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Welcome to Sukhothai
The old Thai capital Sukhothai is a name that means dawn of happiness and it was founded in the 1300s and became the country's first capital between the years 1238 and 1438. During this time, nine kings ruled Sukhothai, the most famous of them was the third, King Ramkhamhaeng, who has been recognized as both the creator of the modern Thai alphabet and the one who introduced Theravada Buddhism in Thailand.
In its heyday, the kingdom of Sukhothai stretched over most of the Thailand we know today (aside from the northeast, which was led by the Khmer). The area was won by both military campaigns and diplomacy – later, King Ramkhamhaeng was considered to be a champion. This period is seen as a Thai golden age when the Thai art and culture flourished under the reign. Trade flourished at a level that had important implications for Thailand's future development and the opening of trade relations with China.
The gradual decline began after King Ramkhamhaeng's death. He was succeeded by his son Lo Thai, a leader who is considered to have been ineffective and causing significant losses. By the sixth king Thammaracha Sukhothai was in a state of disrepair. In 1438, a century after the death of King Ramkhamhaeng the Sukhothai Empire was joined in the new rising star – Ayutthaya.
Today the town has two centers: New Sukhothai which is a typical modern Thai city with almost nothing interesting except some good guesthouses, while the old Sukhothai is located 12 km to the west, where you can find all the ruins of the original capital. Almost all travelers live in New Sukhothai even though there are hotels closer to the old city, if you want to stay closer.
You can choose buses with or without air conditioning, these buses depart from Bangkok to Sukhothai daily from the northern bus terminal, Kamphaeng Phet Road.
There are no trains directly to Sukhothai. You can travel by train to Phitsanulok and then take a local bus to Sukhothai, about 50 km away.
Bangkok Airways has a daily route departing at 08:20 AM from Bangkok to Sukhothai on to Chiang Mai.
Those with private cars will probably find it interesting to drive from Bangkok, because you have the opportunity to really see the country. You will travel through a number of provinces: Ayutthaya, Thailand's capital before Bangkok, Saraburi with its temple of Buddha's footprints, Lopburi with its ancient Khmer temple, Chai Nat with his huge, rippling pond, Nakhon Sawan where the great rivers meet and form the Maenam Chao Phraya River, Phitsanulok with its various attractions, and Kamphaeng Phet with its stunning views of the mountains and rivers.
This highland is known for its pleasant cool weather all year round. The best time to visit Sukhothai is during the cold season (October to January), but the best time to visit an attraction such as Sai Rung waterfall is during the rainy season (June to September).
In general, it is best to visit when the average temperature is at a comfortable level (between 20° C and 30° C on average) which means months of January, February, March, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, and December . April is also a good time to visit, but then it's a bit warmer by about 31.2° C on average.
Visiting Sukhothai is like taking a trip back in time as the history continues to dominate the area. 12 km west of the new city you will find the home to Sukhothai Historical Park where all historical ruins that date back to ancient Sukhothai Kingdom (1238-1438) are. The park can be divided into five zones and contains more than 190 ruins, all spread out over 70 square meters. The central zone – the most popular – is the site of the royal palace (now collapsed) and spiritual center, Wat Mahathat.
If you have time, Si Satchanalai Historical Park is also worth a visit. It is located about 60 km north of Sukhothai Historical Park. There are a number of important historical sites such as Wat Chang Lom and Wat Nang Phaya. This was the place of origin of the beautiful glazed pottery called "Sangkhalok", a precursor to celadon.
Sukhothai is best known for Sangkhalok pottery, gold, handicrafts and silver jewelry. With its grayish blue/green matte glaze and simple designs, Sangkhalok pottery will add a classic touch to any room. Modernized versions of Sangkhalok highlights the more complex patterns and feels quite modern.
Sukhothai’s gold and silver jewelry crafts are unique. Instead of the jewelry being cast in a mold, this jewelry is woven in different designs of tiny threads of gold or silver. They are usually shaped by the patterns found in Si Satchanalai and Sukhothai Historical Park.
