Sukhothai Historical Park
Table of Contents
Introduction to this page
It is my intention to make a page that offers new content about the Sukhothai Historical Park (Thai: อุทยานประวัติศาสตร์สุโขทัย). I will not only describe the sights and the monuments of the historical park but also try to find more information on the developments and timeline that resulted in the inscription of Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai, and Kamphaeng Phet on the UNESCO 1UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization list of World Heritage Sites in 1991. UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.
The Fine Arts Department of the Thai government is still excavating temple ruins at Sri Satchanalai and Sukhothai and developing them as tourist sights. Besides this, I will also pay attention to aspects of this World Heritage Site that are often overlooked such as the stray dog problem, the people who work hard to maintain and repair monuments and temple ruins, as well as issues that might endanger the world heritage status of Sukhothai Historical Park. Sukhothai has mesmerized me and I plan to go back there often. In my opinion, this “cradle of Thai civilization” is one of the must-see destinations in the kingdom.
Where is the Sukhothai Historical Park and how to get there?
Sukhothai is not on the Northern Railway line that runs from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. The nearest railway station is at Phitsanulok, which is 71,5 km from the Sukhothai Historical Park. There are regular buses from Phitsanulok to the bus station in New Sukhothai. From there you can hop on a bus that will take you to the Historical Park.
Sukhothai has an airport, that is owned by the airline Bangkok Airways. This airline operates one return flight a day from Bangkok, at the time of writing of this article. The airport is a bit more than 40 km northeast of the historical park. There are taxis available at the airport but it is easier and probably cheaper to let your accommodation arrange a transfer.
Air Asia and Thai Lion Air operate daily flights from Bangkok to Phitsanulok airport which is about 80 km from Sukhothai Historical Park. This is not a bad alternative to the Bangkok Airways flights. There are no flights from other destinations other than Bangkok at the moment. Finally, there are public buses to Sukhothai from many destinations in the province but also long-range day and overnight buses from Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Introduction to the history of Sukhothai
The Sukhothai Historical Park contains the ruins of Sukhothai (สุโขทัย), the capital of the kingdom of the same name. The name Sukhothai comes from Sanskrit, an ancient Asian language: “sukha” means “happiness” and the word “udaya” means “rise” so Sukhothai is supposed to mean “dawn of happiness”. The kingdom Sukhothai was an independent Thai state from the year 1238 until 1378, after which it became a tributary state of Ayuthaya until 1438. From 1438 until 1569 the royal family of Ayutthaya ruled the kingdom until the Burmese armies defeated the forces of Ayutthaya.
The decline of Sukhothai
Then it was for a short time (1569-1584) part of the Burmese Toungoo kingdom after which Ayutthaya conquered Sukhothai again. By then, it seems, Sukhothai was not a center of military and political importance anymore. Its great temples became overgrown with the jungle where tigers, leopards, and other wildlife roamed freely. The kingdom of Sukhothai is also known as Mueang Phra Ruang (เมืองพระร่วง), named after the Phra Ruang dynasty. Phra Ruang is a legendary historical figure who was the first ruler of a Thai kingdom and who freed the people from the yoke of the Khmer empire. Nine kings of the Phra Ruang dynasty ruled Sukhothai from 1188 until 1419.
The importance of Sukhothai
Sukhothai is considered the cradle of Thai culture, scholarship, art, and architecture. The reign of King Ramkhamhaeng, the third king of the Phra Ruang dynasty, was the golden age of the kingdom. Thai people credit him with the creation of the Thai alphabet. In 1833 King Mongkut (Rama IV) discovered the so-called Ramkhamhaeng inscription on a stone stele. This inscription is regarded as the earliest example of the Thai written language. The National Museum in Bangkok exhibits this famous stone stele. The inscription describes the political, economic, social, and religious life of Sukhothai during the reign of Ramkamhaeng.
Ramkhamhaeng also established Theravada Buddhism as the state religion. The temple architecture and design of Buddha images had a far-reaching influence in other Thai states such as the Lanna Kingdom. For instance, the Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai used to have a Sukhothai-style chedi. This is the Phum Khao Bin chedi (เจดีย์ทรงปราสาทยอดพุ่มข้าวบิณฑ์) or the Lotus-bud shaped chedi. The only example of such a chedi in Chiang Mai you can still find at Wat That Klang, south of the Chiang Mai Gate. I took the below picture of the lotus-bud-shaped chedi at Wat Traphang Ngoen in Sukhothai.
Sukhothai becomes an historical park
The Tourist Information Center offers a very clear timeline that preceded the inscription of Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai, and Kamphaeng Phet on the UNESCO list of World Heritages in 1991. The visit of the Siamese Crown Prince in early 1907 resulted in the first comprehensive report of these ruined cities. For more about this book please see below. The Department of Fine Arts of the Siamese Ministry of Culture started its exploration and registration of the archaeological ancient Sukhothai in 1935. In the 1950s and 60s, the department continued its work which culminated in the creation of the Sukhothai Historical Park.
