Sukhothai – An Exploration of Thailand’s First Capital

Originating during the 13th century, Sukhothai was the first capital of the Kingdom of Siam. Much has certainly changed over 800 years. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site this once magnificent city left a large collection of ruins that are absolutely worth exploring today, as well as recipes passed down through the ages for unique noodle soups and pad Thai dishes that are both delightful and delicious!

Anna and I decided to travel there via train and return back to Bangkok via air flight. The train ride there was a very comfortable 5 hour journey to Phitsanoluk on a Special Express train (they have the western style restrooms!) for 509 baht net ($15.28). From the Phitsanoluk train station we caught a tuk-tuk (it looked like the green offspring of a motorcycle and little Smart car) to the bus station for 60 baht ($1.80). We took a local bus from the Phitsanoluk station to the Sukhothai City station, an hour long ride for 39 baht ($1.17). From the Sukhothai City bus station we arranged for a songthaew truck (a truck where the flatbed has been converted to accommodate two side benches for passengers) for the 30 minute ride (dropping off passengers along the way) at 100 baht ($3) per person to take us directly to our guesthouse in Old Sukhothai.

I had debated much about whether to stay in Sukhothai City or Old Sukhothai. From what I saw of Sukhothai City I was thankful we’d arranged to stay in Old Sukhothai. Old Sukhothai is much sleepier, and everything is within walking distance including the historical park.

I found an excellent guesthouse called Pottery Street House through Booking.com. The guesthouse is very well kept, clean, and with spacious rooms. The location is perfect for walking to the Sukhothai Historical Park, and to all of the restaurants nearby. Additionally, we found that the pottery shop that they had on the premises had the best prices on pieces than the other places we looked at. We just had to do a little dusting to find the pieces we wanted. The family that runs the guesthouse was very welcoming, and being able to rent bikes from them for 30 baht (less than $1) a day really helped us to get around!

By the time we checked in it was early evening and we were both pretty hungry. We walked up to the main street and found several restaurants which were clearly geared towards tourists. We picked one that had a varied selection of dishes. I was surprised to see “Crocodile Larb” on the menu! Larb is a spicy minced meat dish from Northern Thailand which is usually made with beef, chicken, or pork. It was pretty tasty. All of the dishes we ordered were pretty tasty, actually, with one exception which is a funny story.

On the restaurant’s menu noodle page they had an extensive list of different noodle types but one really caught my eye: “Mamma” noodles. I was thinking it was a homemade noodle, mother’s family recipe kind of thing. When it arrived I was disappointed because it was basically instant ramen noodles. I just didn’t get how all their other dishes were so good and then they use a nasty shortcut like instant ramen noodles in preparation for a dish. Later I found that “Mamma” is a super popular brand of instant ramen noodles here in Thailand! I basically got what I ordered!

After dinner we took a stroll through the only active temple that is located within the ancient Old City walls. Wat Traphang Thong, also known as the “Temple of the Golden Pond”, is surrounded by a large pond filled with hungry carp and catfish (a quick purchase of bread from the nearby 7-11 will have them surface–I swear they can smell the receipt!). It was the first day of Khao Phansa (Buddhist Lent), so the temple was very active with monks praying and worshippers making merit. The original bell shaped chedi was lit making it an extraordinary sight. After our little tour of the temple area we called it an early night and returned back to the guesthouse. After all we had an early morning pick-up scheduled to begin a full day of bicycle touring!

Anna and I never would have thought to book a bicycle tour. While we were on the train ride in the beginning of our adventure, a friend of ours messaged us on Facebook suggesting to us and connecting us to her friend, Khun Siri, who operated her own bicycle touring company called My Way Sukhothai Bicycle Tour. Khun Siri was kind enough to take us on a private tour.  It began with a tuk-tuk pick up service from our guesthouse to Sukhothai City. There we mounted up on mountain bikes and took the scenic countryside tour back to Old Sukhothai. Along the way we stopped to visit with a family of bamboo basket weavers, and a teakwood furniture factory (they will deliver!). It was a gorgeous morning that soon heated up once the sweltering sun rose overhead. Fortunately, on a bicycle you can make your own breeze.

We had an opportunity before arriving to the ancient city walls of Sukhothai to be able to explore Wat Chang Lom. It was wonderful having the site to ourselves while Khun Siri explained its significance. Afterwards we went straight to the historical park to view the major attractions. 

