Sukhothai Historical Park

Sukhothai Historical Park

Historical Park

 Historical Park



Sukhothai was the capital of the first Kingdom of Siam in the 13th and 14th centuries. It has a number of fine monuments, illustrating the beginnings of Thai architecture. The great civilization which evolved in the Kingdom of Sukhothai absorbed numerous influences and ancient local traditions; the rapid assimilation of all these elements forged what is known as the ‘Sukhothai style’.

Found in the 13th century, Sukhothai (literally means Dawn of Happiness) was the first truly independent Thai Kingdom, which enjoyed a golden age under King Ramkhamhaeng, credited with creating the Thai alphabet. The superb temples and monuments of this great city have been lovingly restored in Sukhothai Historical Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-see for all travelers.

Sukhothai is located on the lower edge of the northern region, 427 kilometres north of Bangkok or some 298 kilometres south of Chiang Mai. The province covers some 6,596 square kilometres and is divided into 9 Amphoes: Muang Sukhothai, Ban Dan Lan Hoi, Khiri Mat, Kong Krailat, Sawankhalok, Si Nakhon, Si Samrong, Si Satchanalai and Thung Saliam.

Highlights of Sukhothai

Designated as World Heritage Site Number 574 on 12 December 1991 by UNESCO, the ancient city of Sukhothai, along with its former vassal towns of Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet, is considered the cradle of Thai civilization.

1. The Sukhothai Historical Park

Sukhothai Historical Park is located in Sukhothai province, about 427 km north of Bangkok. Sukhothai was the capital of the first kingdom of Siam, flourishing between the mid 13th and mid 14th century AD. The kingdom of Sukhothai held a vast territory extending across the Moei, lower Yom, Ping, Nan, and upper Pa Sak river valleys. The area lays between two other kingdoms, Pagan in the west and Khmer in the east.

By the 11th century, Mon and Khmer peoples had occupied the Yom valley but early in the 13th century, two local chieftains, Pho Khun Pha Muang and Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao, joined forces to drive out the Khmers from the area.

Thus began the ‘golden age’ of the Sukhothai Kingdom. Granted the sword of Victory and the title of Si Indrapatindraditya by his comrade, Pho Khun Pha Muang, Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao became the ruler of Sukhothai and the founder of the Sukhothai (Phra Ruang) Dynasty. As time passed, Sukhothai was gradually subsumed by the growing might of the Ayutthaya kingdom from the mid 14th to the mid 15th centuries AD. when it was annexed by the latter.

The most well-known and revered king of the Sukhothai period was Pho Khun Ramkamhaeng the Great (about 1239-1298 AD). During his reign, which began around 1275 AD, Sukhothai reached the zenith of its influence. The frontiers of the kingdom were extended to embrace much of modern Thailand and local chieftains from as far away as Laos and the Malay Peninsular paid tribute to the Sukhothai King.

According to a stone inscription, Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng was a model king who acted as both temporal and spiritual leader of the kingdom. During his reign, the kingdom was peaceful under one religion, Theravada Buddhism, and people were content and happy. It is said that the ruler did not require his people to pay tax and they could trade in anything they wanted. In addition, Pho Khun Ramkamhaeng is credited with the creation of the first Thai alphabet.

The reverence with which the Thai people still regard Pho Khun Ramkamhaeng can be seen at a modern shrine just inside the entrance to Sukhothai Historical Park. Here, a massive statue of the royal hero, holding a book in his right hand with his sword lying to his left, gazes down on his modern-day admirers, as they present their offerings of flowers and food and pray to his spirit for good fortune.

The first capital of Thai kingdom, Sukhothai, was firstly rediscovered by King Rama IV (1851-1868), or better known to Westerners as King Mongkut, when he was a wandering Buddhist priest. Before that, nobody realized that there was anything left from the city which was once the nerve centre of a rich and powerful kingdom.