In 1975, the Fine Arts Department, as a government agency responsible for the preservation of cultural heritage, decided to develop the Sukhothai ancient city into a historical park. The cabinet approved the project on 20 December 1976 and inscribed the area of 2.5 sq. km. as a project area. Besides, the Fine Arts Department registered an area of 70 sq. km. surrounding the project area as an archaeological site following the Act on Ancient Monuments, Antiques, Objects of Art, and National Museums B.E. 2504 (1961). Consequently, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn represented King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX, at the opening ceremony in 1988.
The Sukhothai Historical Park becomes a UNESCO World Heritage
In 1991 UNESCO inscribed Sukhothai on the list of World Heritage sites, together with Sri (or Si) Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet under the name “Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns”.
UNESCO specified that the historic park of Sukhothai represents a masterpiece of the first Siamese architectural style and that these three sites are representative of the first period of Siamese art and the creation of the first Thai state. As you can see on the map below the World Heritage area of Sukhothai is much larger than the historical park only. The 6th Regional Office of the Fine Arts Department of the Thai government is responsible for the management of the World Heritage property.
The assessment from UNESCO of the importance of Sukhothai
UNESCO describes the importance of Sukhothai as such: “This Historical Park contains archaeological evidence and ancient monuments dated around the 13th – 15th Centuries AD covering the period of approximately two hundred years. The grandeur of Sukhothai especially in architecture and arts provides evidence of the significance of Sukhothai as the first capital of Thailand and the city of origin of the Thai language. Sukhothai architecture was initially influenced by Khmer and Sri Lankan culture but later evolved into its own distinctive style as seen through the Lotus-Bud Chedi known as “Poom Khao Bin”. The casting of Buddha images in the Sukhothai period is also an example of the perfect merge between art and faith.
The technology showing the prosperity and civilization of Sukhothai is the irrigation system with the construction of reservoirs and glazed terra cotta water pipes to deliver water into the city. Dikes, moats, and ponds from the Sukhothai period can still be seen nowadays. Besides, the production of the famous “Celadon” wares, which were exported to many countries, shows the high craftsmanship of the Sukhothai people.” (from the “Thailand National Periodic Report, Section II)
The Sukhothai Historical Park: a World Heritage
The last report on the status of Sukhothai, according to the website of UNESCO, dates back to 2003. According to that report the Sukhothai Historical Park employed 140 people, 123 of which were temporary employees. During my last visits, I focused a bit more on the staff maintaining different sites. More research will have to be done here but at most sites I saw people working, mostly cutting grass and weeds. The permanent staff is the people who sell the tickets and work in the Ramkamhaeng Museum. The staff in the Tourist Information Center were students.
It seems every site has someone who is responsible for looking after the site. Even at rarely visited sites such as Wat Phong Men and Wat Thup Kao, I saw people cutting the grass. At the rather remote Wat Sangkhawat there was a team of five persons restoring some of the brickwork of the temple.
Stories and pictures of Sukhothai
Visiting Mueang Phra Ruang in 1907
The Thai Crown Prince, who became King Rama VI in 1911, visited Mueang Phra Ruang in early 1907. He wrote an extensive report of this trip, which is only available in the Thai language. He left Bangkok on January 4, 1907, and traveled by train to Nakhon Sawan. From there he continued by boat on the Ping River to Kamphaeng Phet. After having visited the ruins of Kamphaeng Phet he continued to Sukhothai. His next destination was Sawankalok as Sri Satchanalai was called in those days. After Sawankalok he boarded the train in Phitsanulok and traveled back to Chiang Mai on March 6.
The Crown Prince wrote about his experiences which just have been reprinted. I bought the book in Bangkok. Unfortunately, it is only in the Thai language. During the trip, at least one photographer accompanied the Crown Prince. I found a number of pictures on different websites. Several of these pictures appear on the website of the École française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO).
Robert Larimore Pendleton visits Sukhothai
American soil scientist and Professor of Geography at John Hopkins University Robert Larimore Pendleton (1890-1957) visited Sukhothai in 1936. He took some of the best old photographs of the ruined city. The American Geographical Society acquired the images of Pendleton and published them on the website of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, United States.
Pendleton served as agricultural adviser to the United Nations FAO Mission to Siam [Thailand] in 1947-1948. He also was the soil scientist at the US Mutual Security Agency’s Special Technical and Economic Mission to Thailand in 1952-1953. The images of Pendleton show ruins completely overgrown with vegetation. Some of these have disappeared before UNESCO inscribed Sukhothai on the list of World Heritage sites in 1991.
Sukhothai as a tourist destination
Joe Cummings included Sukhothai in the 1987 edition of “Thailand, a Travel Survival Kit”. He wrote “Old Sukhothai has quite an admirable spread of ruins 12 km outside of town, making an overnight stay in new Sukhothai worthwhile. The more remote ruins in the hills west of the old city walls (eg Wat Saphan Hin) used to be considered a dangerous area.” In those early days, there were no hotels close to the historical park. Visitors stayed in one of the few hotels in New Sukhothai. They took the local songtaew (a truck with parallel benches) from New Sukhothai to the historical park. Across from the historical park, bicycles were available for rent for 20THB per day.
When I led my first group tours for the tour company Baobab Travel in 1990 we stayed in the Sawadipong Hotel in New Sukhothai. From there we went to the Sukhothai historical park with our bus and rented bicycles to tour some of the ruins. Later on, the Pailyn Hotel opened on the road to the historical park. After 2000 more hotels opened close to the historical park such as the Legenda and others. Now you are spoilt for choice in the neighborhood east of Old Sukhothai. There is now an attractive market that is open from 5 AM until 7 PM and many restaurants and two 7-11s.
Touring the Sukhothai Historical Park
Introduction to visiting the Sukhothai Historical Park
New Sukhothai has not much to offer so I recommend staying at one of the nice, small hotels near the historical park. It can become very hot during the daytime in the dry season so an early start is the best. The ruins also make it that much hotter so an early start is ideal. I would start and end with temples and plan the museum visit in between.
A bicycle is the best means of transportation, as far as I am concerned. That of course depends on how much time you have and on your fitness. You only might want to do the inner zone with Wat Mahathat by bicycle and visit the other ruins by car. Most people don’t spend more than a full day touring Sukhothai historical park so you have to pick and choose the sights you want to visit. Most people will not have time to visit more than the zone within the old city walls, which contains Wat Mahathat, Wat Traphang Ngoen, Wat Sra Sri, Wat Sri Chum, and Wat Phra Phai Luang, the main temples north of the walled city.
Sukhothai Bicycle Tour organizes tours in and around the historical park. I highly recommend this company. The owners Jib and Miao are truly the pioneers of Sukhothai cycling. Read my blog about Sukhothai Bicycle Tour.
The Tourist Information Center and the Ramkhamhaeng Museum
The Tourist Information Center is the best place to start your trip. Don’t misunderstand: the Ramkamhaeng Museum is a fantastic museum but it is for people with a more profound interest in the history and artifacts of the Sukhothai Kingdom. If you have limited time I highly recommend the Tourist Information Center, which is opposite Wat Phra Pai Luang, north of the Historical Park. The Center is located in a complex of Thai-style houses, which also has a small tourist office that offers free leaflets and maps of the historical park.
In a couple of rooms, the center offers excellent information on the history of the Sukhothai Kingdom and on the timeline that resulted in the status of UNESCO World Heritage in 1991. There is great and concise information about the main sights with some impressive short videos with drone footage of the main temples. The Tourist Information Center is open every day from 9 AM until 4 PM. There is no entrance fee.
The Ramkhamhaeng Museum is an excellent museum that is located within the city walls opposite the Wat Mahathat. Most visitors to Sukhothai Historical Park don’t spend more than one full day visiting some of the main ruins. If you don’t have more time I suggest not visiting the museum.
The zones of the Historical Park
The zone east of the old city is not really a zone but a collection of some scattered ruins of which Wat Chang Lom is the most interesting. Personally, I find the zone west of the walled city the most interesting. Wat Saphan Hin is the best-known temple ruin that gets the most visitors. It is just one of a string of forest sanctuaries that have a slightly elevated location on a mountain range. This area is known as “Aranyik” (อรัญญิก), the wooded place where forest monks used to dwell. It is still forested but must have been remote before the construction of the road. I visited all of them and didn’t meet anyone else except for the caretakers of the historical park. Although I have seen a ticket booth next to the road there is no entrance fee as yet.
When you leave the western range and head back to the walled city you will pass a number of ruined temples like Wat Mangkon and Wat Phra Yuen before you arrive at an area where there are several ruined temple complexes close to each other, such as Wat Pa Mamuang and Wat Pasak.
The Sukhothai Historical Park: entrance fees
As I said earlier the park is divided in four zones: central, south, west and north. The entrance fee for each zone is 100THB per person for foreigners. Local people pay only 30THB per person. Double pricing is not unusual in Thailand and sometimes causes anger with foreign visitors. If you visit all four zones on the same day, you can buy a combined ticket for 350THB. I would not bother with that. It is only 50THB discount and I don’t recommend to visit the four zones on the same day.
There are extra charges for means of transportation. They will charge you 10THB for a bicycle, 20THB for a motorcycle and 30THB for a three-wheeled vehicle, whatever that might be. If you enter the zone by car, the extra charge is 50THBThe last time I visited I didn’t have to pay for the south and west zones.
Opening times of the Historical Park
The central zone is open from 06-30-19.30 hr from Monday until Friday and on Sunday. On Saturday this zone is open until 2100, because this is the only day they turn on the lights of some of the ruins. The “Aranyik Quarter” is open from 08.00 until 16.30. The ticket booth closes at 1630 after which you can enter the zone without paying.
