Airport Rating *****
Reception of locals *****
Centred on the Historical Park and Old Sukhothai, the modern city is a friendly and welcoming place with a number of activities to keep you occupied and numerous small industries and factories that give Sukhothai a distinctive vibe.
The city is about a 6 hour drive north of Bangkok. During the whole of my travels to SE Asia, I tried to avoid internal flights as much as possible. There's a number of reasons for this, (1) you get to see the more rural side to a country, (2) its cheaper (I'm not rich...yet) and (3) internal flights in some of these countries can be nothing short of scary.
World's scariest plane ride
However, sometimes your hand is forced, and this was the case for me. My flight from the UK to Bangkok had been significantly delayed (more than a day) and therefore I had lost a fair bit of time. I had planned to set off from Bangkok pretty much straight away and head north, spending more time in the city on my southward journey and this had pushed back my plans by almost two days. I hurriedly decided to book an internal flight from Bangkok to Sukhothai, whilst in transit at Dubai airport. The flight was surprising cheap (under GBP 30) so it didn't feel too bad. That is, however, until I got to the airport.
In Bangkok Airport I headed to the internal flights terminal, a world removed from their relatively glamorous international terminals. The flight to Sukhothai was delayed. An airport attendant walked around giving people bottles of water while we waited. I say people, I counted 6 of us. I had got there quite early, so I wasn't too surprised. This waiting area will probably be full in an hour or two, I thought to myself. The rush never came.
We were transported by a small minibus to the waiting plane. I looked at it, horrified. I'm not a great flyer at the best of times. Something about being tens of thousands of miles in the air, in basically a computer controlled rocket, with no control, is not my idea of fun, and this looked like all of the above, minus computer controlled. I've flown in propeller planes before, especially on my trips to Holland, but this looked like it was built 50 years ago and patched up with tape. Not wanting to show my fear, I took a deep breath and pretended like I was fine it. I walked inside, at the cigarette scarred seat covers, some of it ripped and took my seat in the bounciest seat I have ever sat in. The air hostess started going through the safety features and I looked around the plane. It was me and a group of 5 Chinese tourists seated a few rows infront. The plane was small, but not that small - I'm talking at least 50/60 empty seats.
As the plane started moving along the runway I leaned back a little and the seat didn't feel tremendously secure. I'm over thinking everything, I convinced myself and decided to just have a quick look out the window. As the plane started to rev its engines, it started making a loud, almost satanic sound. This felt like it was going to turn into the shortest trip of my life. The plane got faster and faster and eventually took off, as soon as the nose lifted up I was pushed back into my seat and the support behind me completely fell apart, rendering my almost horizontal, staring at the ceiling of the plane. I eventually managed to pull myself up (and the seat with it) and it clicked into position. I looked forward and the Chinese group were desperately holding onto the front of their seats, fear stricken.
Once the initial problems were over and plane reached cruising altitude, the rest of the experience was quite pleasant. I didn't just have a whole row to myself, I had pretty much the whole plane to myself. The air hostesses were attentive and the whole journey lasted less than an hour.
As we came into land I started looking outside to see buildings etc. but it just seemed like miles and miles of fields. As we landed I looked around for an airport terminal building, but there was nothing. Had we just landed in a random piece of tarmac in the Thai countryside?
After rolling along the tarmac for what seemed an eternity the plane finally came to stop. I still couldn't see the terminal. I exited the plane and in the distance saw a small hut. Turns out, this hut was the airport terminal. Its weird, it was by far the smallest terminal I have ever seen, but it was also one of the most charming. Decked in a tropical theme, I walked through the terminal with two airport attendants greeting me with the traditional Thai greeting "Sa Wat Dee Kha".
The drive to the apartment where I was staying wasn't too long, although I had landed in a Thai rainstorm. The winds were strong, and the rain was lashing down, however, by the time I had reached my destination, things had calmed down.
