Ayutthaya or Sukhothai? I had the same question myself when I was planning my past trip to Thailand. These two ancient Thai cities, remnants of former capitals, are about 350 kilometers apart. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are said to be must-sees in Thailand especially if you like ancient Buddhist temple ruins. If you have time for only one, as I had during my earlier trip to Thailand, which one should you choose? Here are some comparative points to to help you decide.
Located some 80 kilometers from central Bangkok, the former Siamese capital city of Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya is home to Ayutthaya Historical Park. But don’t be fooled by the designation, the park actually consists of dozens if not hundreds of ruins scattered all over, and in some cases, beyond an island enclosure. For a time during the 17th to 18th centuries, Ayutthaya was a major trading hub and was one of the largest cities in the world. This ended in 1767 when the Burmese invaded Ayutthaya and almost destroyed the city.
the famous buddha’s head in wat mahathat
Today, many of the old buildings in Ayutthaya are still standing, albeit in ruins, and the greatest concentration of this is in the island enclosure. The mainland, which it is connected to via a bridge, also features some outstanding temples such as Wat Chaiwatthanaram and Wat Yai Chai Mongkon.
- Some of the temples here, such as Wat Chaiwatthanaram, are some of the largest and grandest temples you can find between Ayutthaya and Sukhothai
- The park is just an hour’s drive from Bangkok; far easier than Sukhothai transport-wise
- The admission fees are on a per temple basis so if you venture into only a few, you get to save money
- It is fairly easy to get between the temples and most guesthouses / hotels and even restaurants as the ruins sit almost side-by-side with modern buildings
- The fact that the temples are within the town itself means that you’ll have to compete with a multitude of cars, motorbikes and commercial establishments as you snake your way around. Ayutthaya is not as “serene” as Sukhothai.
- There is no cool season here – it is hot year-round.
- As Ayutthaya is surrounded by rivers and canals on all sides, I couldn’t help but notice that the town is suffering from a mosquito problem. It’s not a big issue but this seems to be mostly absent in Sukhothai
- It gets very crowded here from late-mornings to early afternoon as day trippers from Bangkok come to marvel at the temples. During Sundays, it gets crowded as well as Thais visit some of the functioning temples to pray
- Many of the temples are practically in ruins. Often, you’ll find heads cut off from Buddha statues and stupas in partial ruin. The proximity of the archeological sites to the town had led to significant wear and tear prior to the UNESCO designation.
- Each temple often comes with its own admission fee so costs can add up quickly.
Where I stayed in Ayuthaya: I stayed at Iudia on the River which is a wonderful boutique resort-like property within a short distance away from the temples. One key amenity they had was free bike rentals. I liked it for its unique rooms and chill atmosphere. You can also book this boutique hotel here.
The capital that preceded Ayutthaya, Sukhothai sits at the lower part of Northern Thailand. The major temple ruins that resulted from that era have been grouped together to form Sukhothai Historical Park, a wide expanse of 5 different zones covering an area of 70 kilometers. Compared to Ayutthaya, Sukhothai is definitely a lot more spread out especially if you have plans of visiting all 5 zones but the bulk of the more interesting temples are in the leafy and pleasant central zone. I only managed to go to 3 zones during my visit to Sukhothai last year, which I thought was enough to cover the highlights.
- Though also laying in ruin, the preservation here is markedly better than Ayutthaya and the layout of the park is more traveler-friendly.
- There is a distinct cool season here from November to early February.
- Accommodation options in Sukhothai tend to be cheaper, for the same quality
- The park’s relative remoteness (and vastness) makes it less crowded than Ayutthaya at any time of day
- The park is not as easy to get to. The nearest international airport is at Chiang Mai. While Sukhothai has its own domestic airport, flights are limited and for domestic flights, people usually turn to Phitsanulok Airport, which is about an hour away by car
- Sukhothai is divided into a new and old town with the park being in the latter. Most hotels, restaurants and the bus terminal are located in the new town which is about 10 kilometers away; so getting between the park and your hotel may take longer. This being said, there are a growing number of options in the old town itself which you can consider to be near the temples
- Each zone comes with a fee of THB 100, regardless of the number of temples you’re visiting within that zone (this can be a pro or a con, depending on the extent of your visit)
Where I stayed in Sukhothai: As I wanted to be close to the temples, I opted to stay at Thai Thai Sukhothai Guesthouse, which offered excellent value. I got a well-appointed airconditioned room all to myself with buffet breakfast all for approximately 1000 baht! You can also book this guesthouse here and compare for the best rates.
Verdict: Ayuthaya or Sukhothai, which one is better?
While I think both Ayutthaya and Sukhothai are must-sees in Thailand; if I had to choose between the two, I would choose Sukhothai. The ruins just seem more vivid here, and its setting in a rural area only adds to the allure of being in an archeological site.
My main consideration back then (I chose to go to Sukhothai first) was the ease of getting there. I decided to go to Sukhothai as it was harder of the two to get to while Ayutthaya at the very least could be done as an easy day trip from Bangkok. That’s another way you could look at it to help you decide.
If you are adamant about visiting both Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, it’s also possible. From Ayutthaya, you can take a train to Phitsanulok and from Phitsanulok, take an approximately 1 hour bus ride to Sukhothai.
Have you been to Sukhothai or Ayutthaya? What are your thoughts on either?