The Si Chum and Phra Phai Luang Temples are open from 07.30 until 17.30. You can enter both these temples before and after opening and closing times.
The Map of Sukhothai
I found below map of Heinrich Damm on the Sukhothai Historical Park page of Wikipedia. Heinrich Damm (User:Hdamm, Hdamm at de.wikipedia.org), CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons. It is a very good map that present 35 sites of interest in and around the Historical Park. I have identified each of them and posted one or more photos with a short description. The number after the name of the sight corresponds with the number on the map.
Some important sites such as Wat Sorasak and Wat Khao Phra Bat Noi are missing but there are also lots of other sites that are of interest to me. I describe these sites in a separate section. This map is only a temporary one. I am working on making my own map.
Temples and Monuments on the Map
King Ramkhamhaeng Monument: 1
Ramkhamhaeng (รามคำแหง) was the third king of the Phra Ruang Dynasty, ruling the Sukhothai Kingdom from 1279 to 1298. The reign of Kamhaeng was the most prosperous period of the kingdom.
The statue is located within the old city walls, close to the Wat Mahathat. All Thai visitors pay their respects to the king. Thai people credit King Ramkamhaeng for the creation of the Thai alphabet. He also established Theravada Buddhism as the state religion of the kingdom.
Wat Mahathat – 2
The Wat Mahathat (วัดมหาธาตุ) is the most important and impressive temple in the Sukhothai Historical Park. The name of this temple translates as the ‘temple of the great relic’. It is believed people constructed the temple between 1292 and 1347. It is one of the must-see temples of the park.
The design of Wat Mahathat is based on a mandala. This design represents the universe, with a principal stupa that enshrines the relics of the Buddha. Smaller stupas surround the main stupa in eight directions. The main stupa has the shape of a lotus bud, typical of Sukhothai stupa design. Two tall standing Buddha images called Phra Attharot (พระอัฏฐารส) are on the sides of the stupa. An assembly hall (viharn), a mandapa, an ordination hall and many smaller stupas are part of the Wat Mahathat. Robert Larimore Pendleton took pictures of Wat Mahathat in 1936. Entrance fee for foreigners is 150THB. You are not allowed to take pictures of shoot video in the museum.
Ramkhamhaeng National Museum – 3
King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit opened the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum (Thai: พิพิธภัณฑสถานแห่งชาติรามคำแหง) in 1964. Most of the objects on display in the main museum building, come from Sukhothai, others were found in Si Satchanalai, Kamphaeng Phet, Phichit and Phetchabun.
The collection includes Buddha images and Hindu god sculptures from Wat Phra Phai Luang and Wat Mahathat, sculptures from the pre-Sukhothai period (about 13th century), Sukhothai artifacts from the 14th and 15th centuries, early Ayutthaya artifacts from about 1351 to 1488, porcelain from the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, which was found during the excavations in Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai.
The museum is open from 0900 until 1600 and offers the best introduction to an in-depth visit of the historical park. If you don’t have much time I recommend to focus on the temple ruins.
Wat Traphang Ngoen – 4
The name of Wat Traphang Ngoen (วัดตระพังเงิน) translates as “silver lake monastery”. This temple was probably built in the 14th century, around the same time with Wat Mahathat. The main structures of the temple are a central stupa, the ruins of a viharn, a large Buddha image on a pedestal in the west and an ordination hall on an island in the middle of an artificial lake which gives the temple its name: “Traphang Ngoen” (Silver Lake). The stupa is a typical Sukhothai-style lotus bud design. This is known as a Phum Khao Bin chedi or stupa (เจดีย์ทรงปราสาทยอดพุ่มข้าวบิณฑ์).
Wat Sri Sawai – 5
The Wat Sri Sawai (วัดศรีสวาย) is one of the oldest temples in Sukhothai, dating back to the late-12th or early-13th century as a shrine for the Hindu god Vishnu. Wat Sri Sawai has three “prangs”, representing the Hindu trinity: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer.
A prang is a tall temple tower with intricate carving. They are typical of Hindu and Buddhist architecture in the Khmer kingdom. Wat Sri Sawai has an inner and outer wall. The lower part of these three prangs show Khmer influence, while the upper parts show Thai influence. During they visit of Prince Vajiravudh in 1907 they unearthed a Shiva statue at Wat Sri Sawai.
Wat Traphang Thong – 6
The Wat Traphang Thong (วัดตระพังทอง). The name translates as “golden lake temple”. This temple is located on an island in a small lake and can be reached via a nice pedestrian bridge from the main road.
There is a typical main stupa in Sukhothai style and eight smaller stupas around the main one. In 1917 the governor of Sukhothai established an ordination hall.Next to the stupa is a mandapa which contains a footprint of the Buddha. King Lithai, the 6th monarch of the Phra Ruang dynasty, is credited with the creation of this footprint, which allegedly dates back to 1359. Wat Traphang Thong is the only active temple in the historical park.
