We have noticed in the online forums that many people traveling through Thailand are wondering which city offers the best overall experience: Ayutthaya or Sukhothai?
So we thought we’d share our thoughts and experiences of the two places and which one we prefer:
Same Same – But Different.
Ayutthaya used to be the capital of Thailand, and so did Sukhothai; they both have hundreds of ruins, are popular for biking between temples and both have been granted UNESCO World Heritage status.
However, this is pretty much where it ends.
We found the two places very different from each other, and depending on what you want to experience you choose one or the other, but preferably choose both.
I’m very glad we took the time to take the train and stop for a few days at both places, rather than taking an overnight bus or train right up to Chiang Mai.
The Burmese invaders really demolished the empire to the ground, and all the temples and statues were completely destroyed. The ruins there really hold little meaning for the every day life of the people today.
They were left for a long time, and becasue of the lack of workers and monks to look after them, they were very vulnerable. This resulted in looting and treasure hunting.
The majority of ancient Buddha statues’ heads have been chopped off and sold to rich people overseas, and there are very few stupas today without holes caused by explorative treasure hunters.
This makes Ayutthaya’s ruins look very … ruined.
It’s sometimes hard to imagine what the place used to look like, but the beauty is still there.
Ayutthaya has a rough but interesting history, and is definitely worth a day or two.
The ruins are relatively close to each other, with a few exceptions, and they’re within walking distance between each other, however biking is very popular, and is an easy way of getting around the city.
You have to pay for EVERY temple you visit, so it adds up quickly if you go to many. Most temples charge 50 BHT, despite what it says on pamphlets.
Most temples are around the old part of town, which is the only interesting part of Ayutthaya.
The city center is pretty dull, there are very few shops and no restaurants at all. The only reason to go there would be to check out the small market area and buy some food from the food stalls.
The only difference is that the old Sukhothai is 14 km away from the new one, while in Ayutthaya the new and old part are next to each other.
This could be seen as a problem, but in the long run I think this is what has saved the ruins here and what makes it in many aspects “much better” than Ayutthaya.
The most impressive ruins are all gathered in a large park called Sukhothai Historical park, which covers about 70 square km (27 sq miles)!
The park is divided into 5 zones, each zone costing 100 baht (extra 10 if you have a bike), and you pay when you enter each zone, so you can choose yourself how many you want to visit.
All tickets are valid for one full day pass so you can go out of the park and grab something to eat and the return again.
What I loved about the park was that not only was it incredibly peaceful and quiet, but it was so green and lush.
The nature around the ruins in Ayutthaya was pretty dry and hot, while in Sukhothai you could relax in the shade under a tree by one of the many lakes and buy some snacks from one of the few who walked around the park.
You could easily spend a whole day in one zone, while in Ayutthaya you couldn’t spend a whole day in just one temple area. The Buddha statues were mostly complete and the ruins in general weren’t as demolished as in Ayutthaya.
There were a few great restaurants outside the park with the thickest menus (in English) I’ve ever seen, and one or two good cheap guest houses with wi-fi etc.
However, most people stay in the new city, where they have many great guesthouses, awesome street vendors and a few excellent cafes and restaurants.
If you have time, I would recommend you take the time and visit both, but if you are looking to visit only one ancient city, then the winner is Sukhothai.
Really it is hard to describe the beauty experienced at these ruins – relaxed, green, peaceful, picturesque - they really showcased the magnificence of what it might have looked like many many years ago.
Have you visited either? if so, what was your impression?