Getting to Sukhothai from Pai was a little bit complicated. First, I had to take a morning minibus to Chiang Mai, which got me there just after noon. I then had a pit-stop at the station for about two hours (which I spent checking out a nearby Mexican restaurant, not as bad as I was expecting though their tortillas were shit), and then I boarded a bus to Sukhothai. I made it into Sukhothai in the late afternoon.
Sukhothai is an important city in Thailand’s history (though not often visited by tourists) as it was the capital of Thailand for 140 years starting in 1238 C.E. As you would imagine, given the age of the various temples and palaces, you’ll be mostly checking out ruins.
In terms of logistics, the ancient city is 12 km west of New Sukhothai, and the old part of town shuts down at night so you want to stay in the new city—and even the new city is very quiet at night. As such you need to factor in the transport costs into the old city when budgeting. I’d advise on just renting a scooter for the duration of your stay as the ruins in the old city are quite spread-out so the scooter will be useful during the day. If you want to visit the nearby ruins at Si Satchanalai, a scooter is essential as they are 50 km north of the city, so a bike isn’t going to cut it.
I stayed at an excellent hotel called the Foresto Guesthouse. It has a decent pool and for a paltry $42 CDN you get a huge detached room with floor to ceiling windows on three sides. Not the best for privacy but a cool room. As a bonus it’s incredibly central, the staff is helpful and knowledgeable (albeit quiet), and their kitchen is amazing. My room:
I had an unremarkable dinner (for Thai standards, given that I ate incredibly well everywhere in the country) and afterwards I explored the empty streets to do a bit of night photography. These shots will give you a sense of how quiet the town gets at night. Though I should note, the the streets are JUST busy enough that it doesn’t feel dangerous.
Night shots of Sukhothai:
I finished my night off with some drinks at a place called Fong Bear Bar which had an excellent beer list. The shot above with the red wooden frame is from the bar.
The following morning I rented a motorbike and set off to explore the ancient city in some ridiculous heat. This is another advantage of renting a motorbike, effortless speed is an excellent air conditioner. I’ll be frank, I was so hot that I did a bunch of needless loops of multiple sites just to enjoy the breeze a little bit longer.
I’m not a huge fan of really run-down ruins, but the physical space here was very nice. Most of the ruins are near water, if not on an island of sorts, and surrounded by ancient walls. It really is quite pretty:
One of the modern nearby temples:
Back to the older temples:
For someone unconcerned with the physical world, Buddha apparently had an excellent manicurist. Note the real gold leaf on the nails. Worshipers place tiny amounts of gold leaf on the statue in the same way that they did at the Golden Rock in Myanmar:
I had a bit of sunlight left after visiting the ancient city so I went 10 km north of the new city to check out Wat Tawet Klang. The temple is really eccentric and is rarely visited by tourists. There isn’t even a wikipedia entry for the place and it’s surrounded by nice countryside:
When I got back to my hotel I spent a couple hours in the pool (sticking to my rule of always using a pool when I have access to one) and then went out for some excellent pad Thai. After that I had a few drinks at an outdoor bar, Bar 64000 which makes killer cocktails at very reasonable prices:
At one point in my travels I ran into multiple people who told me that a popular transportation strategy for backpackers in Vietnam is to purchase a motorbike at the start of their travels, use it to get around the country, and then just sell it at the end. I considered this for a moment, but my day trip to Si Satchanalai put an end to that idea (and let’s just say that once I arrived in Saigon I quickly realised that Vietnamese drivers are the most reckless I’ve ever encountered in my life so it was a wise decision). As I mentioned before, Si Satchanalai is 50+ km from Sukhothai, and at my preferred speed, that means I was on the road for the better part of 1.5 hours each way on a mundane highway; I’ve never been more bored in my life. Long distance motorbike trips are not for me.
Si Satchanalai is even quieter than Sukhothai. It was founded in 1250 C.E. and was the home of the crown prince for the 13th and 14th centuries. The historical area is surrounded by a wall and has a few hills which makes it quite picturesque. However, I once again had the misfortune of going on a brutally hot day. They don’t let you bring in a motorbike but you can rent a bike or take an electric tour bus around. I’d highly recommend renting a bike. I didn’t realize how large the area is, and I was literally the only person I saw navigating the site in the brutal heat on foot. The electric bus is OK, but their pace of travel is so slow that I actually finished my tour of the site in about the same time as the bus did. Note, the ruins near the beginning are a bit disappointing but there is plenty of excellent stuff in the middle:
This shot should give you a sense of the size of the historical park:
The more impressive temples:
A temple on one of the hills, and the view from that hill so that you can get another sense of the size of the place:
As I noted earlier the motorbike ride there and back wasn’t particularly picturesque, but it did have some decent bits:
I’ll leave you with two shots of my final night in the city: