things to do in sukhothai

How to Visit Sukhothai – Thailand’s Ancient Capital City

Sukhothai is a province in the northern part of Thailand, just before you reach Chiang Mai. It’s an interesting destination if you want to get away from the main tourist trail in Thailand but understand the country’s history right from the beginning. Sukhothai is definitely a well-known destination for foreign travelers but it’s less touristy than the southern islands, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai.  Welcome to the best things to do in Sukhothai.

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Thailand was under the Khmer Empire of Cambodia until 1238 when a new kingdom in the north rose and stood against the Khmer Empire when two leaders decided to unite and fight together, they were able to gain control of the region. That kingdom was called Sukhothai and it became the first capital of Siam.  The name means the “Rising of Happiness”- and while I have loved Myanmar, it’s nice to be back “home”, so yes, my happiness is rising. We seem to have visited Thailand so much in this trip that it does in a way feel like home. The reality is that it’s a great hub for this area of South East Asia.

The new kingdom here was able to expand its power for 200 years and had nine kings. That ended when the Ayutthaya Kingdom demanded and fought Sukhothai. Ayutthaya was successful and became the new capital of Siam.  (Our guide to Ayutthaya is here)

Today, you can still see a few remnants of the Sukhothai Kingdom making it a fantastic place to explore if you love history and temple hopping. Plan to spend around 2 days here to cover all the top things to do in Sukhothai, but add an extra day to simply relax and enjoy the natural aspects of the area.

Where to Stay in Sukhothai

There are a host of places to stay in Sukhothai – here’s our pick of the luxury places to stay in Sukhothai, mid-range places to stay in Sukhothai, and budget accommodation in Sukhothai.

Sriwilai Sukhothai (SHA Extra Plus), Sukhothai, Thailand: This fantastic four-star hotel in Sukhothai is located in the Historical Park area of the city. This top Sukhothai hotel’s rooms include amenities including air conditioning and free internet access. Rooms here also have coffee/tea machines, a nice morning breeze on the balcony, and there’s also a bar onsite. This luxury hotel in Sukhothai, also includes free toiletries, fluffy bathrobes, and a comfortable sofa for relaxing. Check availability of Sukhothtai’s top hotels here.

Legendha Sukhotai (SHA Certified), Sukhothai, Thailand: The Legendha Sukhothai (SHA Certified) is a mid-range hotel conveniently situated in the Historical Park part of Sukhothai. This mid-range Sukhothai hotel has air conditioning and internet access in all of its rooms. The Legendha has rooms with a minibar and a coffee/tea machine. There’s also a garden, karaoke, restaurant, and a bar in this great Sukhothai hotel. You’ll also get free toiletries, complimentary drinks, and a comfortable sofa too. While you are here, you can always have breakfast in the poolside bar or order room service. Read more reviews of Legendha Sukhotai (SHA Certified) here.

Thai Thai Sukhothai, Sukhothai, Thailand: The Thai Thai Sukhothai is a fabulous budget hotel located in the Historical Park area of Sukhothai. All of the rooms at this budget Sukhothai hotel have air conditioning and free internet access., and breakfast is offered on the scenic terrace. Our favorite budget hotel in Sukhothai offers a coffee/tea machine, a private bathroom, a refrigerator, cable TV, a seating area, and a desk in all its rooms. You’ll also get free toiletries and complimentary drinking water. See room rates here.

The Top Things to do in Sukhothai

When you visit Sukhothai, you should plan on your time here being filled with exploring the spectacular heritage sites, visiting stunning temples, and enjoying a quieter pace of travel.  One name that you’ll see repeated here is King Ramkhamhaeng, and that’s because Sukhothai is famous for King Ramkhamhaeng, who developed the first Thai script (so it’s HIS fault I can’t read any of the signs). King Ramkhamhaeng expanded the kingdom to include an area bigger than current-day Thailand   By 1438 Sukhothai was absorbed by Ayutthaya (pro: ah-yute-ta-ya).

