To the South of Chiang Mai, lies the ancient Thai Capital of Sukhothai, founded in 1238 AD, with its roots immersed in the Khmer culture of Angkor in Cambodia, which it locally overthrew to become the first true Thai nation, with many of its monuments reflecting the awesome scale of earlier khmer architectural achievements.


Although the Sukhothai Kingdom lasted only two centuries, whereupon it was subsumed by Ayuthaya, the sculptures and buildings of Sukhotai represent the very finest artistic creations, thus far, of Thai culture.

As is also evident in some of the structures at Angkor itself, Sukhothai embodies the highly symbolic supplanting of Hindu beliefs with the emerging ascension of Buddhism within the evolving culture of the time.

For the modern visitor, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Sukhothai Historical Park is divided into five zones.

The Central Zone is comprised of the Old City, with twenty-one temples and monuments, the largest of which is the nine-towered Wat Mahathat, which rests on a large platform surrounded by a moat and features several large Buddha statues. Of the other structures within the Central Zone, Wat Si Si, Wat Si Sawai, Wat Cana Sogkhram and Wat Trakuan are the finest.

The Ramkhamhaeng National Museum is situated close to the Kamphaenghak Gate, and its comprehensive collection gives a valuable insight into the history and beliefs of the Sukhothai Kingdom and its culture, and also usefully also sheds light on its Khmer origins and its relationship to other eras of Thai history.

Another seventy structures exist beyond the Central Zone, the most architecturally sublime of which are Wat Phra Phai Luang and Wat Si Chum with its enormous Buddha in the Northern Zone, Wat Hang Rop in the Eastern Zone, Wat Pa Mamuang and the standing Buddha of Wat Saphan Hin in the Western Zone, and Wat Chetupon in the Southern Zone.

For those with a keen interest in ancient structures, fine examples from other Sukhothai cities can be found to the north of the ancient Capital at Si Satchanalai, Phitsanulok to the east, and Kamphaeng Phet to the south-west.


To the south-west of Sukhothhai and close to the Myanmar border, in the area around the town of Um Phang is the remote UNESCO World Heritage site of Um Phang Wildlife Sanctuary, itself part of a greater entity comprised of Thung Yai Naresuan Reserve, Huay Kha Kaeng Reserve, Khlong Lan and Mae Wong National Parks, which together make up one of the premier wilderness areas of South-east Asia.

Aside from the superb trekking available in the vast wildlife reserve, which also hides Thailand’s largest waterfall, Nam Tok Thilawsu within its its leafy canopy, other popular activities in the area include white water rafting, elephant riding and visiting the predominantly Karen tribal villages.