King Mongkut made the trip with a large group of followers in 1833. After breaking through the thick jungle woven with creepers and vines, he found the first stone inscription of Sukhothai beside Wat Mahathat in the centre of the town. It was taken back to Bangkok together with a stone seat known as Manangkhasila throne. The inscription was written in Thai alphabet created by Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng himself. Now the inscription is kept in the National Museum and the stone throne in Vihara Yot within the compound of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, both in Bangkok. More such stone inscriptions were discovered later, shedding more light on the condition of the first Thai kingdom.

Later in 1908, Prince Vajiravudh (later King Rama VI) led a team of explorers on a trip to the ancient capital by the old road from Kamphaeng Phet. The road was in a poor state of disrepair and partly covered with grass. With much difficulty the party succeeded in reaching the site. They surveyed the area and drew maps in detail but no digging was made. So Sukhothai was again lost in the jungle soon afterwards

Then came the first large-scale expedition made by a group of students and lecturers from Silapakorn University of Bangkok in 1952. By that time, the place was sparsely populated with a few houses scattered here and there, and there were still tigers, leopards, bears and other wild beasts roaming the area. When the students went out to survey, they were warned by local residents to go anywhere in groups and to come back before dark to avoid the danger.

The forest in and around Sukhothai could be called virgin, since it had remained untouched by human beings for centuries. All temples were hidden in lush growth of trees and vines, which had to be cleared before one could reach the inside. The jungle was so dense that one would easily lose one’s way even in the heart of the ruined town in broad daylight. With unwavering determination, however, the students were able to copy down large numbers of architectural designs of the temples.

It was not until 1960 that the government started to build a road to the ancient capital which is 8 km away from the new town of Sukhothai, and to restore the old temples. As a result, the jungle was removed at long last and the place has become another important tourist spot.

Among the ancient monuments within the city wall of Sukhothai, the largest and most impressive is Wat Mahathat where King Mongkut discovered the first stone inscription. Its main chedi (stupa), vihara (assembly hall), mandapa, ordination hall (uposatha), and approximately 200 subordinate chedis, as well as some fine Buddha images are overwhelming. These stupa represent various architectural influences. Apart from the lotus bud shape, which is the definitive style of Sukhothai, there are also chedis in the earlier styles of Hariphunchai, Lanna and Sri Langka. Two impressive statues of the 12-metre-tall standing Buddha, Phra Attharot, enshrined in the mandapa on both sides of the principle chedi.

Wat Si Sawai, 350 metres south of Wat Mahathat, is also impressive, not for its size, but for the distinctiveness of its architecture. There are three massive Lop Buri style, corn-cob-shaped prangs, intricately decorated with stucco images of Garuda, Naga and other beings in Hindu Mythology. This structure indicates the Khmer-dominated style.

Wat Sa Si, northwest of Wat Mahathat, is attractive for its location. Standing in the middle of a reservoir, the ruins are reached via a bridge. Important buildings include a bell-shaped chedi, serving as historical evidence of the prevalence of Singhalese Buddhism in Sukhothai. The ordination hall in the middle of the reservoir points to a Buddhist concept of demarcating an area where monks perform religious functions by enclosing the holy precincts with water as a symbol of purity.

Altogether there are 21 structures within the city wall. Alongside these, a further 70 worthy sites lies in the immediate vicinity within a five kilometre radius.

The sites are open daily from 08.30 – 16.30 hours. They are separated into five zones (north, south, east, west, and central) and admission to each is 30 Baht, with the exception of the central zone where the admission fee is 40 Baht.

Probably, the easiest way to move around the zones is by bicycle which can be rented from the park at 20 Baht a day. However, there is a tram moving from site to site and costing 20 Baht per person.

2. Si Satchanalai Historical Park

Si Satchanalai Historical Park is located on the bank of the Yom River at Tambon Muang Kao, Si Satchanalai County, only 55 km. from the town of Sukhothai. The ancient town, formerly call “Muang Chaliang”, was named “Si Satchanalai” during the Phra Ruang Dynasty when a new administrative centre was established to replace Chaliang. This ancient town occupied more than 320 hectares (800 acres) of land. Of this, the 91-hectare (288 acres) area within the old laterite ramparts and the city moat is the focus of sightseeing in the historical park and can be covered on a day trip from Sukhothai.

