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NORTHERN THAILAND'S HIGHLIGHTS

thai romanization
Puzzled about
Thai romanization system ?



Sukhothai Historical Park  
By Dararai
 

Thailand possesses a long history that can be traced back to the 13th century. That is why it features many important historical sites. Among these, the outstanding ones are such as Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai and Ayutthaya historical parks. In this issue, only Sukhothai Historical Park will be dealt with.

Sukhothai Historical Park is in Sukhothai Province which was the first capital of Thailand from circa 1238 to 1438 A.D. Designated as World Heritage Site Number 574 on 12 December 1991 by UNESCO, the ancient city of Sukhothai, along with its former vassal towns of Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet is considered the cradle of Thai civilization.


Sukhothai Historical Park, which is 70 sq.km. in area, is opposite the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum, 12 km to the west of Sukhothai town on Charot Withi Thong Road, which forms a section of Highway 12 (Sukhothai-Tak Route). Sukhothai Province is 427 km North of Bangkok. Sukhothai Historical Park consists of about 30 ruins which mostly were ancient temples. The park is divided into five zones. Several important monuments in the park are:

Ancient monuments within the city wall

King Ramkhamhaeng the Great Statue is in the attitude of holding a book in his right hand with his sword lying to his left, and gazing down on his modern-day admirers, as they present their offerings of flowers and food and pray to his spirit for good fortune.

Sukhothai Ancient City Wall

The city wall has a plan of a rectangular shape with a width of 1,600 metres and a length of 1,800 metres. The inner wall was of sandstone while the outer two protective shields were moats and dykes. Besides defending against the enemies, the city wall also prevented floods.


Phra Attharot

Wat (Temple) Mahathat is the largest and most impressive spot in this park. It is here King Mongkut (Rama IV, 1851-1868) discovered the first stone inscription of Sukhothai*. Its main chedi (stupa), vihara (assembly hall), mandapa, uposatha (ordination hall), and approximately 200 subordinate chedis, as well as some fine Buddha images are overwhelming. These stupas represent various architectural influences. Apart from the lotus bud shape, which is the definitive style of Sukhothai, there are also chedis in the earlier styles of Hariphunchai, Lanna and Sri Lanka. Two awesome 12-metre-tall standing statues of the Buddha, Phra Attharot, are enshrined in the mandapa on both sides of the principle chedi.


King Ramkhamhaeng the Great Statue

*The stone inscriptions are stones incribed with stories about Sukhothai under Pho Khun (king) Ramkhamhaeng's reign. The inscriptions were written in the Thai alphabet created by the Pho Khun himself. The first stone was found by King Mongkut and more such stone inscriptions were discovered later.

Wat Chana Songkhram (formerly known as Wat Ratchaburana) is north of Wat Mahathat and near the city pillar shrine. What to look at are its main bell-shaped chedi and the subordinate one on the eastern flank of the main chedi which is similar to the chedi of Wat Chedi Chet Thaeo in Si Satchanalai.


Different styles of Chedi
in Sukhothai Historical Park


Noen Prasat
(The Palace Mound) is adjacent and to the east of Wat Mahathat. King Rama VI (1910-1925) proposed a theory that the mound was the remains of the palace base of the Sukhothai kings. In 1983 excavation was begun by the Fine Arts Department. The elevated base was found adorned with overturned and upturned lotus mouldings. There were stairs at the front and back.

Wat Traphang Ngoen The word traphang means a reservoir. This no-boundary-wall ancient temple features an ordination hall in the middle of a small reservoir. This was constructed according to the concept Udaka Sima referring to the enclosure of the precincts of an ordination hall with water as a symbol of purity.

Visitors should not miss observing the main chedi which was built in the shape of a lotus bud with four niches to enshrine standing and walking Buddha images. These alcoves differentiate this chedi from other lotus bud-shaped ones.

Wat Sa Si is located to the northwest of Wat Mahathat. This ancient site is on an island in the middle of a reservoir called Traphang Trakuan. It highlights one of the most striking scenic places. The Sri Lankan bell-shaped stupas here indicate the Sinhalese influence in the Sukhothai art style.


