How to prepare for a visit to Sukhothai Historic park in Thailand
Normally I like to get out and see a town before exploring its main highlight. In Sukhothai’s case that highlight are the stunning ruins in the old part of the city which contains the historical park.
Sukhothai is Thailand’s answer to Angkor Wat in Cambodia
Due to the fact I opted to stay in the new part of Sukhothai I’d have to make the short journey to old Sukhothai. Something that seemed like a nice idea on paper.
The plan? Take a walk.
Getting from new Sukhothai to the ruins in old Sukhothai
The guest house I was staying at on Carodwithithong Rd was family run and very nice. I ate breakfast there as quite frankly it was cheaper than the meager offerings in this part of new Sukhothai. There’s plenty of local places to eat, but Thai breakfasts don’t do it for me.
The couple asked me what my plans were.
“I’m going to walk to the historic park.”
They looked at each other and turned to me, “Very far … better to take bus.”
“Really?” I said looking at a map in that ironic way that makes everything seems so close.
They were right. I waited for one of the old blue bus / songthaew’s across the road to come along. They are different to the usual songthaew’s in Thailand in that they are really mini trucks with a wooden covered section in the back filled with seats. It took 15 mins but finally one trundled along and I jumped on board.
Being paranoid about being ripped off I asked a local lady how much it would cost. She pulled 20 baht out of my hand and I handed it over to the driver. The other option was to hire a tuk tuk but at 600 baht this type of ride seemed better.
It took about 20 mins and we were dropped off right at the gates to the historic park. Easy.
How to get around Sukhothai historic park
Sukhothai historic park is over 70 square kilometers with temples and statues spread out into different sections throughout. A quick walking tour doesn’t cut it here. There are several options. Rent a motorbike (which are banned in the inner park). Rent a bicycle (can go everywhere). Or walk (again you can go everywhere, but it’s really too big an area to cover on foot.
Each option aside from walking comes with an additional entrance fee. Bicycles are charged at 10 baht to enter on top of the section price of 100 baht.
As this was my first day and I still wasn’t sure whether Sukhothai Historic Park was worth it or not I opted for a bicycle to try and see as much of the “main sights” as possible in one day.
Across the road from the entrance are about four different bicycle renting establishments. The cost depends on the type of bicycle but most were around 30-50 baht. They are fairly old though and not that comfortable.
I took a rather girly bike with little basket in the front which was great for placing my camera bag and water. I was also handed a lock and chain along with a warning that should I lose the key I’d have to pay 200 baht. Duly noted.
The bicycle shops close at around 5.30pm.
There’s also an electric tram for 40 baht but it’s limited to the central section. Still, it’s nice if you have small kids or older folk with you who don’t want to be out in the sun on a bike. The only downside is you have to wait for it to fill up.
Cycling around old Sukhothai’s historic park
Next up instead of going straight into the historic park I took a right. Why? Well, I was curious if there was a ticket counter further along too. Or, a gap in the fence. Hey? I’d be staying a while and they weren’t offering week long passes.
The first thing of due note with this cycle trip was that the bicycle was no speed machine. Five gears and that was it. And the seat kept slipping. I turned the corner and passed the next gate. It was locked. No guards but not really possible to hoist a bicycle over so I kept going. It was now as I toured the inner section of the historic park did I truly grasp its huge size.
Another corner and another gate. This time fully staffed. I veered off to the northern section to see the impressive Mat Mahathat complex which wanted another 100 baht. Feeling particularly reluctant to spend money today and knowing Mat Mahathat was better to see in the morning I just tried to have a peak.
Sadly, it’s far back from the entrance so I moved on in my first circle of the park. There was some method to my madness in all this. There was lots to explore here and it would take a while. There were literally temples in large plots of land everywhere. Better yet, Sukhothai seemed devoid of tourists compared to places like Chiang Mai or Pai.
Very few tourists in Sukhothai
Coming around the far west of the central historic sight I came across nobody. Just me, a bicycle and a flat road. It was all really easy. Back at the main gates and I finally bought a ticket with a bike add on.
Inside and there were only a few tourists visible. Mainly Thai and a few Europeans. There were certainly no crowds.
It was a positively refreshing scene compared to the rest of Thailand. I already envisaged coming in and reading a book by a statue or temple. Taking a coffee overlooking one of the many ponds. It all seemed very idyllic.
Indeed, the only thing I had to do was get over this daily ticket annoyance. I really didn’t want to have to pay everyday. I’d need to go see someone in charge a little later I decided.
Sadly the ticket administration in Sukhothai have not grasped the notion of 3 day or 1 week passes
I also needed a better set of maps. More water and some food. Before I knew it I was already up to a week of days planned out in Sukhothai.
First visit to Sukhothai historic park summary
I have little doubt visitors to Sukhothai historic park could see a lot in a full day. Nearly everything in two days. What I really think is a bad idea are the bus tours to Sukhothai. They only spend one to two hours in old Sukhothai. So they only get to see the central area and nothing of the surroundings aside from a quick trip to Mat Mahathat.
If you have a few days then it looks like a bicycle will get you to nearly everywhere including to a fitter side of life. The last option of a motorbike would really only work if you wanted to squeeze everything into a day.
Aside from the ruins I’ve not even touched on the old city yet which seems to go untouched by most visitors.
The only downside I’ve come across so far are the entrance fees. 100 baht each for each section. And there’s 5 sections. Plus an extra 10 baht for a bicycle (though that only seemed enforced in the central historic park). There is however a barely visible sign offering 350 baht for all sections.
There’s certainly enough in Sokhothai’s historic park for any temple enthusiast for several days. It’s certainly swung me to staying for a while. Swathes of forest, temples springing up everywhere, very few tourists and it’s all very easy to cover on a bicycle and by foot.
I thoroughly recommend anyone planning a visit to do some preparation before arriving to Sukhothai historical park. Get as many maps as possible and plan it out. eg which temple or site is best seen at dawn or at dusk.
I’ll document as much of my own experience as possible here and on my guide to Sukhothai Historical Park.
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