Sukhothai was the capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom which existed from 1238 until 1438 in what is now Northern Thailand. Today the area contains over 200 temples and other structures from that time that have been excavated and partly reconstructed. The three Sukhothai historical parks have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Historical Park.
Sukhothai means “dawn of happiness”. At one time Thai historians considered the Sukhothai Kingdom to be the origin of Thailand because little was known about the time before. We now know that Thai history started before Sukhothai, but the founding of Sukhothai is still celebrated in Thailand.
Sukhothai is 12 km west of the modern city of Sukhothai Thani. It lies on the route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, and also from Udon Thani to Chiang Mai.
Si Satchanalai (“City of good people”) was founded in 1250 as the second center of the Sukhothai Kingdom, and as a residence of the crown prince. Si Satchanalai Historical Park is located in Sukhothai Province, about a one hour drive from Sukhothai Historical Park.
Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat (pictured above and below) is the biggest and the most important historic temple in Si Satchanalai Historical Park. It is located on a U-bend in the Yom River, and is flanked on both sides by that river, separate from the bulk of the ruins at Si Satchanalai Historical Park.
Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat was built as a Mahayana Buddhist temple in the late 12th century during the reign of Jayavarman VII when the area was part of his Khmer Empire. It shows similarities to the temple ruins at Angkor Wat, also constructed by the Khmer Empire, and located over 800km away in Cambodia.
Inside of the tower at Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat is something that looks a lot like a City Pillar. King Rama I probably erected the first city pillar on 21 April 1782, when he moved his capital from Thonburi to Bangkok. The practice quickly spread to other cities in Thailand. The prang (tower) of Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat was redesigned to its current form by Borommakot in the 18th century, so maybe the City Pillar was placed at that time.
In the view below of Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat from the tower you can also see the back of a newer temple.
Inside is an extensive collection of Buddhas, including a large one made of a dark green stone. During our visit men were scrubbing the gold-colored foil from that large Buddha. In many temples you can buy small squares of “gold” foil to rub onto the statues. In the picture below you can see several Buddhas that have been partially coated, and one that has been fairly thoroughly coated, in this way.
A stupa is used as a place of meditation. In Buddhism circumambulation or pradakhshina – walking around a sacred object or idol – has been an important ritual and devotional practice since the earliest times, and stupas always have a pradakhshina path around them.
Behind the stupa is a large standing Buddha.
It’s a short drive to the rest of Si Satchanalai Historical Park, most of which is shown on the map below. We had lunch at one of several restaurants there.
Wat Nang Paya means “temple of queen”. An unsubstantiated local legend says that the temple was built by the daughter of a Chinese emperor. The temple features a large stupa. Like most of the buildings here, it is constructed of laterite.
There are also the remains of a seven-roomed monastery.
Wat Nang Paya is famous for the remains of beautiful stucco-reliefs, protected by the tin roofed shelter shown above.
Many moss covered moats protected the various temples and the city itself.
Wat Chedi Chet Thaeo means the temple of seven rows of stupas.
It is considered unique among the temples in Sukhothai Kingdom, because it consists of 32 stupas of different sizes in different styles. This temple was apparently built for the royal family.
Wat Chang Lom is named for its 39 full sized elephants. Usually only the front half of the body is sculpted in Sukhothai temples. Here the full bodies are sculpted. Unfortunately they haven’t held up well to the elements.
On the second tier of the stupa base are 20 niches, some of which still contain the original 1.4 m high Buddha images.
The temple grounds contain the remains of a monastery and several other structures.
Large noisy birds infested the trees behind Wat Chang Lom. Most appeared to be Asian openbill stork, but egrets and herons also live in the park.
It was easier to see large groups of storks from Wat Khao Phanom Ploeng the top of the hill.
144 laterite steps lead up the hill to Wat Khao Phanom Ploeng.
There’s an old stone Buddha in the remains of a temple.
There are also several stupas and other ruins.
The hill is high enough to look down on the tops of nearby trees and into the nest of the storks.
Back at the bottom of the hill we looked back on the top of the stupa at nearby Wat Khao Suwankhiri protruding above the trees.
There are at least 4 more temples and the ruins of the royal palace inside of the defensive wall at Si Satchanalai Historical Park, and a large number of monuments and other ruins, and over a dozen more temples outside the wall.
We didn’t visit Sukhothai Historical Park or Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park, so we barely scratched the surface of the ruins of the Sukhothai Kingdom.
Please enjoy the full gallery of 46 pictures below.