Visit the Sukhothai Historical Park

This, if we’re being fair, is the primary (and in many cases the only) reason that people travel to Sukhothai.  Sukhothai’s main attraction is its incredible historical park which is also a recognized UNESCO Heritage Site. Sukhothai is one of Thailand best maintained UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  The historical park in Sukhothai is the place where you can find most of the province’s historical relics and partially restored 13th and 14th-century palaces and temples. The Sukhothai Historical Park also houses the Kingdom of Siam’s “Sukhothai Style” architecture which is one of the very few legacies of the Sukhothai Kingdom.

There are different ways to explore this open-air historical site. But the first thing you need to know is that the Sukhothai Historical Site is divided into five parts or zones; North, Central, Western, Southern, and Eastern zones. There are a lot of ways to approach this UNESCO Site, getting lost or finding yourself going around in circles is highly possible.

The cheapest way to explore Sukhothai is to walk around on your own. But remember, the entire site is massive and you won’t be able to cover or visit all of it on foot. You will get the most of out your visit if you have a well-informed local guide to help you understand each location and its history and make sure that you don’t miss some of the important spots.  (this is an option if you’d like a guide)

The best way to explore Sukhothai Historical Park is by booking a tour where you will be riding a bicycle and cruising through historical relics, archeological sites, and farms around this UNESCO Site. You can book a half-day trip or a full-day one depending on the time you have in Sukhothai.

If you don’t want to go to the expense of a guide, then I definitely recommend renting a bike to get around.  You’ll find bike rental places at the entrance to the historical park, or just ask your hostel or hostel for advice.

If you have limited time in Sukhothai, the best thing you can do is stick to the Central and Northern zones where you will find the most interesting and beautiful relics of the Sukhothai Kingdom. One thing you should be aware of is that a lot of ancient temples inside the park are also leftover from Khmer Empire, some were built while Sukhothai was in power.

Keep in mind that you are not allowed to climb any of these temples, especially the Buddhas. You will also have to pay separate fees for the Central, Northern, and Western zone plus a fee for your bicycle. There are no fees for Southern and Eastern Zones. The entrance fee is 100 THB ($2.76) for foreign visitors, you can also purchase a full-pass valid to all zones for 350 THB ($9.67).  You may also have to pay to bring your bike in if you’ve rented one (we paid 10 THB for each zone to take the bikes in)

Sukhothai Historical Park Central Zone

The Central Zone is the main zone of Sukhothai Historical Park. You will find the most preserved ruins in this area which attracts most visitors. Around this zone, there are some food stalls where you can find snacks, drinks, and main dishes. These small restaurants are normally located under the shade of trees.

Wat Sa Si

Wat Sa Si is a Buddhist temple in a middle of a moat of a lotus pond. You can actually find this temple right near the entrance and walk around it. It’s undeniably one of the most popular artifacts on this heritage site. If you are riding a bike, park it first before approaching the bridge that leads to Wat Sa Si.  There’s lots of Khmer influence here, but it was originally built as a Hindu temple.

Wat Mahathat

This is the largest temple in the Central Zone in Sukhothai.  Wat Mahathat is situated only a few hundred meters south of Wat Sa Si. It’s one of the temples that have a massive Buddha in the middle. As you walk around, you’ll also enjoy the sights of other Buddhas both standing and sitting down. The temple is surrounded by brick walls and a small moat which represents the universe and the ocean.   Buddha’s abound. As do chedi.

Sukhothai Historical Park Northern Zone

To get to the Nothern Zone, you have to cross the national highway NH12 and pass the Sao Ho river. As well as the separate charge to enter, there’s also a 10THB charge for bikes too, but it’s worth bringing them as this is a big zone.  The two main attractions of this zone are Wat Si Chum and Wat Phra Phai Luang.

Wat Si Chum

Wat Si Chum is a wonderful temple. It has a 15-meter-high (49 feet) Buddha surrounded by four walls and an open ceiling. The passage provides such a thrill as you walk around to find it. There’s only one access that will lead you to the Buddha, make sure to watch out for that. Wat Si Chum is also one of the most photographed temples in Sukhothai, once you see it, you’ll understand why.  There’s a distinct Khmer influence in some of the towers here.

