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.
appreciate the once flourishing civilization, Thaiways would
like to present the remains of this first kingdom of Siam, which
include masterpieces of the earliest Thai architecture, sculptures,
and other art objects. This issue covers only Sukhothai Historical
Park. The historical parks of the two vassal towns, Si Satchanalai
and Kamphaeng Phet, will be dealt with in the ensuing issues.
Historical Park is located in Sukhothai province, about 427
km north of Bangkok. Sukhothai was the capital of the first
kingdom of Siam, flourishing between the mid 13th and mid 14th
century AD. The kingdom of Sukhothai held a vast territory extending
across the Moei, lower Yom, Ping, Nan, and upper Pa Sak river
valleys. The area lays between two other kingdoms, Pagan in
the west and Khmer in the east.
King Ramkhamhaeng the Great
the 11th century, Mon and Khmer peoples had occupied the Yom
valley but early in the 13th century, two local chieftains,
Pho Khun Pha Muang and Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao, joined forces
to drive out the Khmers from the area.
began the 'golden age' of the Sukhothai Kingdom. Granted the
sword of Victory and the title of Si Indrapatindraditya by his
comrade, Pho Khun Pha Muang, Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao became
the ruler of Sukhothai and the founder of the Sukhothai (Phra
Ruang) Dynasty. As time passed, Sukhothai was gradually subsumed
by the growing might of the Ayutthaya kingdom from the mid 14th
to the mid 15th centuries AD. when it was annexed by the latter.
most well-known and revered king of the Sukhothai period was
Pho Khun Ramkamhaeng the Great (about 1239-1298 AD). During
his reign, which began around 1275 AD, Sukhothai reached the
zenith of its influence. The frontiers of the kingdom were extended
to embrace much of modern Thailand and local chieftains from
as far away as Laos and the Malay Peninsular paid tribute to
the Sukhothai King.
to a stone inscription, Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng was a model king
who acted as both temporal and spiritual leader of the kingdom.
During his reign, the kingdom was peaceful under one religion,
Theravada Buddhism, and people were content and happy. It is
said that the ruler did not require his people to pay tax and
they could trade in anything they wanted. In addition, Pho Khun
Ramkamhaeng is credited with the creation of the first Thai
reverence with which the Thai people still regard Pho Khun Ramkamhaeng
can be seen at a modern shrine just inside the entrance to Sukhothai
Historical Park. Here, a massive statue of the royal hero, holding
a book in his right hand with his sword lying to his left, gazes
down on his modern-day admirers, as they present their offerings
of flowers and food and pray to his spirit for good fortune.
A graceful Buddha image in
Sukhothai Historical Park
first capital of Thai kingdom, Sukhothai, was firstly rediscovered
by King Rama IV (1851-1868), or better known to Westerners as
King Mongkut, when he was a wandering Buddhist priest. Before
that, nobody realized that there was anything left from the
city which was once the nerve centre of a rich and powerful
The first stone inscription
Mongkut made the trip with a large group of followers in 1833.
After breaking through the thick jungle woven with creepers
and vines, he found the first stone inscription of Sukhothai
beside Wat Mahathat in the centre of the town. It was taken
back to Bangkok together with a stone seat known as Manangkhasila
throne. The inscription was written in Thai alphabet created
by Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng himself. Now the inscription is kept
in the National Museum and the stone throne in Vihara Yot within
the compound of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, both in Bangkok.
More such stone inscriptions were discovered later, shedding
more light on the condition of the first Thai kingdom.
Another perspective of Sukhothai
in 1908, Prince Vajiravudh (later King Rama VI) led a team of
explorers on a trip to the ancient capital by the old road from
Kamphaeng Phet. The road was in a poor state of disrepair and
partly covered with grass. With much difficulty the party succeeded
in reaching the site. They surveyed the area and drew maps in
detail but no digging was made. So Sukhothai was again lost
in the jungle soon afterwards
came the first large-scale expedition made by a group of students
and lecturers from Silapakorn University of Bangkok in 1952.
By that time, the place was sparsely populated with a few houses
scattered here and there, and there were still tigers, leopards,
bears and other wild beasts roaming the area. When the students
went out to survey, they were warned by local residents to go
anywhere in groups and to come back before dark to avoid danger.
forest in and around Sukhothai could be called virgin, since
it had remained untouched by human beings for centuries. All
temples were hidden in lush growth of trees and vines, which
had to be cleared before one could reach the inside. The jungle
was so dense that one would easily lose one's way even in the
heart of the ruined town in broad daylight. With unwavering
determination, however, the students were able to copy down
large numbers of architectural designs of the temples.
Wat Si Chum
was not until 1960 that the government started to build a road
to the ancient capital which is 8 km away from the new town
of Sukhothai, and to restore the old temples. As a result, the
jungle was removed at long last and the place has become another
important tourist spot.
the ancient monuments within the city wall of Sukhothai, the
largest and most impressive is Wat Mahathat where King Mongkut
discovered the first stone inscription. Its main chedi (stupa),
vihara (assembly hall), mandapa, ordination hall (uposatha),
and approximately 200 subordinate chedis, as well as some fine
Buddha images are overwhelming. These stupa 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 Langka.
Two impressive statues of the 12-metre-tall standing Buddha,
Phra Attharot, enshrined in the mandapa on both sides of the
Si Sawai, 350 metres south of Wat Mahathat, is also impressive,
not for its size, but for the distinctiveness of its architecture.
There are three massive Lop Buri style, corn-cob-shaped prangs,
intricately decorated with stucco images of Garuda, Naga and
other beings in Hindu Mythology. This structure indicates the
Sa Si, northwest of Wat Mahathat, is attractive for its location.
Standing in the middle of a reservoir, the ruins are reached
via a bridge. Important buildings include a bell-shaped chedi,
serving as historical evidence of the prevalence of Singhalese
Buddhism in Sukhothai. The ordination hall in the middle of
the reservoir points to a Buddhist concept of demarcating an
area where monks perform religious functions by enclosing the
holy precincts with water as a symbol of purity.
Ruins at Wat Khok Singkharam
there are 21 structures within the city wall. Alongside these,
a further 70 worthy sites lies in the immediate vicinity within
a five kilometre radius.
sites are open daily from 08.30 - 16.30 hours. They are separated
into five zones (north, south, east, west, and central) and
admission to each is 30 Baht, with the exception of the central
zone where the admission fee is 40 Baht.
A sunset at Sukhothai Historical
the easiest way to move around the zones is by bicycle which
can be rented from the park at 20 Baht a day. However, there
is a tram moving from site to site and costing 20 Baht per person.