A Couple Days in the Ruins of Sukhothai, Thailand
Sukhothai in northern Thailand doesn’t overwhelm with the same majesty as the Angkor Archeological Park in neighboring Cambodia, but this sleepy ancient city makes for a much better visitor experience if you’re looking for tranquility. Crowds during last year’s high season were almost nonexistent, with a few tour groups hitting up the well-preserved central area and nobody venturing elsewhere in the 70 square kilometers of the park. Some of these ruins are little more than foundations in the ground, but they’re all yours as long as you don’t mind sharing with a few wandering cows.
Renting a bicycle is the best way to get the most of the trip, as most of the roads in the temple areas are looping and only a few kilometers long (here’s a good map for reference). There’s a handful of tourist hotels and bar/restaurants in the main part of town, but most of non-temple parts are rural and undeveloped. There are few hawkers and the people are genuinely friendly.
One guy on a motorbike insisted on driving me back to my guesthouse after I misjudged the time and was walking back in darkness. I refused, but eventually relented. He wouldn’t take any money when he dropped me off. One waitress running a local food joint with her family even called me handsome. Perhaps it was out of politeness (note: this is token humbleness), but I was charmed by her and the rest of the people in Sukhothai.
Best of all, there’s some semblance of a sense of exploration as you ramble down a dirt road without anyone in sight to find some ruins listed on a map. It’s nothing too exotic or adventurous, but travelers weary of the massive developments at Angkor can experience some do-it-yourself exploring due to a lack of signage at some of the smaller sites.
The old capital of Ayutthaya outside of Bangkok will always get more tourists thanks to its great location and impeccable condition of its historical buildings, but that’s a well-developed area where modern building are adjacent to their ancient counterparts. Instead of modern buildings, open fields and forests surround much of Sukhothai. The condition of Sukhothai’s ruins might disappoint some, but the laid-back atmosphere is a fair trade-off.
I booked a $10 one-way bus through http://www.thaiticketmajor.com/ that departed from the Mo Chit bus station and arrived seven hours later. It was the nicest bus I’ve ever been on, complete with an attendant distributing coffee, a box of snacks and a stop for lunch that was included in the price. The bus was practically empty until we hit Ayutthaya, where we stopped to fill up the bus with tourists who just visited those ruins. Two nights – with one and a half days of bicycling around Sukhothai – was enough time to see just about everything.
I'm an American freelance writer who spent a couple years living in Cambodia. Now I'm on the move again and traveling all over the place. I'm willing to try any bizarre liquor that's presented to me. Any recommendations?