My luggage had been delayed in Dubai, so I gave the address of where I was staying and was promised my bags would be with me by the time I woke up. This still left me without any clothes for the night (and possibly longer). I told the person who ran the complex and he gave me his bike. "Ride 5 minutes down the road, take a left, and you will come to the main town, the shops are still open". By this point it was late at night and completely dark. I grabbed his bike and started peddling. For the first couple of minutes there were street lamps, placed far apart, but some form of lighting nonetheless. After a minute or so the lights disappeared and I kid you not, it was pitch black. Here I was, riding through a quiet Cambodian country road, with no lights, just the lights in the distance of the main road acting as a guide, and the feel of the tarmac showing I was still on the correct path. It was oddly peaceful and I was enjoying the ride quite a bit until I heard a rustle in the bushes beside me. All of a sudden two dogs appear out of nowhere, barking like I stole their kids. I started peddling like I was Lance Armstrong and pulled clear, eventually arriving at the main road. This was already an adventure, and I'd barely been here 5 minutes.
I jumped into the shop picked up some toiletries, and a t-shirt and headed back to the apartments. This time I was prepared, no slow peddling, I went straight past the dogs who gave up chase much sooner the second time around and in no time whatsoever I was back where I started.
I woke up the next day, feeling refreshed, and had a look out my room and it was nothing short of stunning, In the middle of the night, I couldn't actually tell what the surroundings were like, but these were little huts, on top of a lake, very picturesque.
I headed toward breakfast, where I met some more travelers. An English couple, a couple from New Zealand, a Japanese woman an Australian and a girl from England who was now based in the South of Thailand. My luggage had arrived and I decided to wear my Aston Villa top, it usually helps start conversations with European travelers. As I walked in, the first thing the English guy said to me "oh no, the Villa fans have followed us here". We hit it off right away. A few of them were heading out into the city so I decided to join them.
Sukhothai was once the capital of the independent Sukhothai Kingdom that existed in the 13th and 14th centuries. The older city is now subsumed in the new, modern city, and therefore, you can see the walls of the older city within modern Sukhothai. Within a 70km square radius, there are almost 200 ancient ruins.
We got a tuk tuk ride into town and headed to a local cycle shop that rents out bikes for tours of the historical park. The park is quite large, and cycling is easily the best way to explore it. The park really does deliver in terms of what you would want from a traditional Thai city. Ruins, many of them in fantastic condition are spread around the park. The most impressive temple within that park is the 13th century era Wat Mahathat, although I was similarly taken back by Wat Si Chum which features a grand sitting Buddha.
There are points where you are completely surrounded by impressive temples and ancient ruins and you feel as if you are in another world, completely removed from modernity. The statues of Buddha also come in many forms, sitting, reclining and standing - all equally as impressive.
Wat Chang Lom is another impressive temple built in a Lanka style, surrounded by ornate elephants, which amazing detail to detail. It makes you appreciate the craftsmanship of that era.
We spent about 5/6 hours in the park, cycling through the ruins, riding from one group of temples and ruins to the next. The park also has a beautiful, large lake in the middle and we decided to get some food whilst sitting there. There was a slight cool breeze in an otherwise hot day, perfect weather.
Sukhothai is a city of many industries, but ceramics is one of its most famous. We went to a local ceramics factory where they construct ornaments, from Hindu deities, to statues of Buddha and also decorative pieces. The inside of the factory was ridiculously hot, it made me wonder how these guys spent 8/10 hours a day in this environment. The statues are all hand painted, none of the machines that coat statues in spray in one.
The night market in Sukhothai is nowhere near as impressive as its neighbours to the north but the relaxed, serene feel of the city is something special. Despite the large number of things to see, the pace of life is quite slow, the traffic nowhere near as bad as some of the larger cities and it's a great place to slow down, unwind and relax.
The Historical Park is one of ancient Thailand's cultural gems and for this alone, I would recommend a visit to the city, but the numerous cottage industries and general feel of the city is quite unique, Not quite as busy as Bangkok, not quite as quirky as Chiang Mai, the city finds a balance that is very rare in SE Asia.
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British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.