Cover Story : Vol.35 No.2 / 5 February 2018 Story by Maneechan Photos by Induang
Sukhothai Historical Park was designated as World Heritage Site Number 574 on 12th 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 is opposite the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum, 12 km to the west of Sukhothai town on Charot Withithong Road, which forms a section of Highway 12 (Sukhothai - Tak Route). This historical park consists of about 30 ruins which mostly are ancient temples. The park, covering about 70 sq. km., is divided into five zones - central, eastern, southern, western and northern. The central zone consists of the most famous and better maintained temples. The four outer zones are less touristy than the central zone.
As the park covers a very wide area, it is more convenient to enjoy your exploring by bicycle. Surrounded by lakes, big trees and greenery, the park offers a pleasant bike ride to visitors. Anyway, due to the strong sunlight, you are highly recommended to wear a long-sleeved shirt and a wide-brimmed hat. There are bicycles available at many bike rental shops just outside the park itself.
Some important monuments in the park are as follows:
The Central Zone
King Ramkhamhaeng the Great Statue
King Ramkhamhaeng was the third king of Sukhothai Kingdom, ruling from 1279 – 1298. He created the first Thai alphabet in 1283 so that it was a symbol of the nation’s independence. The statue of this great king is located on Charot Withithong Road to the north of Wat Mahathat. It is three metres high and in the posture of holding a book in his right hand with his sword lying to his left.
Sukhothai Ancient City Wall
The city wall is of a rectangular shape with a width of 1,300 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.
Surrounded by a lotus pond, this temple is the largest and most impressive spot in the park. It is here that King Mongkut (Rama IV, 1851-1868) discovered the first stone inscription of Sukhothai*. Its main chedi (stupa), vihara (assembly hall), mandapa, ubosot (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 principal chedi.
* The stone inscriptions are stones inscribed with stories about Sukhothai under King Ramkhamhaeng’s reign. The inscriptions were written in the Thai alphabet created by the king himself. The first stone was found by King Mongkut when he was a monk and made a pilgrimage to Sukhothai. More such stone inscriptions were discovered later.
Wat Chana Songkhram
The temple is to the 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.
Noen Prasat (The Palace Mound)
It is adjacent to the east of Wat Mahathat. King Rama VI (1910-1925) proposed a theory that the mound was the remains of the palace platform. In 1983 excavation was begun by the Fine Arts Department. The elevated base was found adorned with overturned and upturned lotus mouldings. There are stairs at the front and back sides.
Wat Traphang Ngoen
The word traphang means a pond. This ancient temple features an ordination hall in the middle of a small pond. 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 Si Sawai
Located 350 metres south of Wat Mahathat, the temple possesses three slender prangs on low base. 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.
Wat Sa Si
The temple is located to the northwest of Wat Mahathat. This ancient site is on an island in the middle of a large pond called Traphang Trakuan. Its beautiful location makes it one of the most popular monuments in the park. The bell-shaped main chedi here indicates the Singhalese influence in the Sukhothai art style.
In front of the main chedi is the vihara or assembly hall, of which the base and pillars remain. Seated on a pedestal to the back of the vihara is a large stucco Buddha image in the posture of subduing Mara. Besides, there is a graceful image of a walking Buddha on a circular pedestal in front of the smaller chedi.
The Northern Zone
A part from the above temples, there are some interesting temples in the northern zone of the park. From Wat Sa Si, if you ride bicycle to the north for another 3 km., you will find the following attractive spots.
Wat Si Chum
This temple is well known for a large sitting Buddha image, Phra Achana with a width of 11.30 metres and a height of 15 meters. 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 occupies almost the entire space of the mondop whose roof has collapsed, leaving only the four walls. A stairway in the three metres thick walls of the mondop leads to the top of the structure.
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 cluster of temple remains is situated in the middle of the area enclosed by three moats.
Tao Thuriang Earthenware Kilns
They are located in the north of the city wall, particularly around the moat 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 dugout kind.
The most famous products and souvenirs of Sukhothai are Sangkhalok pottery and ceramics. Sangkhalok is the glazed ceramic ware traditionally made in the kilns of Muang Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai districts in Sukhothai province. Celadon, a type of Sangkhalok stoneware, is particularly popular with foreigners, due to its high quality materials and attractive designs. The typical celadon ware usually has grey, pale blue or green, or white colour. Products range from tableware and home decorative items to gifts and curios. If you desire to buy some items for souvenirs, you can find Sangkhalok shops lining along the road just beside the historical park.
All the above–mentioned temples are only main attractions. There are other interesting spots worth visiting. If you do not feel so tired, you may stay there until dark to enjoy the wonderful view in different atmosphere, as the ancient monuments and ruins will be illuminated by yellow lights to create an impression on visitors.
By bus: Air-conditioned busses depart from Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2) to Sukhothai daily. The journey takes about 7 hours. Call 0 2936 2852- 66 or visit www.transport.co.th for more information.
By plane: Bangkok Airways flies from Bangkok to Sukhothai daily, taking 1.15 hours. From the airport (40 km north of the town), there are shared mini vans to the provincial town and the historical park. For more information, call the Bangkok Airways Reservation Center on 1771 or +66 (0) 2270 6699, or visit www.bangkokair.com.
Getting around in Sukhothai
By songthaew: Songthaews or pickup trucks with seats in the rear are the most popular mode of public transport for getting around town or between districts. Larger sized songthaews traveling to and from the city and the Sukhothai Historical Park are available at Charot Withithong Road near Yom River.
By tuk tuk and motorbike taxi: There are numerous tuk tuks and motorbike taxis available for short journeys around Sukhothai town.
By rented motorbike: Motorbikes can be rented at many guesthouses in Sukhothai town, which will often require you to leave a photocopy of your passport. Be sure to inspect bikes prior to rental and drive with extreme caution as rental motorbikes are not normally insured.
*For package tours to Sukhothai Historical Park and Sukhothai province, contact Alex Holiday Co., Ltd., Tel: +66 (0) 2880 7388 to 9