Wat Sra Sri – 7
The Wat Sra Sri (วัดสระศรี) is a small temple close to Ramkhamhaeng Monument. I have not yet found the translation of Sra Sri. This temple is located in the middle of the Traphang Trakuan, the Trakuan reservoir. The Wat Sra Sri has a stupa, assembly hall and ordination hall, which is located on a separate island.
The design of the stupa is inspired by a design that originated in Sri Lanka. Apart from the main buildings there are many smaller stupas if which only the foundation remains.
Wat Chana Songkhram – 8
The Wat Chana Songkhram (วัดชนะสงคราม) is a temple in the same area with Wat Sa Si and Wat Tra Kuan. What remains is a large bell shape stupa. Around this stupa there are ruins of smaller stupas and other structures, such as an ordination hall. “Chana” means “to win” and “Songkhram means “war” in the Thai language. Wat Chana Songkhram therefor means to temple of victorious war or something similar.
Wat Trakuan – 9
The Wat Tra Kuan (วัดตระกวน) is a small temple close to Ramkhamhaeng Monument. The crown prince gave the temple its name in 1907. Trakuan is a Khmer word for the herb morning glory, a flowering plant common in Thailand. An inscription of the early 15th century on Wat Sorasak mentions Wat Trakuan, which gives an indication of its construction. The stupa is bell-shaped and there are remains of an assembly hall and other structures..
East of stupa are the ruins of an ordination hall with a small terrace, six columns and a staircase on the eastern side. It is said that Archaeologists found a bronze Buddha image on the premises in the 1960s. This unique Buddha image is exhibited in the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum.
San Ta Pha Daeng (Ta Pha Daeng Shrine) – 10
The San Ta Pha Daeng Shrine (ศาลตาผาแดง)is the oldest surviving religious monument in Sukhothai. It was constructed in the 13th century during Khmer rule. This temple or shrine was probably much larger in the past and contained a tower as well. It looks very robust and quite different from any other building in the historical park. In 1959 the Fine Arts Department excavated five statues in Angkor style, that are now exhibited in the Ramkamhaeng museum.
The San Ta Pha Daeng Shrine is located right next to the main road leading through the historical park and is easily overlooked by visitors. It is worth paying a visit to this temple ruin because it is so unusual in style and the oldest remaining structure in the park.
Wat Phra Phai Luang – 11
The Wat Phra Phai Luang (วัดพระพายหลวง) is another temple ruin with clear Khmer influences. It is alleged to date back to the late 12th century before the foundation of the Sukhothai kingdom. It is one of the highlights of the historical park. Only one of its three prangs remains in good condition. The Wat Phra Phai Luang is enclosed by a double moat. Around the original Khmer buildings are ruins of a viharn, mondop and an ordination hall. The Thai people added these structures to the original Khmer temple.
The Turiang Kilns – 12
The Turiang Kilns (เตาทุเรียง) are remains of earthenware or pottery factories, which might date back to the late 13th century. A kiln in this case is a brick heated enclosure used for processing pottery by burning, firing, or drying. Almost 50 of these sites, varying in size, have been discovered around the walled city.
Wat Sangkhawat – 13
Wat Sangkhawat (วัดสังฆาวาส) is a little known temple, north of the Turiang Kilns. A dirt road leads to this temple. Along the way you pass a the ruins of an ordination hall. Around the Wat Sangkhawat are a moat and the remains of a wall. There are ruins of the base of a stupa and of a viharn with the body of a Buddha image. This is one of the more remote and lesser visited sites of the historical park.
Wat Si Chum – 14
The Wat Si Chum (วัดศรีชุม) is one of the most popular temple ruins in the historical park. The most eye-catching building is a big mondop or mandapa with a huge sitting Buddha image, called Phra Achana (พระอจนะ). On the south wall, there is a staircase passage leading to the rooftop. Archaeologists discovered more than 50 flat pieces of rock on which images of the Jataka, stories of the previous lives of the Buddha, are engraved. Experts consider these the oldest surviving examples of the Thai art of engraving images on a rock surface. These slates are exhibited in the Ramkamhaeng Museum.
Around the mondop there are ruins of a viharn and other structures. A moat surrounds the complex of Wat Si Chum. There is a legend that says that the kings of Sukhothai went through the hidden passageway and address the people through a hole in the wall. In doing so he wanted to make people believe that they were listening to the voice of the Buddha, trying to boost the morale of soldiers and citizens
Wat Chang Lom – 15
The Wat Chang Lom (วัดช้างล้อม) is located outside the city walls, just behind the main road leading to New Sukhothai. The base of the bell-shaped stupa is adorned with 32 protruding elephants similar to Wat Chang Lom in Sri Satchanalai and Wat Chang Rob in Kamphaeng Phet. Around the chedi are the ruins of a gallery, a viharn, an ubosot and several small stupas. East of the elephant stupa are the remains of a viharn with a Buddha image.