Wat Sa Si

Wat Si Sawai
, 350 metres south of Wat Mahathat, possesses three slender prangs on low base. The prangs are decorated with stucco whose patterns resemble those on Chinese wares of the Yuan Dynasty. This temple was originally a Hindu sanctuary as is evidenced by a carved lintel depicting the god Vishnu reclining on the Naga seat, fragments of Hindu images and linga found in the vicinity. It was later transformed into a Buddhist temple with some expansion of the front part in the form of a vihara.

Ancient monuments
outside the city wall : in the North

Tao Thuriang Earthenware Kilns
are located in the north of the city wall, particularly around the dyke of Wat Phraphai Luang. They are divided into two types; the first one is the circular kiln and the second is in the form of a turtle shell. Most kilns discovered here are made of bricks and not the dug out kind.

Wat Phraphai Luang, located close to the northern gate and outer city wall of Sukhothai, this ancient temple shows the evolution of Sukhothai art and architecture, ranging from the art of Khmer to Lavo. The whole cluster of construction is situated in the middle of an area enclosed within a moat 600 metres long on each side.


Wat Si Chum with Phra Achana
inside the vihara


Wat Si Chum
is well known for a large sitting Buddha image, Phra Achana with a 11.30-metre lap width. The image is in the subduing Mara posture.


The name "Achana", which is mentioned in Stone Inscription No.1, means one who is not frightened. Phra Achana is sheltered in a vihara whose roof has collapsed, leaving only the four walls.

Ancient monuments outside the city wall : in the West

Wat Chang Rop boasts a main bell-shaped chedi on a square base decorated with 24 sculptures of elephants. Hence the name of the temple, Chang Rop, meaning surrounded by (sculptures of) elephants.

Wat Saphan Hin, situated on a 200-m- hill, is well known for a large standing Buddha image with a height of 12.50 metres.

Saritphong is a large ancient earthwork constructed between two hills -- Khao Kiew Ai Ma and Khao Phrabat Yai -- in order to supply water for irrigation in Sukhothai.

Ancient monuments outside the city wall: in the South

Wat Chetuphon is famous for its four Buddha images of vast size in four different postures (sitting, reclining, standing and walking) enshrined in a mandapa with porches on four sides. Visitors should not miss admiring the black floral patterns of the exterior wall of the small mandapa. They are like those on Chinese wares.


Wat Chedi Si Hong comprises a vihara, a main chedi and subordinate chedis. Stucco reliefs around the base of the main chedi depict men and women in different attires with ornaments. Each holds a vessel with flora, symbolizing fertility of the land.


A spectacular sunset at the park

Ancient monuments outside the city wall: in the East

Wat Chang Lom is 100 metres off Charot Withi Thong Road. Similar to Wat Chang Rop, this temple features a main bell-shaped chedi with 32 elephant statues around its base. The ordination hall is surrounded by water according to the concept of Udaka Sima. All constructions are embraced within a boundary wall.

Wat Traphang Thonglang
, situated on Charot Withi Thong, features a Buddha image of vast size occupying its square mandapa. Now the Buddha image is in ruins. On the wall of the mandapa are stuccoed reliefs depicting the stories of the Lord Buddha. These reliefs are regarded as masterpieces from the golden age of Sukhothai art, around the 15th century.

These are only examples of attractions. There are other interesting spots worth visiting. If you do not drive, you can get on a tram at the park or rent a bicycle to enjoy sightseeing. Sukhothai Historical Park has plenty of huge trees giving shade for visitors and cyclists and making the cycling in the park more pleasant.

Now tourists can enjoy themselves in the historical park after dark. The ancient monuments and ruins at Sukhothai Historical Park will be illuminated to create a different impression on visitors.


Tourists can enjoy cycling in the park.


If you would like to visit the park, you can contact a travel agent to arrange a tour for you.
Special thanks to TAT Northern Office Region 3 (tel: 0 5525 2742-3) for arranging a tour to Sukhothai.

For the correct pronunciation of romanized Thai words, see
Romanization System of the Thai Language.

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