The ruins of Si Satchanalai and Chaliang include a central historical park along with a couple of outlying archaeological sites and related attractions set near tranquil villages. While not quite as impressive as the ruins found in Sukhothai, Si Satch’s ruins can make for a more rewarding experience thanks to a quieter and more intimate atmosphere. Read on to make the most of them.
All of the attractions are often clumped under the label “Si Satchanalai Historical Park”, but they’re actually divided into three separate but related sections all located within a 10-kilometre radius near the Yom River. The largest section comprises the actual historical park, while the others fall under Chaliang in the village of Ban Phra Phrang to the south, and the Thuriang kilns in Ban Ko Noi to the north.
You can pay 220 baht for a combined ticket to the central historical park plus the archaeological site at Chaliang’s Wat Chom Chuen and the Thuriang kilns. Each of these cost 100 baht if paying separately, while Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat charges its own 20 baht entrance fee in Chaliang.
Si Satchanalai Historical Park
The actual historical park mainly covers the ruins of Si Satchanalai, a name that was coined when the Sukhothai kingdom took over in the mid-1200s. Most of the sites found here, including Wat Chedi Chet Thaeo, Wat Chang Lom and a pair of hilltop temples, were constructed during the Sukhothai period on land that was probably forest or farm when the Khmer were based at Chaliang. The park opened in 1988 and became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1991.
Located within the confines of the ancient city walls, the park’s central section also has several smaller sites spread over a tree-lined area free of motorised traffic. Two hours is enough to see all of the highlights here, though you could easily lose half a day if you prefer to take it slowly. Less than a kilometre further west off Highway 1201, the park also oversees several minor sites, including Wat Phaya Dam, which are free of charge.
The park’s main gate, restaurants, bicycle rental shops, ticket booth and info centre are located just beyond an old city wall to the south. From here it’s a two-kilometre walk or bike ride through all of the highlights, ending at the hilltop temples in the northwest. You can also buy a ticket, rent a bicycle and enter through the northern gate off the riverside lane. If you don’t feel like walking or cycling, a tourist tram departs every 30 minutes from the southern gate and stops at all of the key sites for around 10 minutes each.
This ancient city probably began as a Dvaravati settlement before the Khmer of Angkor took over around the 11th century, so it was here long before the Sukhothai kingdom swept to power in the 13th century. Sukhothai-period rulers added to the pre-existing Khmer-style Mahayana Buddhist sanctuaries, but much of the original architecture can still be seen today.
Chaliang’s highlight, the ruins of Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat, are overseen by an active Theravada Buddhist monastery. The excavation pit at nearby Wat Chom Chuen is worth a peek to see 1,700-year-old skeletons lying in a pit, supported by a bunch of background info. The Chaliang sites are located two to three kilometres east of the central historical park area along the riverside lane.
Firing Sangkhalok ceramics more than eight centuries ago, two of the area’s largest kiln sites are now open to the public as museums. Both are found in the charming village of Ban Ko Noi, five to six kilometres northwest of the main historical park area along the riverside lane. It’s worth coming up here for the riverside scenery and antique shops as well as the nicely presented museums.
Starting at the historical park’s main southern gate, we suggest that you rent a bicycle and cut east to the Chaliang sites first -- they’re worth prioritising and you could stop at Kang Sak Beer Garden for lunch. You could then cruise back west to hit the central historical park before cutting north along the riverside lane to the Thuriang kilns. Take Highway 1201 back south from the northernmost kiln site to check out some of the minor outlying ruins before returning the bike.
Otherwise, you could rent a motorbike (250 baht) or arrange a car and driver (2,500 baht) down in Sukhothai, though even if coming with a vehicle you’ll probably want a bicycle for the central historical park. Motorbike rental and tours are not readily available in Si Satch, but you might get lucky by asking around in Ban Phra Phrang. Papong Homestay would be the place to start.
Day trip or overnight stay?
Si Satch makes a great day trip from Sukhothai if coming by motorbike or car, but we suggest spending a night here if relying on the buses. If coming by bus you’ll get dropped alongside Highway 101 and will have to walk a couple of kilometres to rent a bicycle. Trying to hit all of the sites and then drop the bicycle off before walking back to the bus stop to catch the last bus, which picks up at around 15:00, would make for a stressful day.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 17th June, 2016.