Wat Thraphang Thong Lang – 16
The Wat Thrapang Thong Lang (วัดตระพังทองหลาง) is located east of the historical park, just off the main road to New Sukhothai. The temple consists of a large mondop with round laterite pillars, that remain of the viharn. Close by there are the ruins of the ordination hall.
Wat Chedi Sung – 17
Also Wat Chedi Sung (วัดเจดีย์สูง) is located on the east of the historical park, just off the main road to New Sukhothai. Wat Chedi Sung translates as “the temple of the tall chedi”. This is an unusual chedi because of the high square base with a small bell-shaped chedi on top. Next to the main chedi is a much smaller chedi with a square base.
Wat Kon Laeng – 18
The Wat Kon Laeng (วัดก้อนแลง) is a minor ruin, not far from the southern Namo gate. When I visited the temple grounds were lightly flooded. The temple ruins consists of the base of a viharn with a ruined laterite chedi. At the back of the chedi there are the remains of several smaller stupas.
Wat Ton Chan – 19
The Wat Ton Chan (วัดต้นจันทร์) is an interesting temple ruin, south of the walled city. Ton Chan (ต้นจันทร์) is name of a sandalwood tree so Wat Ton Chan is the temple of the sandalwood tree. A ten meter wide moat withour water surrounds the temple complex. The ruined viharn is of greatest interest to the visitor as it includes the torso and legs of an enormous seated Buddha, framed by the remnants of the viharn’s internal columns.
I like this temple ruin as it is a bit difficult to find. It is not on the main road and there is no sign at the turnoff. The temple appears on Google maps though, which makes it easy to find.
Wat Chetuphon – 20
Further south of the Namo gate is the Wat Chetuphon (วัดเชตุพล), the most significant temple south of the walled city. The most interesting building is a mondop that once contained four big Buddha images in different postures: walking, sitting, standing and reclining. There is a moat and brick wall around the temple so you have to cross a bridge to enter the temple. According to the Wat Sorasak inscription there were monks residing in this area so they probably constructed Wat Chetuphon in the early 15th century.
The mandapa or mondop used to have four Buddha images in different positions on all sides: walking, sitting, standing and a reclining. Interesting is the use of slate in the galleries around the mandapa. There is an assembly hall, of which only the foundations and the ruins of columns remain. South of the moat is an ordination hall on a slightly elevated mound,which has two sets of sema stones.
Wat Chedi Si Hong – 21
The Wat Chedi Si Hong (วัดเจดีย์สี่ห้อง) is opposite Wat Chetuphon. What makes this temple ruin special? The base of the chedi has remains of unique stucco images such as elephants, devatas holding flower vases and lions. Although they are badly damaged, enough remains to make it interesting. I have not found these kind of images anywhere else in the historical park. The laterite chedi has an elegant shape.
This temple dates back to the early 14th century. The legs of a huge seated Buddha statue can be seen at the western brick wall. A small ordination hall with remains of the boundary stones (Bai Sema) is located in the north of the temple. The base of several smaller stupas are scattered around the grounds.
Wat Sri Phichit Kirati Kanlayaram – 22
The Wat Sri Phichit Kirati Kanlayaram (วัดศรีพิจิตรกิรติกัลยาราม). This long name translates as “Temple of the glorious, honorable, and beautiful building”. This temple is one of the few of which the exact year of constructions is known: 1403. The tall chedi is impressive and in very good state. Around the chedi there are remains of other structures. Like most of the temples in this area it gets few visitors. It is a couple of hundred meters from the main road but you can see the spire from afar.
Wat Wihan Thong – 23
The Wat Wihan Thong (วัดวิหารทอง)is the temple of the “golden assembly hall”. It has the base of an assembly hall with laterite columns and the ruins of a chedi, covered with a slab of cement. It is not one of the highlights of this area.
Wat Asokaram – 24
According the a stone inscription the widow of King Lue Thai founded this temple in the year 1399. The stele with this inscription, which archaeologists excavated in 1958, is on display at the Ramkamhaeng Museum. It is unclear where the names comes from. The complex of Wat Asokaram (วัดอโศการาม) features the ruins of an assembly hall with laterite pillas and the base of a chedi. Next to the chedi is a piece made of bricks. This is the top of the chedi that fell down, probably after an earthquake.
Wat Mum Langka – 25
The Wat Mum Langka (วัดมุมลังกา) is a substantial temple ruin consiting of a chedi, an assembly hall and an ordination hall surrounded by a moat. I have not been able to find out what the meaning is of “Mum Langka”.
