Old Sukhothai (Sukhothai Muang Kao)
Located 12 km to the west of today’s Sukhothai, this was the capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom from 1238 to 1438 and contains many ruins from that period. Its importance has been internationally recognised and it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The old city is a popular tourist attraction, and the site has seen much restoration since the 1960s. It is well maintained, exceptionally clean and well furnished with vendors, though with only a minimum of touts. The heavy restoration is worth noting, since with some ruins and Buddha figures it can lead to a feeling that it is a little over-sanitised, especially in the central zone. The other zones are much less “restored” and trips down unmarked tracks can lead to ruins in their untouched state.
The whole site covers an area of approximately 70 square kilometres and is divided into 5 zones. The central zone contains the majority of the ruins and a museum. As of December 2008, admission is now 100 baht (6 am to 6 pm) plus extra for vehicles, including bicycles. Maps can be bought at the ticket office for 3 baht. The other zones (north, east, south and west) have separate fees of 100 baht, or a combined ticket for all zones and the museum is 350 baht. Bicycles are the favoured mode of transport, though it is perfectly feasible to walk around the central and northern zones in 6 hours or so. Bicycles are available for rental at numerous places near the songthaew stop. There is also a 20 baht guided tour by electric tram available.
Central zone – It contains 11 ruins in 3 square kilometres, interspersed with moats, lakes and bridges to some island-bound ruins. Mat Mahathat is one of the most spectacular, with a large seated Buddha figure set amongst the pillars of a now ruined sala, and a central chedi flanked by two standing Buddha figures. Wat Sra Sri also has a large chedi and Buddha figure, but is reached by a bridge to the island. There are some nice views from the other side of the lake.
North zone – Wat Phra Phai Luang contains the remains of a number of buildings plus a large prang with stucco reliefs. More impressive is Wat Sri Chum, which contains a massive seated Buddha figure peering through an opening in its enclosure. Look for a stairway on the left as you enter the enclosure; it leads up and behind the buddha image, though the passage is not always open.