I was recently invited to test out a new tour package by SiamRise Travel which was designed to be a long weekend (3 days/2 nights) getaway to Sukhothai, Thailand’s first ancient capital city.
I’d been to Sukhothai before. It’s an excellent place to visit to get away from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, is very inexpensive, and offers some amazing historical ruins without the crowds. Looking at the itinerary for the tour I was really excited for 2 reasons: there were many activities to do and places to visit I hadn’t seen before, and they planned for participants to have many opportunities to experience the local flavors.
But let me show you this exciting itinerary so you can see for yourself!
Day 1 – Getting there & discovering Old Sukhothai
Our tour began with an early morning departure from Bangkok. It’s a 5 1/2 hour drive from Bangkok to Sukhothai (longer if there’s Bangkok traffic). Of course, that trip time is extended once you factor in lunch and you’ll WANT to stop for THIS lunch.
For lunch we dined at ร้านปลาครัวท่าน้ำอ้อยสาขา2 (Pla Khrua Ta Nam Oi 2) in Chai Nat (about halfway between Bangkok and Sukhothai). This restaurant is famous for it’s fish dishes. Their fish is unbeatably fresh as they have a well stocked large pond next to the restaurant within diner viewing.
This spicy kaffir lime laden curry with “soft flesh” fish was packed with flavors and exceptional.
This aromatic clear Tom Yum soup with Asian red-tailed catfish was also aromatic and delicious.
Even the the non-fish dishes were solidly tasty with a special recommendation being the crispy morning glory–crispy without being oily, and delicious smothered with the seafood sauce.
This meal was a portent that future dining experiences on the tour were going to impress. They did.
Exploring the Sukhothai Historical Park by bike…
After the long drive we arrived in Old Sukhothai and hit the ground running….well actually biking. One of the best ways to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Sukhothai Historical Park is via bicycle. Once the tour guide secured our bike rentals and park tickets we were off!
Wat Si Chum
Located in the Northern Zone of the Sukhothai Historical Park, Wat Si Chum is one of the most recognized and photographed attractions.
One of the interesting names for this Buddha figure is ‘Phra Poot Dai’ which translates to the “speaking Buddha”. According to legend, King Naresuan (1555-1605), set up camp at Wat Si Chum during one of his campaigns agains the Burmese. During their encampment he instructed someone to climb a hidden staircase leading to the side of the large Buddha and give a rousing speech. The acoustic effect gave the impression to his men that it was the Buddha speaking which greatly encouraged them. At just over 15 meters high and nearly 11 meters wide this statue must have been awing to listen to!
Wat Si Sawai
Most of the larger and more popular attractions are located in the Central Zone of the Sukhothai Historical Park. Wat Si Sawai is distinguished by the other temples by its three distinctive Khmer-style prangs or towers, That is because Wat Si Sawai was originally a Hindu temple constructed by the Khmers before it became a Buddhist shrine during the Sukhothai period.
These large towers have become fertile nesting grounds for the local birds!
Near Wat Si Sawai is Wat Mahathat and what remains of the Royal Palace structure. Built in the 13th century, what remains today is an outline of what must have been an amazing structure.
But even as an outline, Wat Mahathat still contains towering columns, large chedis, and many animal and religious statues that are easy to discover via a large network of ancient red bricked pathways.
Wat Sa Si
Nearby Wat Mahathat is Wat Sa Si which is located in the middle of a reservoir known as Traphang Takua. It is accessible by a narrow wooden bridge. This small but popular site contains a large chedi, Buddha statue, and ruins containing columns.
Across the Traphang Takua reservoir is a popular place to enjoy some snacks from the vendor stalls set up nearby and take in the amazing view.
What I’ve shared are the main attractions that I saw on the tour. This is just is a fraction of what’s available to see at the Sukhothai Historical Park. For more information, this Thaizer guide offers a nice overview of many of the attractions at the park.
After biking around the park we were ready to check-in and freshen up. For the duration of the tour we were lodged at Le Charme Resort which was conveniently located 1 km from the Sukhothai Historical Park. The rooms were large, clean, and comfortable. The staff were also very friendly. I’d recommend this resort for families or couples wanting a quiet place to stay that’s still close to Sukhothai HistoricalPark.
For dinner we ate at a local restaurant called ครัวลมฝน (Lom Fon Kitchen). We were pretty hungry after all that biking, too.
The highlight of the meal was this sour Gaeng Som soup with shrimp, veggies, and local greens.