Wat Saphan Hin – 26People consider Wat Saphan Hin (วัดสะพานหิน) one of the must-see monuments of the Sukhothai Historical Park. It is located west of the park on a small hill. “Saphan” means bridge and “Hin” means stone or rock. The name “temple of the stone bridge” seems to refer to the slate pathway leading up to the temple ruin. Walking up this pathway you will halfway up pass a small lotus bud stupa. Having reached the standing Buddha statue on top of the hill you will a nice view over the forest, stretching towards the historical park. Next to the standing Buddha image there is a small sitting Buddha image. The story goes that King Ramkhamhaeng invited a learned monk from Nakhon Si Thammarat in south Thailand to become the highest ranked monk of Sukhothai: the sangharaja. He then constructed Wat Saphan Hin as the residence of this monk.
Wat Aranyik – 27
The Wat Aranyik (วัดอรัญญิก) was one of the first temples built by Tai in Sukhothai. This temple dates back to the early 13th century, according to archaeologists. The ruins of this temple are spread over a large area but no significant ruins remains. There are remains of small buildings that once could have been the living space of monks.
Aranyik (อรัญญิก) is a seldom used word for forest. I only encountered this word to specify a forested area around ancient cities such as Kamphaeng Phet, Sri Satchanalai and Chiang Saen, where forest monks were living in remote temples.
Wat Chang Rop – 28
The Wat Chang Rop or Rob (วัดช้างรอบ) is a forest temple two kilometers west of Sukhothai. There were two different groups of monks: the “city monks” and the “forest monks”. The city monks or Kamawasi (Thai: คามวาสี) preferred to live in monasteries within the city and focus on the study of tripitaka, therefore this group called “city monks”
The forest monks or Aranyawasi (อรัญญวาสี) preferred to practice meditation and often lived in monasteries in the forest aka “Aranyik”. Wat Chang Rop was one of those temples. In fact all the temples west of the walled city are forest temples. The main structure of this temple is a bell-shaped stupa standing on a large square base, with niches with 24 protruding elephants on the four sides of the stupa. This stupa might have been the first “Lanka”-style stupa in Sukhothai. In front of the stupa are the remains of a small vihara with laterite pillars.
Wat Chedi Ngam – 29
The Wat Chedi Ngam (วัดเจดีย์งาม) is a temple about 2.5 kilometers west of the western city wall. A stone path leads up to the temple. The Sri Lanka style bell-shaped stupa is visible from afar. Similar to Wat Chang Rob, the stupa stands on a large, square base of 24 meters on each side. On each side there is a niche which once contained a statue of Buddha. There is a vihara in the east with a slate tiles floor but few remains are still visible. In the north there are some structures of brick and stone that might once were monk residence. In the vicinity there is a fountain.b
Wat Tham Hip – 30
There are ruins of two different temples that are on hills that next to each other : Wat Tham Hip Bon (วัดถํ้าหีบบน) and Wat Tham Hip Lang (วัดถํ้าหีบล่าง). Tham Hip Bon has a nice bell-shaped stupa with the ruins of an assembly hall with laterite pillars. Wat Tham Hip Lang only has a base of slate with the remains of an assembly hall. Wat Tham Hip Bon means “the temple of the upper chest cave”. Wat Tham Hip Lang means “the temple of the lower chest cave”. I have not been able yet to find out what the meaning of these names is.
Wat Mangkorn – 31
The Wat Mangkorn (วัดมังกร) has an elegant bell-shaped chedi with the top missing and a smaller chedi that is in good condition. Mangkorn means “dragon” so Wat Mangkorn is the Temple of the Dragon.
Wat Phra Yuen – 32
This temple is a little bit off the main road. Wat Phra Yuen (วัดพระยืน) is the “temple of the standing Buddha”. There is an assembly hall with columns and a building that looks like a mondop or mandapa. Inside is a headless standing Buddha image.
Wat Pa Mamuang – 33
The Wat Pa Mamuang (วัดป่ามะม่วง) was a temple of prestigious forest monks in which the Sangharaja resided. “Pa Mamuang” means “the forest of mango trees”. King Ramkhamhaeng planted a mango grove at this spot. People found at this temple a stone with an inscription that mentions King Lithai (1347-1368/74), who allegedly built this temple in 1361. The National Museum in Bangkok exhibits the stone with the Pa Mamuang inscription, which is in Thai, Khmer and Pali language. The governor of Sukhothai discovered this stone or stele in 1904.
Wat Tuek – 34
The Wat Tuek or Tuk (วัดตึก) is west of the O Gate (ประตูอ้อ). In 1970 the Fine Arts Department restored this temple, “the masonry temple”. Wat Tuek has a small mondop or mandapa that contains a seated brick Buddha image, probably once covered with stucco. On the East of this mondop are the remains of an assembly hall with some laterite pillars and a laterite Buddha image in poor state. Several smaller remains of smaller chedis surround the assembly hall.
Phra Ruang Dam – 35
The Saritphong Dam or Thamnop Phra Ruang (เขื่อนสรีดภงค์ หรือ ทำนบพระร่วง) is an ancient dam, now restored by the Irrigation Department, comprises earthenworks that stretched between Khao Phra Bat Yai Mountain and Khao Kio Ai Ma Mountain. There was a spillway and pipes to carry water across canals towards the city gates to be further reserved at the Traphang Ngoen and Traphang Thong lakes. Water from these reservoirs was used in the old city and the palace of Sukhothai.
