Thailand has a well worn tourist trail and breaking away from it took some effort. Being shuttled to predetermined destinations, and scammed even though you’ve been warned, is almost as inevitable as getting sunburned. (I know what you’re thinking. Shouldn’t both of those things be avoidable with the use of a little common sense? Yes, but…) First you arrive in Bangkok. After seeing the city, you head south for islands, beaches, diving and over-the-top partying. Then, you return to Bangkok in order to get a bus to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. The only thing wrong with this itinerary is that it bypasses some good stuff in the middle. Like Sukhothai.
Like much of the S.E. Asian peninsula, the area around Sukhothai was once part of the Khmer empire, ruled from Angkor. A couple of Thai princes with ambitions of independence established the city of Sukhothai which would become the cultural and political center of Thailand between 1238 and 1378. Sukhothai quickly grew and thrived under the guidance of King Ramkamhaeng (1278-1318). Ramkamhaeng introduced innovative ideas like free-trade and the Thai alphabet. He also promoted Theravada Buddhism which remains the national religion.
Sukhothai Historical Park
Even though I was there during high season (winter) Sukhothai was a fabulously spacious, not crowded, pleasant place to visit. Stupas and Buddhas abound in this ancient Thai capital. Restoration began in 1977 and went on for sixteen years, before the opening of Sukhothai Historical Park, now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Park covers about 70 square kilometers, though the core area can be easily visited on foot, you might want to consider renting a bike (rentals available onsite).
The Tricky Part
I had taken a regular bus (as in not a “VIP” bus dedicated to tourists) from Bangkok to Ayutthaya (another site worth visiting), with plans to go from there to Sukhothai, and then on to Chaing Mai. As one can imagine, buses leaving the megopolis of Bangkok are quite crowded. I was not allowed to board the first two north-bound buses that came by and when I was finally able to get on one, it was standing room only. I was afraid that I would end up standing for the whole five hours, but I was eventually able to snag a seat. Chalk it up as another cultural adventure.Published in