The crispy fried fish (with crispy fried ginger and shallots) and the spicy pork balls were also solid dishes. The pork balls were very flavorful, and when the plates were looking empty I kept snacking on bits of fried ginger and shallot from the fish dish.
Dining is outside under a large metal slanted roof. After we’d finished our meal and were about to leave the sky erupted above us and the deluge was deafening due to the metal roof. It was quite a dramatic finish to the meal and to a very busy first day of the tour!
Day 2 – Making new friends at Na Choeng Khiri village!
DASTA (Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration) has forged cooperation with the villagers of Na Choeng Khiri to develop their area for sustainable tourism. Their joint efforts balanced economic, social and environmental developments, while retaining the natural beauty of the area and ensuring that the villagers maintained their culture and traditions.
SiamRise Travel coordinated with the Na Choeng Khiri village community to tailor an itinerary in which we could spend the day with them. With their guidance we would experience the local sights, the local food, and some of their local customs. It was hands down my most favorite day of the tour!
After a short drive from the hotel we arrived to Na Choeng Khiri Village at a monastery complex that contained a couple of temples and golden Buddha statues.
We were welcomed with smiles from some of the villagers and introduced to their village elder, Khun Kuan. Khun Kuan beckoned us inside the temple and gave us a brief history of the structure.
Some of the displays were a bit odd for a temple. An example was the praying skeleton dressed up in khakis, sunglasses, and baseball cap. Another was the bowls of hard boiled eggs and pig’s head on the alter. I don’t think I’d ever seen that before, but it struck me as kind of funny.
I immediately liked these villagers.
Time for a trek!
After introductions we were handed water bottles and set off for a hike to see some sacred caves. The Na Choeng Village is located in the Khiri Mat District of Sukhotha which borders the Ramkhamhaeng National Park. Most of this national park consists of small forest covered mountains. Which is why this moderately challenging trek began with a steep 400 meter trail ascending up the mountainside.
After the steep trek we arrived at a resting point with a small chedi which Khun Kuan informed us was built by a group of 15 village teens.
Behind the resting point the trail flattens out and continues past a row of small huts. These huts are used by the local monks from the monastery to meditate and camp out during lunar events.
The trail takes you alongside the mountain which affords a scenic view of the natural beauty of the rice field valley below and nearby mountain range.
Along the way the trail remains relatively flat with the exception of a few sharp descents. There are also a handful of sacred caves ranging in sizes where you’d have to squeeze your way into, to being able to walk about upright inside. The final cave has a small Buddha head sculpture jutting from the cave’s wall.
After this point we returned back to the village the way we came.
It was a rewarding experience to see these sights far off the tourist map and an honor to have the Na Choeng Village elder, Khun Kuan guide us. Afterwards we were sweaty, sore, and hungry. Thankfully two lovely ladies from the village had platters of sliced limes with salt and honey, pickled mango with tamarind and fermented shrimp paste dip, and fresh green mango slices with salt, sugar, and chili dipping powder to cure our hunger and replenish our minerals!
After our snack we went across the street from the monastery complex to their municipal area to settle in for some real food. Lunch consisted of a “pinto” lunch that was prepared entirely from their locally farmed food. A “pinto” lunch is basically a mix of food dishes that’s served on stackable bowls and shared family style.
Our pinto lunch consisted of various kinds of rice, stir fried rooster (that had apparently lost the fight) with lemongrass, fried greens, green chili paste, slices of omelet, fried pork belly, and a dessert made from palm fruit.
It was a delicious meal and what made it really nice was that enjoyed it outside on an elevated wooden platform with a scenic view of their rice fields before us.
Go fly a kite!
After lunch we gathered around for a hands on activity: learning to make a traditional leaf kite. The villagers had assembled all of the material: leaves of various sizes, string, sticks, and decorative streamers. It was a nice treat to learn how to make these crafts from the local kite master. But the real fun came when we flew them!
I don’t care how old you are. Flying kites is FUN. I watched one of the villagers (who many seemed to revere as the village mother) shed about 60 years of age once she had a kite in hand. She was running about giggling as she tried to get lift. This activity is certainly appropriate for all ages!
Wat Tham Phra Mae Ya
After flying kites we headed to Wat Tham Phra Mae Ya to the small cave temple nearby.
A large slab of rock creates a natural overhanging to protect the golden Buddha statues, and those who seek to pray near the alter. There is a small cave to the right side which is where worshippers can visit and speak to and leave offerings for the spirit of the revered grandmother of the ancient Sukhothai king.
