Waterfalls, caves and ruins make Sukhothai an escape like no other
An awe-inspiring cultural escape on Bangkok's doorstep.
Sukhothai’s grand palace ruins are the awe-inspiring cultural escape on your doorstep. Whether as a stop on your yearly Chiang Mai pilgrimage or as a long weekend getaway in its own right, this 13th-14th century city boasts some of the most spectacular cultural sites in Thailand. But it’s not all temple hopping. Lose the idea that Sukhothai lacks excitement and get enchanted by its back streets and natural surroundings.
Wat Si Chum
Where to go
Sukhothai province is divided into two zones Muang Mai (the old town) and Muang Gao (the new town), which are around 20 minutes’ drive apart. For a big slice of history, head to Sukhothai Historical Park, where majestic ruins and towering restored temples and monuments stand testament to the significant impact Thailand’s former capital had on the country’s politics, culture and architecture. UNESCO has marked 193 world heritage sites on over 117-million-sq-meters of land, which are best explored by bike or golf buggy. Outside the northeast city wall stands Wat Si Chum, a large square-shaped shrine or mondop, which houses Phra Achana, an impressive 15-meter high, 11-meter-wide Buddha image. Inside, the stone walls are engraved with over a hundred tales entailing the establishment of the Sukhothai Kingdom.
What to do
Those with a sense of adventure can head to Chao Ram Cave—the journey is not for the faint-hearted, comprising a motorcycle ride past a beautiful lake and deep into the forest, followed by a few hours hiking up trails and finally climbing the last section to reach the cave. Another intrepid but rewarding trip involves climbing the five rocky levels of Sai Rung Waterfall inside Ramkhamhaeng National Park, around an hour’s drive from the city. The journey may be tough, but you’ll be compensated with a refreshing dip in the cold water.
Anyone from the province knows that the ka nom jeen (rice noodle, B40) at Khanom Chin Ban Na (356/12 Mueang Kao Rd., 055-633-274) is not to be missed. Conveniently located on the way to Sukhothai Historical Park, the noodles here are infused with different flavors and colors—butterfly pea, carrot, and pumpkin—served as a set along with varieties of soups placed inside little clay pots. Another must-eat is the Sukhothai-style noodles (B40) at Jae Hae (6/10, Jarodrithitong Rd., 055-611-901), an old-school wooden house that’s been serving flavorful bowls of the city’s delicacy for decades. For something fancier, hit up Mai Krang Krung (139, Jarodrithitong Rd., 055-621-882), where brightly colored walls hung with vibrant local fabrics meet dark wood furnishings for an ultra-Thai vibe. The menu is filled with comforting central-northern food, like kao kluk kapi (shrimp paste rice, B60) and steamed rice dumplings with creamy coconut sauce (B30).
Sweet Rice Cafe
Traipse a raised boardwalk cutting through a field of yellow Sesbanias to reach the windmill-style woodland eatery, Banhom Kliendin (www.fb.com/Banhomkliendin). Head to the porch out back, where you can dip your toes in a cool running stream as you slurp on Sukhothai-style bamee (egg noodles) with choices of pork tom yum and juicy braised duck for as little as B15 a bowl. The dessert menu changes daily, but you can always rely on there being plenty of cake. Equally scenic, Sweet Rice Cafe (bit.ly/2tqpvj1) sits amid English country-style gardens. The two-story wooden restaurant is decorated with white and pink walls, dangling plants and colorful floral cushions with a glass house extension adding to the garden feel. The menu offers classic Thai dishes as well as a high tea set, featuring tea, cakes and selected Thai desserts (B169).
When to go
While Sukhothai can be visited at any time of year, the city really comes alive for Loy Krathong. The festival may have just passed, but head there in November to see krathongs floating down the river, flying lanterns, light installations and cultural performances taking place around the province—we suggest chilling at Sukhothai and Sri Satchanalai historical parks.
Sukhothai Treasure Resort
Sriwilai Resort & Spa
Where to stay
Nestled between vast rice fields, the beautiful, contemporary Sukhothai Treasure Resort (18/2 Moo 4 Jarodrithitong Rd, T. Bankluay, 055-611-555. www.sukhothaitreasure.com), and spa lies just a few kilometers from Sukhothai Historical Park. Emphasizing sustainability, the place is powered by solar panels and has an on-site farm. The spacious 30- to 92-sq-meter rooms come decked out in minimalist, contemporary style with white-washed walls—rates start at B3,500 for the superior room and B4,900 for the Sriwilai suite. Alternatively, check into the Sriwilai Resort & Spa (214 Mueang Kao Rd., 055-697-445. www.sriwilaisukhothai.com) for Lanna architectural charm, four-poster beds and a nightly rate around B3,900.
How to get there
Return flights with Bangkok Airways (www.bangkokair.com) start at around B3,000. To drive from Bangkok, it’ll take about six hours.