Couchfish Day 16: Sukhothai

Couchfish Day 16: Sukhothai


Set towards the centre of Thailand’s north, you’ll find Sukhothai (map link). From the Sanskrit, Sukhothai translates as “dawn of happiness”. Yet it could just as easily be “dawn of the nation” given the pivotal historical role it played.

The Kingdom of Sukhothai ruled for a short period (1238–1438) but it got plenty done in that short spell. Under the reign of King Ramkhaemhaeng (reigned 1279-1298), territory, religion and culture thrived.  

Hello New Sukhothai. Photo: David Luekens.

Influence stretched from Luang Prabang in the north to Nakhon Si Thammarat in the south. The arts blossomed—graceful and beautiful Buddha images derived their own Sukhothai style. Theravada Buddhism spread and the roots of the Thai alphabet took hold.

Yes, it was a busy few years.

Sukhothai is often compared to Ayutthaya—especially by those trying to decide on a visit between the two. While they’re both ancient capitals, they are quite different in the experience they deliver.

Take a wander and see what you find. Photo: David Luekens.

In Ayutthaya, ruins intermingle with a living, modern city. In Sukhothai, as with Kamphaeng Phet, the ruins are in a historical park. In this case though, the park is some 12 kilometres from the modern city, known as New Sukhothai. You can stay either near the historical park or in New Sukhothai. I’m going with the latter. Why? Food.

My bus drops me at Sukhothai’s bus station at the northwest corner of town. By Thai standards, it is a foreigner–friendly affair. Signs are in English and so on, but the tuk tuk drivers are no less rapacious.

Bungalow living at TR Guesthouse. Photo: David Luekens.

“Lotus Village: closed!” the first driver exclaims—referring to a popular hotel which sadly closed in 2018. Of course he has no shortage of (no doubt commission-paying) alternatives. But I know where I want to go and the haggling starts. After a millennium or so, we settle on a fare to my hotel of choice, long-running TR Guesthouse.

Sukhothai has no shortage of budget digs. Split by the Yom River, most Sukhothai guesthouses are within walking distance of it—and one another. I pick TR because I’ve stayed there before, it’s good value (300 baht for a simple fan room), and it’s close to spots I like to eat at. Food again. With me, it is always food.

I plan to visit the historical park tomorrow. I’ll catch a songthaew out there, then hire a bicycle for the day. This afternoon however, all I’m going to do is eat.

Hello beautiful. Photo: David Luekens.

Sukhothai is famous for kuay tiao Sukhothai, a dry or wet varietal on the more typical noodle soup you’ll see across Thailand. The Sukhothai blend features rice noodles with crushed peanuts and sliced long beans. On the side comes a slightly sweet broth (add lime to it). The broth comes either on the soup (sai nam) or on the side (heng). And as luck would have it, a great street cart slings bowls just around the corner from TR.

From here, I dawdle. An iced tea along the river, an exploration of some back lanes. While New Sukhothai is a modern city, it still makes for a pleasant walk. The tourist hub is on the east side of the Yom River, but you only have to walk a block to be back in Thailand.

Traphang Thong Market: Thailand is one country I can lose my head over the food in. Photo: David Luekens.

For dinner, I’m torn. David has written about a khao soi place I haven’t heard of—I’m leery of missing out on the bowl. Or there is the night market. In the end, I go with the latter—after all I’ll still be in Sukhothai tomorrow night.

The night market does not disappoint and I go to bed early to digest the rich massaman curry and the spicy duck salad I put away.

Tomorrow I’ll be spending all day exploring Sukhothai’s historical park by bicycle. Don’t forget your hat and sunscreen and I’ll see you then.

The Couchfish podcast. Following a day by day itinerary through Southeast Asia—for all those people stranded on their couch.