After our visit we said our goodbyes to the villagers who had been so warm and welcoming to us and then headed back to the hotel for a little fresh up and free time.
We ate dinner at ณ-โขทัย (Na Khothai Restaurant). Thus far during the tour I’d seen much and had some pretty incredible eats. THIS meal overshadowed everything I’d had previously. It was seriously delicious. If you find yourself in Sukhothai for any reason, you will want to eat here.
I am a big fan of laab (a Thai dish of minced meat, herbs, and spices). This laab with pork was completely different and it rocked my tastebuds with deliciousness. I’m not ashamed to admit that I actually took the remainders of this dish from our group’s next table–they were full and I wasn’t going to see it wasted!
What makes this particular laab unique is that it’s made with olive tree leaves. It gives it a slightly bitter and savory flavor. Yum!
We chowed down big time on the feast of dishes they brought before us. We may have still been been hungry after the day’s mountain trek. Other notable dishes were the simple vegetable and greens snack platter that came with a seriously spicy fermented fish dip, and a semi-sweet and slightly pungent mackerel soup with coconut milk.
Day 3 – Getting artsy and heading back…
Before leaving Sukhothai we got a chance to exercise our artistic talents by learning how to draw Sukhothai celadon patterns at Baan Preedapirom. We met with the owner, Thararat Preedapirom who gave us a small tour of the collection her family had curated of Sukhothai art pieces over generations.
We then dove into creating art by practicing drawing various celadon patterns on paper with a step-by-step instruction guide.
As you can see I clearly have talent. Once I felt comfortable with my abilities (which clearly I would) I then drew the same celadon pattern on a t-shirt which I got to keep. I will wear it with pride, of course.
Goodbye Sukhothai, hello Phitsanulok!
Saying goodbye to Sukhothai we headed back to Bangkok. On the way we made a pitstop in Phitsanulok for lunch.
For lunch we ate at ร้านขนมจีนต้นก้ามปู (Kanomjean Tonkampoo Restaurant). Kanomjean is a Thai dish in which you’re provided with coiled balls of rice noodles which you then top with various soups or curries and fresh veggies.
Honestly, I find most kanomjean soups to be pretty thin and tasteless especially when paired with plain rice noodles. But I rather enjoyed the kanomjean with their spicy soup! Other standouts were their grilled meats (chicken, sausages, and pork neck). If passing through Phitsanulok I recommend a stop at this restaurant especially if you’re a fan of kanomjean.
With bellies full we headed towards Bangkok…
Afterthoughts: Back in Bangkok
Sukhothai (and Old Sukhothai) is a city that continues to impress me. Though there is so much to see and do there it still remains blessedly free from the hordes of tourists that you find crowding the more popular destinations in Thailand. The people are extremely friendly and genuinely curious about visitors. It’s a place where a smile can still get you a long way.
I can honestly say that I would not have experienced much of what I experienced during this tour had I not been on the tour. There’s very little information written in English about the places we ate at, and though they are popular, it’s because they are popular with the locals who are in know about these hidden food gems.
I certainly never would have met the wonderful people of Na Choeng Khiri village had it not been for SiamRise Travel coordinating the visit directly with them, and that particular experience was the absolute highlight of the tour!
SiamRise Travel focuses on Community Based Tourism (CBT). This means that each of their tours are specifically designed to support local community development and conservation goals. Additionally a percentage of income from each tour contributes directly towards a community fund for community development and conservation. The goal being to allow tourists to have a local experience that is unique, while preserving cultural practices, without negatively impacting the environment. So in essence with each tour you are giving contributing to the communities you visit.
What I really enjoyed about this tour is that it combines a nice mix of local experience with an opportunity to also explore the Sukhothai Historical Park. This particular tour to Sukhothai is still being developed, but if you like this itinerary you can request a bespoke tour from SiamRise Travel. Alternatively, if you’d like a tour to Sukhothai with a focus on the rural experience, SiamRise Travel currently offers a 3 day/2night Happy Village Homestay Tour.
Talk to me!
I hope this article of my experience with this tour is useful for you if you’re considering visiting Thailand’s first capital city. Should you decide to visit Sukhothai I’d love to hear your feedback in the comment section below, directly to me, or via message on either the Chow Traveller Facebook page or Chow Traveller Instagram. However you choose, I’d love to hear from you!