Just Back from Sukhothai

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Feb 10th, 2009, 06:03 AM
  #1
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Just Back from Sukhothai

I'm just going to post a brief summary here. A longer report and photos will be posted to my journal soon.

Decided to revisit Sukhothai province. Haven't been there for more than 20 years. Flew Bangkok Airways to yet another one of their award-winning little airports. Flight is just under 1 hour, arriving around 4:30 pm.

Stayed at Legendha. It was not my first choice, but R24 informed me the Le Charme was full and offered the Legendha. Was a bit dubious, but there aren't many choices near the old city. It turned out to be a real little gem. The resort used to be a run-down hotel - and parts of it still are run-down - but new owners are in process of completely rebuilding the entire property. The guest rooms were all new, with wood floors and Thai touches, grouped around a nice pool.

Early Saturday morning I walk up to the old city, about 15 minutes away. Outside the park entrance I select one of the bicycle shops to rent a bike from. For the exorbitant amount of 30 Baht I get a bike that's a little too small and the brakes don't really work. But the seat is comfortable, and my heavy Timberlands still have plenty of breaking power in them.

A bike turns out to be the perfect mode of transport to see Sukhothai. There's no way I could have covered the ground I did on foot, but a car or even a tuk-tuk would have gone too fast to really enjoy the countryside, which is one of the appeals of Sukhothai. In all I see about a dozen of the significant structures - out of the 80 covered in Dawn Rooney's book (yes, SHE has done Sukhothai). Most of them I have to myself, as not many tourists visit Sukhothai. I end up in the early afternoon at the national museum near the main entrance. They're currently making some major changes, so there's not much to see.

On returning the bike, I book a ticket for that evening's sound and light show, put on the first Saturday of the month during the dry season. I have time to get back to the hotel for a shower and a little relaxation before coming back for the show.

The show is held at one of the secondary temples in the old city. This one is in the center a large lake, and the show starts with a buffet dinner picnic on the banks of the lake where you can watch the sun set behind the temple. After dinner, you walk around the lake to the temple, where you take a seat facing the temple. The show is performed by students from the local arts school. It's not spectacular in itself but the setting is, and there's paper balloons and fireworks to make it even more exciting.

Sunday I've booked a car to take me up to Si Satchanalai, another ancient city about an hour away from Sukhothai. Si Satchanalai is somewhat unique, in that the city walls enclose a small ridge, which roughly bisects the city. There are a couple of temples dotting the spine of the ridge, which makes for a spectacular setting. On one side of the ridge is a string of large temples, which are in many respects more impressive than the ones at Sukhothai. Also around Si Satchanalai are the remains of the several ancient kilns where the famous Sawankhalok ceramics were made.

I could have used another day, or two, to explore here. I didn't get to Kampaengphet, which would have been nice. I suppose the inevitable question is, would I recommend a visit to Sukhothai? Well... Sukhothai is no Angkor. Frankly, even the temples of Ayuthaya are more impressive, and accessible. Sukhothai's main attraction is probably what it doesn't have - hoards of tourists. The ancient city mostly gets "shoot and run" bus loads of tourists on their way up to Chiang Mai. They stop at the main temple in the middle of the city and then move on. A few stay the night, take in the show, then move on the next morning. There are a few independent travelers who, like myself, stay a few days, but they aren't many. There is a very modest infrastructure - a few nice hotels, some guest houses and restaurants - but none of the stuff that goes with mass tourism in Thailand. I didn't spot a single beer bar or nightclub.
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Feb 10th, 2009, 06:41 AM
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Thank you, thank you for your report, Michael! I've not yet been to Sukhothai even though it's been on my list for years. One of these days...

Knowing what a fanatic I am about temple ruins, how much time should I allow?

I'm going to order Dawn Rooney's book.
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Feb 10th, 2009, 07:38 AM
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Hi Kathie, I know this place is going to appeal to you. I would have liked two days for Sukhothai, mainly just so I could take afternoons off by the pool. Si Satchanalai was another full day, and Kampangphet would be another day. All three are covered by Dawn Rooney's book, and you could base yourself in Sukhothai for all three.

By the way, I stopped in at a sort of cloth 'museum' in Si Satchanalai new town. They had some lovely brocades on sale in the shop in front of the museum, and in a Thai house at the back, this old lady was weaving the most beautiful soft scarves.
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Feb 10th, 2009, 09:17 AM
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Wow - sounds great Michael. Thanks so much.
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Feb 10th, 2009, 10:42 PM
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Great report Michael. Sukothai is on our list, next time we go to Thailand!
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Feb 11th, 2009, 04:17 AM
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Lovely report and really whet my appetite .Thanks .
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Feb 11th, 2009, 12:07 PM
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thanks for this update...always want to hear about the less travelled thailand areas...
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Feb 11th, 2009, 01:33 PM
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Lovely report, brought back all my fond memories of this magical ancient capitol. While flying from Bangkok is fastest, I truly enjoyed the boat trip on a restored junk up river from Bangkok to Ayauthia and Sukhothia
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Feb 11th, 2009, 03:30 PM
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Robbie, tell me about the boat trip - how long? Where did you arrange it?
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Feb 11th, 2009, 04:15 PM
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As an alternative to flying or cruising you can drive to Sukhothai in about 5 hours. Use Sukhothai as a base and then explore Sri Satchanalai park which is about 1 hour North of there. From Sri Satchanalai it's only about 1.5 hours driving to Lampang.

