Turquoise beaches, Phad Thai, and busy streets. This is the image I held of Thailand before I visited Sukhothai.
Sukhothai is a laid-back town with history written all over it. Sukhothai was a part of Khmer kingdom (which built the magnificent temples of Angkor). Later, it was annexed by Jayavarman II and became the capital of Siam Kingdom in the 13th century. Multiple cultural influences imparted a unique architectural style to Sukhothai, depicted in monuments, sculptures of the Siamese era. Sukhothai Historical Park is a world heritage site, housing the remnants of the Siam Kingdom, mostly temples. I was excited to visit and tick off one more world heritage site off my list.
Actually, I had two choices. Ayutthaya is another historical town and a world heritage site, which is two hours from Bangkok and gets visited the most due to its proximity to Bangkok. I wanted fewer tourists and experience of life in small towns, Sukhothai was my choice.
Reaching Sukhothai in the morning
There are daily buses from Bangkok to Sukhothai. I preferred an overnight train which is more comfortable but pricier. The only catch is it does not pass through Sukhothai, nearest station is Phitsanalouk which is 70+ KMs away from Sukhothai.
By 4:40 am, I was at Phitsanalouk, hired a tuk-tuk for 50 Bahts which took me to the city bus station and from there I boarded a bus at 5:20 am took almost an hour to reach Sukhothai old town. We were dropped near ‘Trang’ temple next to a market with the same name. The market was already bustling with people engaged in selling and buying, aromas erupting from everywhere, it was a beautiful sight to behold. I took a quick tour of the market, looking at stalls selling from vegetables, fruits, meat, savories to desserts. I promised myself to come back again after dropping my luggage at the hotel.
I had planned a single day trip to Sukhothai so had not booked a room. It was convenient to approach hotels and negotiate the price as I needed the room only during the day. Once all ready, it was time for breakfast. I noticed a small restaurant which was full of locals so decided to go there. Fried rice with shrimp for breakfast, it was delicious beyond words with flavors of onion, basil, lemongrass, chilies, all bursting in my mouth at once. I wish I had remembered the name of that place, it was undoubtedly one of the best places where I had great food.
30 Bahts to hire a bicycle for a day and I headed straight to the Sukhothai Historical Park. There are three historical complexes, with Sukhothai Historical Complex being the most prominent one. Each of these historical complexes has an entry fee, which is a substantial amount in terms of Rupees.
There are 26 temples in Sukhothai Historical Park. Wat Mahathat is the most famous one which is intact. Another temple ruins have stupas (chedis) with Buddha statues in the Vihar. Wat Si Sawai, speculated to be a Hindu temple, was later transformed into Buddhist temple. It is worth a visit to wonder at the similarities in architecture.
It took me three hours to visit the entire complex which included strolling in the complex, marveling at the statues of Buddha, sitting under a canopy looking at lotus flowers in the pond. I just enjoyed the feeling of having nothing to worry about or think about and just be there. Those placid moments, when the mind is calm and empty, most of my travels happen in the quest of finding such moments.
In the evening, I explored the temples on the main street, went to the food market again and tried coconut based desserts. People were out, enjoying street food and gossiping in groups in small restaurants. I had my dinner at one of the many restaurants on the road and kept looking at the people who were busy doing their chores.
A bus at 10:30 pm to Bangkok to explore the grand palace and temples of Bangkok was next. If you like history and architecture, and moreover want to cover world heritage sites like me, A visit to Sukhothai should be on your list. If this does not entice you then serenity and good food of this place might.