But it’s the 15-meter tall Buddha that we’re here to see.   The elegance of the Buddha’s fingers is beautiful. It’s interesting to see the different style of Buddha that is uniquely Thai and so different from the Buddha we’ve seen recently.

Wat Phra Phai Luang

Wat Phra Phai Luang is northeast of Wat Si Chum. Unlike the other temples, it’s easy to say that this one was not well-preserved. You can still see what it used to look like and might find yourself wondering how stunning it once was. 

Sukhothai Historical Park Western Zone

There’s not much to see in the western part of Sukhothai Historical Park. If you have time to wander around, there are a few attractions you can check out including Wat Pa Mamuang, Wat Pa Phai, and Wat Tuk which are near one another. A bit further west, you will see Wat Khai Phra Bat Noi, Wat Mangkorn, and Wat Saphan Hin which are the best temples in the Western Zone.

Sukhothai Historical Park Eastern Zone

The Eastern Zone has a lot less to offer to visitors, not visiting this area wouldn’t be too much of a regret. This location is also closer to accommodations, restaurants, and other businesses. Eastern Zone’s main pride would be the Wat Tra Phant Thong Lang.

Sukhothai Historical Park Southern Zone

The Southern Zone also offers a few beautiful temples but nothing as significant or massive as the ones in the central and the northern part. There are about 8 temples to see here including the popular Wat Chetuphon which is at its most picturesque when the sunset shines on its walls.

Wat Chang Lom

Wat Chang Lom is on the east side of the park and is located near hotels and restaurants. If you’re staying in the main town, you can easily get here on foot. The walls of Wat Chang Lom are guarded by 32 powerful-looking elephant sculptures and it makes for an interesting photo if nothing else.

  • Address of Wat Chang Lom: 2PC9+2V3, Mueang Kao, Mueang Sukhothai District, Sukhothai 64210, Thailand
  • Opening Hours of Wat Chang Lom: 6:30 AM to 7:30 PM
  • Entry Fees for Wat Chang Lom: Free

Wat Sorasak

Wat Sorasak has a very unique design around its stupa which features more magnificent elephant sculptures. It’s located near the main road of Old Sukhothai, you won’t miss it during your wandering. Wat Sorasak is well-preserved and one of the few free chedis you can visit in Sukhothai Historical Park.

  • Address of Wat Sorasak: 2PF3+5VQ, Mueang Kao, Mueang Sukhothai District, Sukhothai 64210, Thailand
  • Opening Hours of Wat Sorasak: 6:30 AM to 7:30 PM
  • Entry Fees for Wat Sorasak: Free

Visit the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum

Ramkhamhaeng National Museum is located in the main town of Sukhothai, just before the main entrance of the Central Zone. It’s an archeological museum that displays art, artifacts, and antiques from the Sukhothai period. Apart from admiring the displays, there isn’t much to do here, and unless you’re seriously into the history it’s a little dry. Plan to spend about 30 minutes to an hour.

  • Address of RamkhamhaengNational Museum: 2PF3+5VQ, Mueang Kao, Mueang Sukhothai District, Sukhothai 64210, Thailand
  • Opening Hours of Wat Sorasak: 6:30 AM to 7:30 PM
  • Entry Fees for RamkhamhaengNational Museum: 150 THB for foreign visitors and 30 THB for Thai citizens

Explore the Countryside around Sukhothai

After you explore the historical part of Sukhothai, you should also plan to discover Thailand’s countryside. You will get to see farmlands, speak to locals, and cruise along rice fields.  If you’ve rented a bike, then you can just head off, but this is a nice tour to join especially if you want to get away from the tourist crowd and find some tranquility during your visit.

