In 1978, UNESCO named Sukhothai a World Heritage Site, and the Thai government, with international assistance, completed the preservation of these magnificent monuments and consolidated them with an excellent museum into one large park.
Every Saturday night at 10pm, a "walking street" outside the historical park comes alive with food, handicrafts, and cultural shows. It's a recent addition to Sukhothai nightlife and worth checking out. Also, from 7 to 8pm on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, there is a light and sound show at the park, weather permitting.
Getting to the Site -- The easiest way to get to the Sukhothai Historical Park from New Sukhothai is by songtaew (cost 15B), which leave around every 15 minutes from Jarot Withithong Road just west of the bridge over the Yom River.
Touring the Site -- The tuk-tuks that cruise around New Sukhothai can be hired to whiz you out to the monuments on a 4-hour tour around the park for about 500B, but if you have the energy, it's much more rewarding to rent a bike from shops outside the park entrance; prices start at 30B. At peak times, there is a tram service that runs visitors around the central zone for 20B, starting near the national museum. Maps are available at the museum or at the nearby bicycle-rental shops. The park is open daily 8am to 6pm; admission is 100B to the central area within the park walls, with additional charges of 100B for each of the four zones outside the walls of the park. Be sure to bring water and go early in the morning to beat the tour buses. Or consider coming back in the evening with picnic provisions, when it's cooler and the sun is going down.
Seeing the Highlights
Ramkhamhaeng National Museum -- This museum, located in the center of the old city near the park entrance, houses a detailed model of the area, and an admirable display of Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai archaeological finds. Before exploring the temple sites, stop here for maps and information. It's open every day from 9am to 4pm; admission is 150B. Call tel. 05569-7367 for info.
Wat Phra Mahathat -- The most extraordinary monument in the park, this temple is dominated by a 14th-century lotus-bud tower and encircled by a moat. Surrounding its unique Sukhothai-style chedi are several smaller towers of Sri Lankan and Khmer influence, and a grouping of Buddhist disciples in the adoration pose. An imposing cast-bronze seated Buddha used to be placed in front of the reliquary (this image, Phra Si Sakaya Muni, was removed in the 18th century to Bangkok's Wat Suthat). Be sure to examine the lowest platform (south side of Wat Phra Mahathat) and its excellent stucco sculpture, the crypt murals, and two elegant Sri Lankan-style stupas at the southeast corner of the site. Some of the best architectural ornamentation in Sukhothai is found on the upper, eastern-facing levels of the pediments in the main reliquary tower. Dancing figures, Queen Maya giving birth to Prince Siddhartha, and scenes from Buddha's life are among the best-preserved details.
Wat Si Sawai -- Southwest of the palace, you'll come to this 12th-century Hindu shrine later converted to a Buddhist temple. The architecture is distinctly Khmer, with three Lopburi-style prangs commanding center stage.
Other Monuments in the Park -- Circling north, just west of Wat Phra Mahathat, is Wat Traphang Tong, set on its own pond. Though little remains other than an attractive chedi, the vistas of the surrounding monuments are among the most superb in the park. North of Wat Phra Mahathat is Wat Chana Songkhram, where there's a Sri Lankan-style stupa of note. Nearby is Wat Sa Si, also on a small island.
Outside the old city walls, Wat Phra Phai Luang lies 150m (492 ft.) beyond the northern gate. Originally a Hindu shrine, it housed a lingam, a phallic sculpture representing Shiva. To the northwest, Wat Si Chum holds one of the more astonishing and beautiful monuments in Sukhothai: a majestic seated Buddha 15m (49-ft.) tall, in the Subduing Mara pose. The fingers of this Buddha, draped over the right knee and frequently smothered with gold leaf, provide one of the country's most iconic images.
A few kilometers west of the old city walls, the ruins of Wat Saphan Hin sit atop a hill that's visible for miles. It is worth the steep, 5-minute climb to visit the Phra Attaros Buddha, his right hand raised in the Dispelling Fear pose, and towering above the wat's laterite remains.
Lunch at the Historical Park -- There are a number of small store-front eateries in and among the bike-rental shops and souvenir stands at the gate of the park (just across from Ramkhamhaeng Museum).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.