If you are looking for a piece of fabric to decorate your home with, you should go to Hat Siao, the textile village, and take a look at their colorful collection of embroidered textiles.
Sukhothai's food scene is dominated by street stalls and open-air markets that sell ready-to-eat meals, like in most villages. But if there's a dish Sukhothai is best known for, and which has played a major role in spicing up Thailand's culinary scene, it is the typical dish, Sukhothai Noodle. You will find the famous spicy Tom Yam soup with bush beans and peanuts in any market in the new town or around the Sukhothai Historical Park. If you are interested in food and local delicacies with fun new flavors, you should get up early and go to the municipal market in the new city.
By Srisakra Vallibhotama
In Thai history, the significance of rice for the development of the State is related to a cultural practice called kalapana, the act of endowing sacred monuments or objects with land, labour and goods. This practice resulted in increasing the number of village communities producing rice for subsistence.
The rationale behind this practice was that Thailand was a sparsely populated country so that manpower was at a premium in order to provide for the security and prosperity of the State. Manpower could be obtained in several ways. The harsh solution was to wage war and organize raids in the hope of capturing large numbers of families. A gentler solution was to offer protection to refugees or to persuade merchants and travellers to come and settle in the country. To assimilate these people of different origins into society, it was necessary to build a community to which they could feel they belonged.
With this in mind the ruler would establish a religious monument or a shrine in a given place and for its upkeep he would perform an act of kalapana, donating a number of families, draft animals and objects to the site in question. As a rule such families were brought from outside. They would clear the land, turn forest into paddy, make homes for themselves, and look after the religious monument. In this way a peasant community was created, to become not only a unit of the wider society but a supplier of labour to the State to which it belonged. Accordingly, any assessment of the strength and persistence of a Thai city or State in the past must take into account not only its size but also the number of religious sites associated with rice-land in the surrounding area.
The State of Sukhothai, which emerged in the thirteenth century and is generally accepted as the earliest Thai kingdom in Thailand, is a case in point. An inscription records of its greatest ruler, Ram Kam Haeng, that before he became king he had honestly served his father and elder brother in waging war against other States and had taken many captives, whom he did not kill or torture but made citizens of Sukhothai. When he became king he persuaded merchants and travellers from outside his kingdom to trade freely in Sukhothai and settle there.
The city of Sukhothai was a large settlement surrounded with triple walls and provided with large ponds for drinking water. There were four main gates at the cardinal points through which people swarmed on special religious occasions to celebrate Buddha in the heart of the city. Around Sukhothai, there were orchards and temples to the Great Buddha, to the south and west were the living quarters of monks, while to the north and east were the rice fields and villages.
During King Ram Kam Haeng Sukhothai was a prosperous state, "there are fish in the water and rice in the fields" so goes a famous saying associated with him.
In order to integrate foreigners in Sukhothai the King built the Wat (Buddhist temple) for the donation of rice fields, labor, and goods that are the basis for rural areas. We know that this method continued, for many Sukhothai inscriptions seen later mention that members of the royal family and bureaucrats followed in his footsteps and restored or built roads, bridges, dams, and canals, which were necessary for communication and rice cultivation.
The city of Sukhothai was and still is a city that is close to the slope of a mountain. Surrounded by low-lying land in the north and east, where the rice is grown. This lowland is strewn with ruins of temples which indicate former peasant villages. The main source of water for rice cultivation was Mae lamp River, which passes through the city from north to east before flowing into the Yom River about 11 miles away.
Traces of old dams and water canals can be seen on the northern and eastern shores of the river, indicating hydraulic condition of the rice-growing society that is created as a result of Kalapana. Moreover, there is a large rectangular area bounded by clay dikes near the northeast corner of the city that is reserved for rice cultivation. These remnants of ancient irrigation work is unique in the city, still testifies in power on a trial that could increase with rice to ensure the survival of the city and its people in an area that is prone to drought and where the quality of land is poor.