Temples and Monuments that are not on the map
Wat Sorasak (วัดสรศักดิ์) was founded in the time of the Kingdom of Sukhothai during the reign of Sailuethai. In 1955 a stone inscription was discovered by the Fine Arts Department and called “Wat Sorasak stone inscription” also Inscription no. 49. It is now in the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum. Because of this stone inscription, the foundation year of Wat Sorasak can be dated to 1412.
Nai Inthara Sorasak, the temple founder and the author of the stone inscription was probably an officer from Ayutthaya Kingdom, sent by Intha Racha to secure the interests of Ayutthaya over Sukhothai. According to the stone inscription, there was a great stupa, vihara, a building for Buddha image in the temple complex. The Lanka style stupa was surrounded by elephants and decorated with a seated Buddha image on a square base. This stupa is reminiscent of Ramkhamhaeng’s Wat Chang Lom in Si Satchanalai Historical Park. The Fine Arts Department found the remains of elephants statues and fragments of the Buddha image.
Wat Khao Phrabat Noi
Wat Khao Phrabat Noi (Thai: วัดเขาพระบาทน้อย) is strange enough missing on the map. It is a very interesting temple because there are several old pictures of it. The oldest picture shows a couple of people from the entourage of the crown prince during his visit in early 1907. I found another undated photograph that shows a Buddha statue and the remains of an assembly hall. The 1907 photo shows the back of the chedi.
What makes this temple also interesting is the unusual design of the chedi. Behind this chedi and the assembly hall was another huge, round chedi of which only the base remains. It must have been a very large structure, one of the largest in Sukhothai.
Wat Traphang Chang Phueak
The Fine Arts Department has cleared the site of the Wat Traphang Chang Phueak (Thai: วัดตระพังช้างเผือก) in 2019. They have made some restorations to the ruins. It was not easy to find this ruined temple. I had to ask local people who explained to me how to get there. You have to pass Wat Saphan Hin until you reach Wat Chang Rob. Just past this temple ruin there is dirt track on the left. If you follow this track you will end up at Wat Traphang Chang Phueak, the “temple of the white elephant pond”. This temple will not get many visitors because of its remote location and because there are many more interesting temple ruins in this historical park. What is remarkable that they have developed this site only recently while the Siamese crown prince mentions this temple ruin in his book about his visit in 1907.
The Restoration of Wat Traphang Chang Phueak
The below pictures I found on the Facebook page of the 6th office of Fine Arts Department in the Sukhothai Historical Park. I guess they took them before and during the clearing of the ruins of Wat Traphang Chang Phueak. The video of Wat Thai Thai Tour shows how the temple complex looked just after the restoration. The site looks much more overgrown now. This is definitely not a place where the people with the grass cutting machinery come. The information board of the Fine Arts Department looks brand new.
Some personal thoughts on the Sukhothai Historical Park
The dogs of Sukhothai Historical Park
Thailand has a huge stray dog problem and it is at times heartbreaking. Also in and around the Sukhotai Historical Park, there are groups of dogs near monuments and just on the side of the road. They don’t bother you and are usually shy or afraid of people. It was very moving to meet Jatuporn, a civil servant, who feeds a group of 8 or 9 dogs every day. I bumped into him coincidentally and asked to take his picture. It was a special moment that was overshadowed by observing stray dogs in many places.
I am a very early riser and sometimes find it difficult to find a place that serves coffee so often I end up at the local 7-11 convenience store. Many of these stores have a kind of house dog that sleeps in front of the door to enjoy the cool air from the air conditioning when the door opens. I guess the staff and guests sometimes feed them. Here I met this friendly male dog that I named “Thong”, Thai for “gold”. I shared my patongko (fried bread stick) with him.
My passion for Sukhothai
I have visited Sukhothai Historical Park more than 30 times since 1987. Most of these visits were very short. My first visit was in 1987 as a backpacker. In the 1990s I worked as a tour leader for the Dutch company Baobab Travel. The park was included in the Thailand tour. We spent two nights in New Sukhothai and visited the park during the day. During the pandemic in 2020, I visited Sukhothai twice and started to do some research. I will add information and pictures to this page on a regular basis.
My two most recent visits took place in early and late May 2020.
References for this article
The Virtual Historical Park website of the Fine Arts Department is very informative
The Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns page of UNESCO
Dawn Rooney, Ancient Sukhothai: Thailand’s Cultural Heritage, Bangkok 2008
พระบาทสมเด็จพระมงกุฎเกล้าเจ้าอยู่หัว เที่ยวเมืองพระร่วงม, Nonthaburi, 2021. This is the story Crown Prince Phra Mongkutklao wrote after his visit to Muang Phra Ruang in 1907. The Crown Prince became King Vajiravudh, Rama VI, in 1910.