sukhothai. They provide a simple breakfast, but as with most hotel breakfasts, if you’re vegan you’ll probably want to supplement it with something more substantial.
The rooms are pretty simple but for this price who can complain? Guests love the lounge area and cleanliness of the guest house.
They charge a small fee for bicycle rental (30 baht/day).
BaanSuk Sukhothai Resort
Rating 9.8, $44 pool villa, breakfast included
People love it here so if your budget allows for you to splurge a little, check it out! Guests rave about the staff, the pool, and the breakfasts. They have hammocks to relax in, bathtubs in the rooms, and it is in a beautiful setting 2.3 km from the Central Zone.
They also provide free bicycle rental and they’ll drive you to the bus station when you’re leaving. Call ahead to get a free pick-up when you get to the bus station.
Recommended Sukhothai Tours
Sukhothai by Bike with Grasshopper Adventures
If you want to visit Sukhothai as part of an amazing cycling adventure, then check out Grasshopper Adventures’ Kingdoms of the North tour. You’ll start in Bangkok and take a sleeper train north.
From there, you’ll explore the ancient city of Sukhothai, other ancient temples, small villages, and incredible countryside.
One Week in Northern Thailand
For those who want to cycle Sukhothai and then explore northern Thailand, including visiting small homestays, taking a cooking class, visiting Asian elephants and more, take a look at the Explore Northern Thailand tour by Intrepid.
If you are planning to explore more than just Bangkok and the beaches of Thailand we highly recommend a visit to the Sukhothai Historical Park. You’ve really never seen anything like it before. Rent a bike, and you’ll have an amazing visit as you explore the ancient temples and giant statues of Buddha.
♥ Happy transformational travels, Jane & Stephen
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