I'm still working on my itinerary (and with two more months to go, I bet there will be many changes made).
Lately I've been struggling with the thought that I might be trying to do too much, and I might need to leave some places for the next visit.
For reference: I'll be traveling for a month, mainly in Thailand, with a bit of Cambodia and Laos.
I'll be spending three days exploring Angkor. This is the part that is set in stone. But now I'm wondering if maybe I should give up on seeing other ruins, as it will eat into my time budget and I don't want to be tired of it by the time I get to Angkor.
Given that I'll be spending three full days in Angkor, would you advise spending a full day in Ayutthaya + another full day in Sukhothai , or am I being too ambitious?
There is no doubt that I would want to see them all if I had unlimited time, but sadly, I don't.
I'm thinking maybe spending less time there... or leaving Sukhothai out altogether... but I'm not happy about it.
What are your thoughts?
Choosing between Ayutthaya and Sukhothai is a popular dilemma! here's one thread that discusses the pros and cons of each:
Depending on your trip plan, I'd suggest trying to see Ayutthaya and/or Sukhothai before seeing Angkor - while the ruins are of a different style (Thai rather than Khmer) they're also far smaller so IMO better to work up to the grandest site.
Lastly, don't forget there are Khmer period ruins spread across Thailand, including Muang Singh in Kanchanaburi, Phimai and Phonom Rung and others -- though sounds like you're already running out of time!
I understand the dilemma, so many attractions (things to see/do) and limited time to be in the region. Given that this is a common dilemm, I wrote a post about that 'problem' here, it may help you.
For some, Ayathuya is the choice - it can be taken as a day trip from Bangkok, and/or one can connect with the night train to Chiang Mai so that time can be 'saved'. Personally, while I appreciated the place, I found the traffic buzzing in and around took away the ambience.
Another attribute to remember about Ayathuya is that it is REALLY iconic for the Thai people, and so for the religious reason gets rave reviews.
For others (including me), Sukhothai is the preference where only one is to be selected. The uncluttered ambience and lack of traffic noise is very appealing. Perhaps also, there are generally far less tourists clambering over the Sokhothai ruins than can occur at Ayathuya.
Another aspect is that there are two historical areas at Sukhothai and with a rented bicycle, the world can be your oyster for a day (or so).
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An important aspect to remember about SE Asia is that while, yes, there attractions (as in Europe, etc.), the biggest single attraction of SE Asia IMHO is the local people undertaking their lives within their culture. So, much of what is 'attractive' in SE Asia is not the cities where tourists hang out, or the 'must sees' where tourists hang out, or the xxxx where tourists hang out, etc. Rather, its the smaller little places where you can stop and have a small meal and talk to the locals (ie. the places where tourists DON'T hang out).
In these places, you talk to the waitstaff, ask them about their family (always the most important first major question), where they went to school, what their mum/dad does, etc. You learn so much if YOU keep listening to them.
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I don't know how you are travelling to Siem Reap ( Angkor ), but if by bus, then I'd make this comment. I visited Phanom Rung before visiting Angkor and I'm very glad I did. Phanom Rung has been rebuilt, and the (obvious) layout showed such building detail That I was able to use it as a pattern to be able to 'decode' the ruins of Angkor (much of which has yet to be rebuilt). So, by knowing the Khmer building 'plan', I was able to better understand Angkor.
Also, one buys a 1 day or 3 day pass (the 3 day can be used over 7 days, now). 3 straight days of temple looking will challenge you. It is very hard going. Most get 'templed out' very quickly.
I suggest to ppl to take a day out of the 3 and go visit Tonle Sap (which is the reason why Angkor was built where it was).
Tonle Sap was/is the lifeblood of the Angkorian empire. Go look [url=
http://www.talesofasia.com/cambodia-siemreap-guide-other.htm]here and scroll down to look especially at "Kompong Khleang".
For me, as an environmentalist, Tonle Sap is a very important entity.
Few realise the environmental significance of the lake, or that within a few years the floodwaters that feed it are set to be denied the lake as the Mekong River and/or its tributories become increasingly dammed in China & Laos.
Environmentalists indicate that if the dams proceed as planned, within a decade, Tonle Sap will merely become a big desert (like several of the large lakes in Russia).
So, on an environmental basis, go see it as maybe it could be gone before you get back.
But, on another environmental basis, the fact of Tonle Sap was a necessary pre-condition for the erection of the Angkorian temples. The microclimate of the waters enabled the vegetation that is Siem Reap. The diverse ecosystem (especially as an abundant provider of fish, etc) supported Angkor.
If you consider that nearly every other centre for civilisation needed food to exist (and flourish) and most overpopulated or despoiled their food source/s, only to then decline, then Tonle Sap is an example of a food source for a flourishing civilisation centre that wasn't despoiled.
I suggest going to Tonle Sap for (1) the environmental reason, (2) to understand how the Angkorian 'empire' flourished, (3) as a sobering diversion to the 'internationalism' of Siem Reap, and (4) as a diversion from 'templing'.
Hope this helps.
Bruce, I am indeed planning on spending a couple of days around Tonle Sap.
Both your posts are very informative, I'm sure they will take a while to sink in, but they're most helpful. I appreciate your well thought out response.
Hi, if you are interested in ancient cities then I really would recommend visiting all three places. I'd suggest starting in beautiful, tranquil, inspiring Sukhothai to wander around the peaceful and graceful Buddhas. Then go to Ayutthaya for the impressive prangs, the majesty of Wat Phra Si Sanphet, the delightfully illuminated prangs and chedis at night and the temples that are still used such as Phra Mongkhon Bophit. Both cities are incredible in their own rights...and then there is Angkor . The highlight, the climax, the finale. Everything about Angkor is outstanding and it is best seen as the last of the three if you do visit them all.
I have some photographs of Ayutthaya here - http://www.billbevanphotography.co.uk/portfolio50727.html
and Sukhothai here - http://www.billbevanphotography.co.uk/portfolio50689.html
that might help you decide your itinerary.
I wrote on the basis that you had chosen not to see both Ayuthaya and Sukhothai - that if you had time you'd probably have visited both.
I got the distinct feeling from your original post that you wanted to ensure you got to enjoy a broad spectrum of Thai culture/life, etc.
It appears I was wrong.
Do you have any special interest that motivates you to want to see many of the various 'Kingdom' ruins?
Or, is it that these are portrayed as 'must see' destinations in your guide?
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A month in Thailand, with side trips to Laos & Cambodia gives very little time to enjoy the array of wonderful places & culture that Thailand has to offer (let alone Laos & Cambodia).
I've visited many of the extant 'Kingdom' ruins in Thailand, Cambodia & Vietnam. I have a personal interest in so doing. But, I've also made time to go see. Put another way, I made time to go to these places because of my interest; not because some book said they were good.
At the end of the day, unless you have an interest in either archaeology, early monumental building design, religion, history, or such like, these places are merely a pile of ruined rubble.
From a personal point of view, unless you are particularly interested in the extant ruins, I'd suggest you really think hard why you want to spend time in more than one location in Thailand.
When time is (for you, very limited, spending time at a ruin site has to be traded from spending time at another culturally enjoyable place in Thailand.