Visit Ramkhamhaeng National Park in Sukhothai

Ramkhamhaeng National Park is situated in the southern part of Sukhothai province, around 24 km  (15 miles) from the Historical Park. This is an ideal place for hiking, finding native plants, and even discovering some ancient structures. It also has a spot where you can overview the province and take amazing landscape photos.  Other things you will come across are native animals, waterfalls, water reservoirs, and rock formations. The trails are well-marked and you will find plenty of water refill stations along the way.

The trail is about 4 km (2.5 miles) long with about 1000 m (0.62 miles) elevation gain. If you want to do a day hike, it should only take between 4-6 hours while camping, and bringing your own tent is also possible or you can rent one at the information center near the entrance. Staying overnight means you get to enjoy a lovely sunrise and sunset

What & Where to Eat in Sukhothai

Wherever you go in Thailand, It’s well worth scouting out local dishes since each region has different versions of the same food. Sukhothai is popular for its local noodles which you definitely have to try. You can find international restaurants here as well.

Eat Sukhothai Noodles

Sukhothai noodles are rice noodles soup served with meat stock and toppings such as sliced pork, ground pork, green beans, salted turnip, and peanuts. It’s also drizzled with lime, fish sauce, and of course, chili powder.   This local Sukhothai dish is delicious.  You should be able to find lots of restaurants serving this local noodle. The best places to go and try Sukhothai noodles are at Ta Puy Noodle, Jae Hae Sukhothai Noodles, and a very local, shack-style place Sukhothai Noodle Shop (ร้านก๋วยเตี๋ยวซุ๊โข่ทัย)

Eat at the Sukhothai Saturday Night Market

If you plan your trip to Sukhothai during the weekend, one of the best things to do in Sukhothai is to attend its Saturday night market. Many come to Sukhothai just for its weekend market.

Every Saturday, the roads in Sukhothai’s main town are turned into a massive market where goods such as clothing, souvenirs, handicrafts, and local dishes are sold. There are also fresh vegetables, fruits, and even plants available on sale. This once-a-week event is one the best places you can find affordable local dishes that are must-eats.

How to Get Around Sukhothai

The best way to get around Sukhothai is by renting a push bike. Not only it’s a great way to explore the Historical Park but also if you plan to visit other attractions outside the park, this is the most convenient and affordable way. If your accommodation is not in the central area, getting to the main town by bicycle is also the best mode of transport.

If you plan to stay in the town center, you can easily go around on foot. Ride-hailing app such as Grab doesn’t operate in Sukhothai. There are traditional taxis and tuk-tuks around but they are not allowed to enter Sukhothai Historical Park.

Where is Sukhothai

Sukhothai is 427 km (265 miles) north of Bangkok and 302 km south of Chiang Mai. It’s also 170 km (187.7 miles) east of Mae Sot, the border between Thailand and Myanmar.

How to get to Sukhothai

Sukhothai is about a 6-hour drive from Bangkok. If you take a bus, it will take around 5-8 hours and costs 310 THB ($9). You can also book a direct flight from Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), the journey is 1.5 hours and costs 900 THB ($25).  You can check travel options for how to go to Sukhothai from Bangkok here.

Our full guide on how to go from Bangkok to Sukhothai is here.

For those coming from Myanmar, you have to get yourself to Mawlamyine first then board a bus to Myawaddy, the town where the border you can cross is located. If you’re traveling and no buses are running, then you can grab a taxi from Mawlamyine to the border (there are details of how we traveled from Mawlamyine to Sukhothai here) Once you cross the border, there is a small bus station where you can take a bus to major cities around Thailand including Sukhothai. You definitely want to cross the border no later than 1 PM to catch the last bus that leaves at 2:40 PM.

Travel Tips for Exploring Thailand

Final Words on The Best Things to do in Sukhothai

Sukhothai is most likely on the radar of first-time visitors to Thailand.  If you’re following the history of Thailand, then it’s worth coming to this old Thai capital.  It’s also a great place to visit if you’re looking to learn and explore Thailand on a deeper level while getting a little bit out of the tourist trail, Sukhothai has so much to offer which can be covered in just 2-3 days.

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