Many people enjoy the secluded ruins at Si Satchanalai even more than those at Sukhothai, so try to make this day trip if you have the time. There is an information center at the park, and bicycles (30B) for rent. It's open daily from 8am to 6pm. Admission is 100B or 220B including entrance to Chaliang (for Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat) and the ancient pottery kilns of Sawankhalok.
A Look at the Past -- Si Satchanalai's riverside site was crucial to the development of its famous ceramics industry. More than 1,000 kilns operated along the river, producing highly prized pots that carried a greenish-gray glaze known as celadon. These were eventually exported throughout Asia. Academics believe that ceramic manufacture began more than 1,000 years ago at Ban Ko Noi (there's a small site museum 6km/3 3/4 miles north of Satchanalai), and ceramic shards today are sold as souvenirs.
Getting to the Site -- Si Satchanalai is north of New Sukhothai on Route 101. Buses from Sukhothai depart every half-hour from the bus stop on Jarot Withithong Road for 49B. Just ask the driver to let you off at "muang kao" (old city). There are two stops; the second is closer to the park entrance, across the river. The last bus returns at 4:30pm. A taxi, private car, or guided tour can also be arranged through your hotel or guesthouse.
An adventurous alternative, if you are starting in Bangkok, is to go by train. A daily "Sprinter" express (train 3) runs daily at 10:50am (fare 482B) from Bangkok to Sawankhalok, 20km (12 miles) south of Si Satchanalai park, stopping at Phitsanulok on the way, and arriving at 6pm. The line to Sawankhalok is a spur that King Rama VI had built so that he could visit the ruins at Si Satchanalai, and the well-preserved station seems trapped in a time bubble. The train returns to Bangkok at 7:40pm. It is second class, with air-conditioning but no sleepers, and fare includes dinner and breakfast. For information, call Bangkok's Hua Lamphong Railway Station (tel. 1690) or the Phitsanulok Railway Station (tel. 05525-8005). From the station, you would need to charter a songtaew for the remaining 20km (12 miles).
Seeing the Highlights
Wat Chang Lom -- The discovery of presumed relics of Lord Buddha at this site during the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng prompted the construction of the temple, an event described in stone inscriptions found at Sukhothai. Thirty-nine elephant buttresses surround a central stupa -- it's unusual to find so many elephant forms intact. If you climb the steps to the stupa's terrace, you can admire the 19 Buddhas installed in niches there.
Wat Chedi Jet Thaew -- Opposite Wat Chang Lom to the south, within sandstone walls, this wat is distinguished by a series of lotus-bud towers and rows of chedis resembling those at Sukhothai's Wat Phra Mahathat and thought to contain the remains of the royal family.
Other Monuments in the Park -- You can see most of the monuments within the ancient city walls in an hour's drive. Nothing compares to Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat, located 1km (2/3 mile) southeast of the big bridge and directly adjacent to the footbridge connecting to the main road. The exterior carving and sculpture are superb, particularly the walking Buddha done in relief.
Wat Khao Phnom Phloeng --You'll feel like Indian Jones (and, probably, a bit winded) after climbing the 114 steps made of laterite to reach this former monastery atop a hill. The bell-shaped principal stupa has a lotus flower base, though erosion makes it hard to see. Look for offerings of joss sticks (a type of incense) and water inside the stupa and peek through the overgrown bushes for a great hilltop view. You’ll likely have this ancient space all to yourself.
Sawankhalok Kilns --During the 14th and 15th centuries, there were hundreds of kilns operating in this area, producing some of the best ceramics in all of Asia from local clay. You can take a look at some of these excavated kilns at the Sawankhalok Kiln Preservation Centre (daily 9am–4:30pm; admission 100B or included in 220B ticket for the historical park), which is located a few kilometers along the Yom River from the historical park.