I highly recommend a car while you're in Sukhothai so if you fly then you will need a car and driver.

Here're some photo, look in the Sukhothai gallery, from a recent trip - http://khun-pook.smugmug.com/
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Feb 11th, 2009, 06:02 PM
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Thanks, Hanuman, I assumed when we do it we'll ned a car and driver particularly to get to Sri Satchanalai.

It's one of (too) many options on our list for this year!
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Feb 12th, 2009, 06:30 AM
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I have driven to Sukhothai before. If you opt for that, I would drive to Kampangphet first, stay the night there, see the ruins in the morning, then drive on to Sukhothai.

While having a car might be convenient in many ways, I would still opt for the bicycle to see the old city. There's a lot outside the main entrance where you can leave the car and rent a bike just inside the entrance. There actually isn't much parking around the monuments - and not at all really at some of the outlying places. But some people may not be up to the biking, so, to each their own.

I'm a little dubious about the boat (a junk?) to Sukhothai. There's no navigable river near the old city. I think Robbie may be confusing Sukhothai with Lopburi, or some other ancient city. I think you can get to Kampangphet by boat from Bangkok (I mean, it's possible, but I don't know of anybody who does it - look for books by Steve van Beek).
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Feb 12th, 2009, 06:48 AM
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As long as we're on the subject of cars, I'll throw this out there: Now that I've done Sukhothai, my appetite is really whetted for Phnom Rung, which I've never been to. A car is really the only way to get there, but I don't feel like driving it on my own, or with my car. If anybody would like to see the roots of Khmer architecture and share the cost of a nice car with driver for such a trip, let me know. ;-)
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Feb 12th, 2009, 08:18 AM
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Michael,

The shortest and quickest route to Sukhothai is via Phitsanulok IMO and the road from Kamphaeng Phet to Sukhothai is rather narrow.

If you want to see Phanom Rung don't forget to stop by the nearby Prasart Hin Muang Tum. Both are just a short drive from Korat and there are other, albeit lesser, Khmer ruins near there as well.

Check this out - http://khun-pook.smugmug.com/gallery...2_uxH2R#P-1-12
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Feb 12th, 2009, 04:05 PM
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Correction - sorry but it was late last night when I posted the wrong info, the Phanom Rung ruins are a short drive from Buri Ram not Korat.
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Feb 12th, 2009, 04:20 PM
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Thanks to both of you. I have some info from a previous post by JamesA about the ruins near Buri Ram.
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Feb 12th, 2009, 06:24 PM
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Hanuman, I've driven from Sukhothai to Kampangphet before, and the road was not that bad. Plus, if you want to see the ruins at Kampangphet, and you're driving from Bangkok, it makes more sense to start with Kampangphet. It can be a nice drive up from Bangkok, and there is (or was) a nice hotel right on the river in town. That way, you could leave Kampangphet early in the morning, see the ruins on the way, and be in Sukhothai in the afternoon.

I've been to Phimai a few times (most of the pots in my house are from Dan Kwian) but just never made it all the way to Phnom Rung. In my own research, I think I'd base myself in Korat, and make the dash to Phnom Rung from there. Buriram (city) is 50+ km from Phnom Rung and seems to have only one dump for a hotel. Korat is around 100 km from the mountain, and has a couple of nice places to stay.
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Feb 12th, 2009, 07:09 PM
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Michael,

I agree if you want to see Kampaeng Phet first then it makes sense to go that route. The bypass from Phitsanulok is 4 lanes and in good condition so if you want to go directly to Sukhothai then that would be my suggestion.

The best hotel, IMO, for Sukhothai is the Tharaburi Resort. I did look at Le Charme and it reminded me of a housing estate that had been converted into a resort.

No good hotels in Buri Ram but Korat does have a couple of nice hotels. Well worth a visit the next time you're up there.
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Feb 13th, 2009, 04:36 AM
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That's a good description of Le Charme. I rode past it when I was riding around Sukhothai, and was glad I didn't get it. Maybe if they plant some trees, it will be a nice place in 10 to 15 years. Taraburi looks nice, but I think Legendha now has it beat.

I've stayed at the Princess and the Heritage in Korat, both nice hotels. That's why I would plan to stay in Korat, and make the run to Phnom Rung from there, even though it's a bit further away.
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Feb 14th, 2009, 09:34 PM
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Finally got the highlight photos posted. You can find Sukhothai photos here:
http://chiengfa.com/gallery2/main.ph...g2_itemId=1441
Si Satchanalai photos:
http://chiengfa.com/gallery2/main.ph...g2_itemId=1541
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