It’s possible to hit all of the key sites in Sukhothai Historical Park’s central, northern and western zones -- plus a little something extra -- in a single day by bicycle. Follow our suggested route to ensure that you keep backtracking to a minimum.
Starting as early as possible on Jarod Vithithong Road to the east of the central zone, stop by Wat Traphang Thong before popping into Ramkamhaeng National Museum to learn about the history of Sukhothai and see some of its finest pieces of art. Afterwards, head over to one of the nearby bicycle rental shops and pedal over to the central zone’s main eastern gate.
After buying your first 100-baht ticket of the day, cruise straight west and make a quick stop at Wat Chana Songkhram before hitting the star of the central zone: Wat Mahathat. Pause as you approach and notice the grand scale of the complex from afar. Ditch your bike at the ancient gate and wander slowly among the many Buddha images and chedis -- and don’t overlook the details.
Pedal southwest from Wat Mahathat to check out Wat Si Sawai, a site that displays the strongest Khmer influence of any in Sukhothai. Strike northwest from here to stop by a moat-side pavilion placed beneath the spooky branches of rain trees. Breeze through Wat Traphang Ngoen -- and don’t miss the walking Buddha off to the side -- before turning back east to the footbridge that leads across a large pond to Wat Sa Si.
Keep east from here and snag a cold drink from one of the vendors next to the King Ramkamhaeng Monument, perhaps taking a moment to pay respects to this highly revered monarch. Leave the central zone through the nearby northern gate and continue straight north past the Ta Pha Daeng Shrine and Wat Sorasak before crossing the canal. Then hang a left towards Wat Phra Phai Luang, where you’ll need to buy a ticket for the northern zone.
After gazing at the magnificent lintels adorning Wat Phra Phai Luang’s only remaining Khmer-style prang, pedal west to nearby Wat Si Chum. Take your time, as this is one of Sukhothai’s most spellbinding sites. Rather than backtracking afterwards, wander to the south side of Wat Si Chum’s massive mondop and take the lane that shoots straight south to the main road.
Take a right (west) and it’s a three-kilometre ride to the western zone’s ticket booth; a few eateries are found along the way and by now we reckon you’ll be ready for lunch. Hang a left (south) at the ticket booth -- time to cough up another 100 baht -- and you’ll soon find the ancient raised rock bridge that gives Wat Saphan Hin its name. Climb the breezy hill and enjoy the view.
Continue deeper into the western zone, stopping at non-touristy Wat Khao Phra Bat Noi and other serene sites spread over a wooded hillside where monks once came to meditate. Pedal south for a few more kilometres and the lane eventually cuts back east. Rice paddies stretch on either side as farmers lead their cattle over the horizon.
A right at the fork will take you straight to the western edge of the central zone; hang another right and after a kilometre you’ll circle back to where you started the day. If you’ve got the gumption, you could strike south for an extra 1.5 kilometres, passing a low-key village on the way to Wat Chetuphon and Wat Chedi Si Hong.
Otherwise you could head east for a kilometre to see the elephant statues at Wat Chang Lom, or simply hang around Wat Mahathat for sunset. After that, only one “must do” remains to make your day in Sukhothai complete: take a load off and dig into some Sukhothai noodles. Enjoy!
By David Luekens.
Last updated on 15th June, 2016.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.