Sukhothai, established in the 13th century, was the first capital of Siam. It is now a major tourist attraction, and I wanted to spend a couple of days exploring the ancient city. I caught a bus from Chiang Mai to New Sukhothai, checked into a simple guesthouse and prepared for a busy excursion of exploring ruined temples the next day.
Luckily for me, the guesthouse happened to be located right near the start of a cycling lane that led all the way to the historical park. Early in the morning, I hired a shabby but functioning bicycle and commenced along the 15.5 km marked route. It was more of a road than a dedicated cycling path, passing cars and scooters more often than I did bicycles. However, it was quiet and peaceful, hugging a narrow river that passed through the outskirts of villages and rice fields. I much preferred this to the highway.
Old Sukhothai is separated into five sections, conveniently named Central, North, East, South and West. Just before the end of the bike path, I unexpectedly entered the East district. Although the temples weren't overly big, a line of well-preserved stone elephants on Wat Chang Lom caught my eye. The other sites I saw were unremarkable.
The prominent temples are located in the Central region, so I headed there next in an attempt to beat the crowds. Being a weekend, I presumed the site would be packed with tourists, but somehow I managed to avoid the large tour groups. It didn't take me long to see why this section was so popular. The temples were clearly the most interesting and well preserved of all the ruins I saw today, spread out over a wide area. There seemed to be an endless amount of structures to discover, particularly at Wat Mahathat, with intricate details covering many of the surfaces. A moat surrounded Wat Sa Si, sending my camera into overdrive as I captured reflections from every angle. If I was keen I could have spent half a day in this district alone, but I had other areas to explore.
Several kilometres down the highway was the West region, supposedly one of the more noteworthy sections. I couldn't see why. The main temple, Wat Saphan Hin, was situated up a long hill. The couple of Buddha statues and handful of pillars at the top didn’t feel worth the effort to reach it. There wasn't even a decent view as a reward. I only stopped at one other ruin in this area, Wat Chedi Ngam, also on a hill, but it was underwhelming. Other sites I passed were mostly piles of bricks. The only positive was that the section was located in a tranquil forest, with few tourists and almost no cars.