Amazing cycling in Sukhothai

Sukhothai Historical Park

Cycling in the Sukhothai Historical Park has always been a popular activity for visitors to this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sukhothai was Thailand’s first capital  and flourished from the mid-13th century to the late 14th century. Thai people regard Sukhothai as the cradle of their civilization.

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Sukhothai, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

 UNESCO inscribed Sukhothai together with its outposts Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet on the list of World Heritage Sites in 1991.

I visited the historical park in 1987 for the first time. At that time we rented bicycles in a shop opposite the National Museum. It still is the ideal way to explore the temples if you have enough time. You can rent decent bicycles at shops opposite the National Museum but there are also bicycles for rent at the entrance of the central area.

Bicycle parking place
Bicycles for rent at the entrance of the core zone

Amazing cycling in Old Sukhothai

Most tourists stay only one night near the Historical Park and sometimes two nights. If you enjoy cycling I can recommend adding another night. I always bring my own mountain bike and I had a great time exploring the more remote areas of Old Sukhothai. Apart from one major road that runs through the park, there is very little traffic on the smaller roads around Old Sukhothai. Only the core zone with Wat Mahathat and Wat Sri Sawai attracts many visitors.

The further you go from this core zone, the more exciting it gets. I very much enjoyed visiting the ruins of the forest temples west of the park, of which Wat Saphan Hin with its standing Buddha image is the most well-known. There are some other fantastic ruins such as Wat Chedi Ngam and Wat Phra Bat Khao Noi, all on the same mountain range as Wat Saphan Hin. I started my ride before sunrise because it became too hot to ride after 1000.

Old temple ruin
The Wat Khao Phrabat Noi in 2022

A desolate, empty and fascinating landscape

The Sukhothai Historical Park and the area around is desolate and empty. It seems that time has stood still. There has been little development in this agricultural area. I don’t think you can’t find it more authentic in Thailand. Not many people are living in and around the historical park. There are great single-track trails but according to Jib Narong, the founder and owner of Sukhothai Bicycle Tours, these can become so muddy in the rainy season that they are impassable.

By coincidence I found a great historic trail on a dyke around an ancient water reservoir, that was constructed between 1299 and 1347, located east of Wat Phra Pai Luang. Along this trail, there are several little-known smaller ruins such as Wat Bot and Wat Khaphong Phi. During my ride, I didn’t meet anyone else. Also, this trail might be difficult to ride in the rainy season.

Bicycle in landscape
My bicycle at Wat Pak Tho Neua ruins

Sukhothai Bicycle Tours

In Sukhothai I had a nice meeting with Jib Narong, one of the two pioneers of cycling in Sukhothai. The other is his wife Miaow. For more than an hour we spoke about our shared passions, such as cycling, tourism and history. Jib comes from Phichit, north of Sukhothai, After he finished his studies in accounting and physical education he started working for a guesthouse in New Sukhothai. Here he learned to speak English practicing with tourists.

In 2004 he moved with his future wife Miao to Chiang Mai where they both worked for Click and Travel, a bicycle tour operator. I first met him in McKean Senior Center outside Chiang Mai during one of his tours in 2006. In 2012 they moved back to Sukhothai and started Sukhothai Bicycle Tours. Thanks to their dedication and hard work the company has gained a great reputation for its authentic and high quality cycling tours over the years. I have great respect for their passion and professionalism.

Two men at a table
Jib and Frans in Sukhothai, May 2022

A family business

Sukhothai Bicycle Tours is a family business. The company supports the livelihood of at least five families in his village. Family members and friends are involved in the company as mechanics, bike cleaners and drivers. Of course the company endured hard times during the pandemic but Jib and Miao kept on supporting their families and other related people. I kept track on social media and was always happy to see posts about tours of Jib and Miaow.

The guests of Sukhothai Bicycle Tours come via travel agents, Destination Management Companies, hotels and social media. Word of mouth is very important. As said, the company has a great reputation and I wish them very well.

People with truck with bicycles
Jib, his wife Miao and their staff getting ready for a ride. Courtesy of Sukhothai Bicycle Tours.

A passion for cycling

We shared our passion for cycling and agreed that riding your bicycle is like therapy: it is a spiritual experience that helps you overcome adversity and gives you positive energy and inspiration. Cycling is an addictive activity.

Jib told me that the guests of Sukhothai Bicycle Tours very much enjoy visiting the temple ruins of Sukhothai Historical Park but the real highlights always are spontaneous encounters with the local people along the way. There is no better way to experience the local way of life and meet local people than by riding a bicycle.

People cyling on a dirt road si Satchanalai
Off road cycling. Courtesy of Sukhothai Bicycle Tours.

Our tours in Sukhothai

We love Sukhothai and recommend every visitor to Thailand to stay at least two nights in a hotel near the Historical Park. I don’t want to be disrespectful but forget about New Sukhothai. It is a nice town but you should stay near the Sukhothai Historical Park as possible. In March, April, and May it can be very hot during the daytime so I recommend a very early start and taking a long break between 1100 and 1500.

We have two tours on this website which can be combined with other trips into a longer tour. The “Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai by Train” trip includes train rides and visits to both historical parks. “Sukhothai: a World Heritage in depth” focuses only on the historical park of Sukhothai. Of course we included the tours of Sukhothai Bicycle Tours! We can handcraft a customized Sukhothai tour for you on request. Please send us an email.

Elephants in the base of a chedi
The elephants at Wat Sorasak

References for this article

The best book available, as far as I am concerned, is “Ancient Sukhothai, Thailand’s Cultural Heritage” from Dawn F.Rooney, Bangkok, 2008.