According to early stone inscriptions, local legends, and historic chronicles, Si Satchanalai was exclusively governed by the crown prince of the Sukhothai Kingdom. Phaya Li Thai (1347-1369 AD), known as a great ruler and scholar, was also the crown prince ruling Si Satchanalai before ascending the throne at Sukhothai.

There is evidence indicating that he wrote a book called “Trai Phum Phra Ruang,” the book of life and former lives according to Buddhist concepts, while he ruled Si Satchanalai. During his reign, many temples were built and restored.

After King Li Thai passed away (around 1370-1371 AD), the Sukhothai Kingdom fell under the rule of the Suwannaphum Dynasty of Ayutthaya.

Si Satchanalai, called Sawankhalok by Ayutthaya, still maintained its status as an important town, governed only by a member of the former Sukhothai Royal Family. However, when King Borom Trailokanat (1448-1488 AD) governed Ayutthaya, the status of Si Satchanalai changed to that of secondary outpost.

Si Satchanalai, or Sawankhalok, was an important producer of glazed ceramics called Sangkhalok wares which were exported throughout Asian countries. Si Satchanalai’s riverside site was crucial to the development of its ceramic industry.

Located at Ban Ko Noi, about 5 km. north of the historical park is the Celadon Kiln Site Study and Conservation Centre which contains a display of kilns, artifacts and excavated ceramics. Over 500 kilns have been excavated so far in the area of Sawankhalok town and there is evidence of the ceramics being shipped to as far as China, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. The Centre is open daily during 09.00-12.00 and 13.00-16.00 hours.

Among the remains of the 19 monuments inside the city wall, highlights are the first three monuments from the entrance, Wat Chang Lom, Wat Chedi Chet Thaew and Wat Nang Phaya.

Wat Chang Lom, the compound to the right of the entrance is distinctly Sri Langkan in style, with a characteristic stupa and 39 laterite elephant buttresses. The elephants at Wat Chang Lom are quite different from those found at other temples.

They represent standing elephants and are taller than life-size ones. Some scholars believe it was the temple mentioned in the Stone Inscription No. 1 as the place where Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng had Buddha relics unearthed in order to pay homage to them before reburying them and building a chedi with a boundary wall over the relics in the middle of Si Satchanalai town.

Wat Chedi Chet Thaew is located opposite Wat Chang Lom to the south. The most important constructions at this temple are the main chedi with lotus bud-shaped top and 33 subordinate chedis believed to contain the remains of the royal family. The chedis are adorned with Buddha images and other stucco decorative images reflecting various art styles, including Sri Langkan, Pagan and Srivijaya.

Wat Nang Phaya, southeast to Wat Chedi Chet Thaew, is known for the exterior of the vihara made of laterite blocks, which was decorated with highly elaborate stucco, in the art style of the early Ayutthaya period. The main chedi in the Sri Langkan style, another focus of this temple, is supported by a high base, once decorated with sculptures of elephants similar to those at Wat Chang Lom.

Besides these monuments within the city wall, there are many sites that are worth visiting. One of those located to the southeast of Si Satchanalai town is Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat Chaliang. This large historic temple complex is one of the most impressive sites in the area. The decorative stucco bearing the Bayon art style of ancient Khmer found at the main entrance of the temple as well as archeological evidence excavated here points out clearly that this temple was originally founded before the Sukhothai period. Its main shrine was built from blocks of laterites which were later covered with lime plaster and red paint. Its architectural characteristics as seen in the present indicate that it could date back to the Ayutthaya period though some evidence suggests that the shrine might have been built to cover an earlier structure.

Si Satchanalai Historical Park is open daily from 08.00-17.00 hours and admission is 40 Baht. Bicycles are provided for rent at 30 Baht a day, and elephant rides around the park are available at 100 Baht per person per 30 minutes. Tram service is also available in the historical park.

3. Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park

Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park is located in Kamphaeng Phet Province, about 358 km north of Bangkok. It is presumed to have been established during the reign of King Li Thai (1347-1371) of the Sukhothai Dynasty and it was formerly called “Muang Cha Kang Rao” and “Na Khon Chum”. It was an important city of the Sukhothai Kingdom from the 13th to 15th centuries.