After biking the country backroads all the way from Sukhothai City to Old Sukhothai, and then exploring the outlying ruins of Wat Phra Phai Luang, as well as several other sites, we felt very ready for some lunch. Khun Siri took us to a lunch of phad thai, fried chicken, and som tum salad. 

During lunch I learned that the Pad Thai in Sukhothai is very different from how it is prepared in other parts of Thailand. Khun Siri said that the pad thai noodle dish originated from Sukhothai and that it is made with palm sugar (instead of white sugar) which gives it a creamy and more subtle sweetness. They also do not use dried shrimp or fried bits of tofu–good riddance, I say.  Additionally, they included chopped long green beans to the dish. The menu board was chock full of funny–I think I could make a fortune spell checking menus in Asia. All of the dishes weren’t bad–though they were certainly seasoned for the average tourist. But it was exactly what we needed to reenergize our biking legs and continue on to more historical site discoveries.

Khun Siri was an excellent tour guide throughout the entire experience. She provided lots of details about the sites and their history while also suggesting excellent photo opportunities. By the time we wrapped up all of the major attractions within the park, our legs were pretty worn. We were thankful not to have to ride the bikes back to Sukhothai City as Khun Siri accompanied us back to our guesthouse and then arranged to have the bikes picked up. Anna and I napped–I mean one of those deep slumbering naps that lasts a couple of hours and you wake up confused and wondering where you are!

 

Honestly I think we could have slept the entire rest of the day away if it weren’t for our stomachs. We woke up pretty hungry (and a little sore). We walked up to the main road and found a different restaurant that advertised their “famous” Sukhothai Noodle Soup. I got a bowl with mixed meat and it was pretty good. I learned that they also use palm sugar instead of white sugar in their soups–surprise! Our bodies were craving protein big time so a nice order of pork chops with Thai spicy dipping sauce rounded out the dinner. Since it was still the first couple of days of Buddhist Lent, alcohol sales were still forbidden. As there was no way to self medicate our sore muscles we called it an early morning. This turned out to be a great idea, as the next day we awoke refreshed and even rented bicycles for the day from our guesthouse!

This was our last day in Sukhothai as we had scheduled a return flight departing at 6:45 pm. So off we went with our rented bikes to explore all of the side streets and outlying smaller ruins unattached to the main historical park. For each of these ruins we had the entire place to ourselves. It was wonderful being able to explore without worrying about compromising someone’s camera shot or having a gaggle of people walk through your own view lens. It was also amazing just how green everything was. After a little time in Bangkok I kind of forget about greenery, unless I’m looking at life through the bottom of a Chang beer bottle!

Speaking of which, on this last day the ban on alcohol sales was removed. After biking about all day we had worked up quite an appetite. Our final meal turned out to be the absolute best meal we had during the trip at a roadside restaurant called Ploy Champu Kitchen. So good in fact, I wrote an article about it here. Maybe it’s a coincidence that we had beer with the meal and it turned out to be the best meal we had…read the article and judge for yourself!

After lunch we returned to our guesthouse. They were kind enough to let us have a very, very late checkout (4:30 pm). This was great for us as it allowed us to keep our luggage in the room through the day, and even shower and clean up before we went to the airport (for a reasonable fee they also took us to the airport). 

The Bangkok Airways Sukhothai Airport

We decided to fly back to Bangkok instead of taking the train simply because of the times that the trains were leaving from Phitsanoluk. We would have either have had to wake up super early to catch the train in Phitsanoluk or we’d have had to take a later train and would have arrived back to Bangkok in the early morning hours–no fun! Bangkok Airways operates direct flights from Sukhothai Airport. The price was 2,290 baht ($68) for the 1 hour and 15 minute flight. Doesn’t the airport look like a resort?

To view more photos of our weekend getaway, and to listen to an awesome Northern Thailand 60’s folk song that is sure to make you want to visit, click the below video.


If you’re looking for a weekend getaway from the Big Mango, or interested in Thai historical sites, I would definitely recommend a visit to Sukhothai. It can be done in a weekend if you plan your transportation wisely. The people of Sukothai are very kind (and delighted if you attempt to speak in Thai to them), the food is absolutely wonderful, and it’s very easy to get around to see all of the major sites (especially if you rent a bike or take a bike tour). 

Dear Reader,

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