Sukhothai – The Birthplace of Siam

The ancient ruins of Old Sukhothai – the first capital of Siam

The ancient ruined city of Old Sukhothai is believed to be the capital of the first kingdom of Siam (Thailand) and is the ideal place to start learning about Thai history and culture.

Sukhothai was founded by King Ramkhamhaeng in the first half of the 13th century, but the exact year isn’t known. King Ramkhamhaeng the Great is attributed with creating the Thai alphabet and laying the foundations of Thai politics, religion and monarchy.

Sukhothai translates as ‘The dawn of happiness’ and the dynasty ran for 120 years. The ruins of the ancient temples are a UNESCO world heritage site and best explored by bicycle. The ruins are relativity close to each other, interspersed by trees, moats and lakes and with some islands topped with ruins.

Wat Mahathat is one of the biggest and most spectacular ruins. A large Buddha sits serenely amongst the ruined pillars of an ancient sala. Scattered all around it are the remains of chedi and a large central chedi in the shape of a lotus bud where two huge standing buddhas watch down on it, seemingly guarding the temples from either side.

Wat Mahathat is now just a stunning, scattered collection of ruins

 Remains of temples and Buddhas are scattered everywhere and it’s fun to just cycle around exploring and seeing what you discover.

Many, many Buddhas

There are also Khmer style temples, a temple that used to be Hindu, highlighting the Indian influences of this region, and a temple with elephant heads all around the sides.

I saw only a handful of other tourists at the central monuments. In the northern part of the ruins I gazed up at a ruined Khmer style Praang, similar to the style at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and shared this with only a friendly little ginger cat and birdsong to break the silence.

The ruins show a variety of architectural and religious temple styles

Wat Sri Chum contains a huge imposing seated Buddha figure with long, elegant, tapered, golden fingers that peers through an opening in its mostly ruined mandala building.

Wat Sri Chum and the impressive golden fingers of the Buddha

Even though Sukhothai is an ancient, ruined capital people still respect the ruins and you see flowers, incense sticks and figures scattered around the ruins and shrines as offerings and parasol holding Thais kneeling and muttering prayers in front of the Buddha figures.

Offerings to a shrine with the ruins of Wat Mahathat is the background

Sukhothai is about 6 hours north of Bangkok and 6 hours south of Chiang Mai so a great place to break the journey to the north for a few days. Also, despite the importance of the ruins I found Sukhothai very quiet and a pleasant break from the tourist trail.

The new city of Sukhothai also gave me a glimpse into life in a provincial Thai city. I enjoyed seeing all the varieties of transport that can be fashioned from a motorcycle engine and riding a wooden bus to the ruins.

I wandered round the nightly food stalls filled with displays of green and pink eggs, insects, raw meat, weird looking fruit and vegetables and many other things that I hadn’t a clue what they were.

For me, this is what traveling is about – taking your time to soak in a place and discovering new things that surprise you. This was the first place I felt I could experience a little traditional Thai life-style whilst also marveling at the ancient ruins and learning about the history and culture.

Two Buddhas gaze out at the ruined temples

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1 comment

fretdemon May 15, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Looks great Anna. I remember reading about the statue with the golden hand in the lonely planet magazine you gave me.


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