Sukhothai and the north central plains

The modern conurbation of Sukhothai reveals little of Thailand's ancient capital. Head west about 12 km, keeping an eye on the surrounding landscape, and the ruined brick foundations of ancient religious structures appear in the rice fields, interspersed between wooden shophouses until the road pierces the ramparts of Old Sukhothai.

Officially, the Old City and its surroundings are a national historical park covering 640 ha, which opened in 1988 after a total of 192 wats were restored. The metal lamp posts, concrete-lined ponds and horrible hedgerows of the central area evince overbearing sterility. Head out beyond the city walls
and you'll discover dozens of crumbling wats, Buddhas and chedis among the surrounding woodlands.

If you want to stay amid ancient surroundings there is some excellent accommodation in the Old City but choice is limited. Staying here gives you a chance to explore the atmospheric outer ruins in the fresh early-morning mist. There's more accommodation available in the new town, a pleasant enough spot to stay while exploring the glories of Old Sukhothai. Guesthouses here are generally of a high standard, there is good street food at the night market on Ramkhamhaeng Road, a fresh day market off Charodwithithong Road and a useful range of tourist amenities.

Phitsanulok, to the east, houses one of the most striking and most important Buddhist shrines in Thailand - Wat Phra Sri Ratana Mahathat (Wat Yai). Si Satchanalai, north of Sukhothai, now a historical park and once linked to Sukhothai by a 50-km highway, is full of Ceylonese-style bell- shaped chedis, Khmer prangs and Sukhothai-era buildings.

The region to the west of Sukhothai is little visited and all the better for it. Just 80 km southwest of the ancient Thai capital sits Kamphaeng Phet. This antiquated city is also a historical park and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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