Because it was situated in a strategically important position, Kamphaeng Phet had a lot of strong fortresses, city gates, camps, city walls, and watchtowers built in laterite. Kamphaeng Phet in ancient times was suitably located with an easy access to other settlements in the plains, and thus was a centre for buying and selling goods. Archeological evidence indicates that Kamphaeng Phet has been inhabited since prehistoric times.

At Khao Kalon in Khanuworalaksaburi County, polished stone tools, pottery vessels and human remains have been found. Another site, Ban Khlong Muang in Kosamphi Sub-county, has yielded metal slag, spindle whorls and polished stone axes with shoulders. The excavations in Traitrueng on the west bank of the Ping River revealed Dvaravati artefacts, including glass beads, fragments of clay lamps and unglazed ceramics. The clay lamps are similar to those found in other sites of central Thailand. These cultural materials significantly imply the presence of prehistoric and early historic communities.

The ancient town of Kamphaeng Phet is situated on the east bank of the Ping River in today’s Kamphaeng Phet Province. This ancient town was laid out in a trapezoidal plan parallel to the river and enclosed by a town wall 2,200 metres long on the north, 2,000 metres on the south, 500 metres on the east, and 250 metres on the west. About 475 metres of the southern wall has partially collapsed.

The town wall of Kamphaeng Phet, covering an area of 503 rai (201.2 acres), was originally composed of earthen ramparts and a moat. A laterite wall was later built and fortified with battlements and parapets with gates and watchtowers on all four sides. In the heart of this ancient town are located two important Buddhist temples, Wat Phra Kaeo and Wat Phra That. Other significant buildings are the Ancient Palace (Sa Mon) and Siva Shrine.

Wat Phra Kaeo, comprising a large group of ancient monument, was laid out in a rectangular plan. Important buildings were built along an east-west axis parallel to the southern town wall. Considering the different forms and sizes of parts of the laterite boundary wall, the buildings within the temple were presumably constructed and renovated at different times. According to the legends of Phra Buddha Sihing and the Emerald Buddha images as well as a book entitled “Chinnakan Malipakon”, these two images were brought to Kamphaeng Phet and enshrined in this temple. When King Rama IV of the Rattanakosin Period visited ancient Kamphaeng Phet, he called a large group of ancient monuments in the heart of the town “Wat Phra Kaeo”, and it has been known by this name since then.

The second largest monastery located within the city wall, just east of Wat Phra Kaeo, is Wat Phra That. This temple is presided over by a pagoda built of sand stone and bricks, surrounded by sandstone walls having a gate on each side. Like Wat Phra Kaeo, this temple was also laid out in rectangular plan and its buildings were constructed along an east-west axis.

The layout of the buildings is a combination of the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya styles though the form of Wat Phra That is regarded as characteristic of the Kamphaeng Phet architectural style.
The zone outside the town wall, known as the Aranyik area, covers an area of 1,611 rais (644.4 acres) on a small hill. The group of ancient monuments in this area consists of 40 temples.

Significant ones include Wat Phra Non, Wat Phra Si Iriyabot, Wat Singha, Wat Khong Chai, Wat Nak Chet Sian, Wat Kamphaeng Ngam, Wat Chang Rop and Wat Awasa Yai.

The group of ancient monuments in the Aranyik area is a unique feature of Kamphaeng Phet. Densely located on a single piece of land on a mound, these ancient monuments were artistically constructed and are examples of an indigenous architecture which reflect excellent craftsmanship and the beliefs of the inhabitants of Kamphaeng Phet at that period. Amidst the well-preserved forest, this group of ancient monuments retains the atmosphere of forest temple in the olden days.

Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park is open daily from 08.30-18.00 hours and admission is 40 baht. You can move from site to site by personal vehicle, basically with a charge of 30 baht for a four-wheel car, 20 baht for a motorcycle and 10 baht for a bicycle.

Tram services are available for charter with a charge of 200 baht for the whole trip, whereas individuals will be charged 20 baht for an adult and 10 baht for a child.


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