The main reason to visit Sukhothai is to check out the historical sites of what is considered the first kingdom and capital of the area now known as Thailand and is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site. On this page you’ll find the best historical sites, some interesting facts and information to make your visit more productive and enjoyable. Also be sure to check out our companion guide to the best ice cream shops in Sukhothai.
1) Wat Mahathat & Central Zone
The heritage listed area is known as ‘Sukhothai Historical Park’ and it’s broken up into three different zones which require three different tickets. The first zone is in the centre of the old city and contains several important buildings from the period including the Mahathat Temple which is the most important temple in the historical park.
These buildings are mostly religious and the information focuses on the design of the buildings and their use. There are signs dotted around next to many of the ruins which illustrate roughly what the buildings would have looked like. This makes it easier to imagine what the city would have been like it its prime (13th & 14th centuries).
You’ll need to buy a ticket to get into the zone and it will be checked at the gate. There’s no cars allowed inside but you can take your bicycle in which is my recommended way to get around or there’s also some small carts taking people from site to site. Walking around the ruins (you can’t take your bike inside the immediate temple limits) is a nice experience and there are some great photo opportunities with the greenery, trees and lake in the background.
For me, the highlights were general exploring and photo opportunities. The uses of each building weren’t that interesting for me but might appeal to someone more interested in religious history or architecture.
2) City Walls and Gates
There’s not much to them but if you’re interested in military history and fortifications then I think it’s worth it to take some time to look at the wall and gate system that the ancient city of Sukhothai had.
There’s three earthen walls all the way around the old city with moats in between. The gaps in each wall are offset at the gates and there are signs to let us know that there were watch towers and gate houses to oversee and protect them.
3) King Ramkhamhaeng Monument & Bell
The statue of King Ramkhamhaeng (the founder and most influential King of Sukhothai and creator of the Thai alphabet) is located within the central zone, mentioned above. There’s also a bell and together they’re worth a visit because they highlight some interesting historical facts.
The bell is a representation of a bell that the King apparently had hung outside one of the gates to Sukhothai. If anyone had a grievance they were told they could ring the bell and the King himself would come to hear them out and give a balanced judgement. This is significant as it illustrates that Ramkhamhaeng ran his kingdom as more of a man of the people whereas the later kings of Ayutthaya were set up more as Gods who regular people weren’t allowed to see and interact with.
4) Wat Saphan Hin
This temple is my favourite in the West zone. You’ll find it on top of a hill with nice views looking back over the Sukhothai old city. The temple contains a 12 metre high Buddha statue as well as a smaller Buddha. It is believed that King Ramkhamhaeng rode his white elephant, named Ruchakhiri, here to worship every Buddhist sabbath day. There’s also an interesting crewd stone staircase leading up the hill.
The Ramkhamhaeng National Museum – definitely worth a look to get some history on the area and conveniently located within the old city walls and right next to the historical park gates. The outside area also has some things to look at so don’t skip that. Unfortunately only the first gallery is air conditioned.
How to See the Historical Sites
The best way to explore the main historical sites is by bicycle, either on your own or with a group tour. I decided to go on my own which meant I kept the costs down and could go at my own pace. The downside is I may have missed some interesting things along the way and I didn’t have anyone to explain the history to me as I went, even though I’d done plenty of research before (and now after).
I found the experience of cycling around equally as enjoyable as the historical ruins themselves and thoroughly recommend it. Some of the sites, such as Wat Saphan Hin, are a bit far away to cycle to though and involve riding along a major road (the route I took anyway), so keep that in mind.
Where to Stay
There are a few accommodation options concentrated around the east gate of the old city including inside the old city walls. This means you’re as close as possible to the action and can get an early start to beat the crowds. However, restaurant options are limited so you might consider staying in Sukhothai Thani (aka New Sukhothai) which is 12km East of the old city.
Take a break from sightseeing and get an ice cream from the best ice cream shop in Sukhothai.