Sukhothai Historical Park

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UNESCO World Heritage Site
Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
Sukhothai historical park, Sukhothai province, Thailand
Type Cultural
Criteria i, iii
Reference 574
UNESCO region Asia-Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 1991 (15th Session)

The Sukhothai Historical Park (Thai: อุทยานประวัติศาสตร์สุโขทัย (Pronunciation)) covers the ruins of Sukhothai, which literally means "Dawn of Happiness", capital of the Sukhothai kingdom in the 13th and 14th centuries,[1] in what is now the north of Thailand. It is located near the modern city of Sukhothai, capital of the province with the same name.

The city walls form a rectangle about 2 km east-west by 1.6 km north-south. There are 193 ruins on 70 square kilometers of land.[1] There is a gate in the centre of each wall. Inside are the remains of the royal palace and twenty-six temples, the largest being Wat Mahathat. The park is maintained by the Fine Arts Department of Thailand with help from UNESCO, which has declared it a World Heritage Site. The park sees thousands of visitors each year, who marvel at the ancient Buddha figures, palace buildings and ruined temples. The park is easily toured by bicycle or even on foot.


Liberation from Lawo[edit]

Wat Si Sawai, Sukhothai Historical Park

Prior to the 13th century, Tai kingdoms had existed on the northern highlands including the Ngoenyang (centered on Chiang Saen; predecessor of Lanna) kingdom and the Heokam (centered on Chiang Hung, modern Jinghong in China) kingdom of Tai Lue people. Sukhothai had been a trade center and part of Lawo, which was under the domination of the Khmer Empire. The migration of Tai people into upper Chao Phraya valley was somewhat gradual.

Modern historians stated that the secession of Sukhothai (once known as Sukhodaya) from the Khmer empire began as early as 1180 during the reign of Pho Khun Sri Naw Namthom who was the ruler of Sukhothai and the peripheral city of Sri Satchanalai (now a part of Sukhothai Province as Amphoe). Sukhothai had enjoyed a substantial autonomy until it was re-conquered around 1180 by the Mons of Lawo under Khomsabad Khlonlampong.

Two brothers, Pho Khun Bangklanghao and Pho Khun Phameung took Sukhothai from Mon hands in 1239. Khun (ขุน) before becoming a Thai feudal, was a Tai title for a ruler of a fortified town and its surrounding villages, together called a muang; in older usage prefixed pho (พ่อ) father,[2] Comparable in sound and meaning to rural English Paw. Bangklanghao ruled Sukhothai as Sri Indraditya – and began the Phra Ruang Dynasty - he expanded his primordial kingdom to the bordering cities. At the end of his reign in 1257, the Sukhothai kingdom covered the entire upper valley of the Chao Phraya River (then known simply as Menam, "Mother of Waters," the generic Thai name for rivers.)

Traditional Thai historians considered the foundation of the Sukhothai kingdom as the beginning of their nation because little was known about the kingdoms prior to Sukhothai. Modern historical studies demonstrate that Thai history began before Sukhothai. Yet the foundation of Sukhothai is still a celebrated event.

Wat Saphan Hin, Sukhothai Historical Park

Expansions under Ramkamhaeng[edit]

Pho Khun Ban Muang and his brother Ram Khamhaeng expanded the Sukhothai kingdom. To the south, Ramkamhaeng subjugated the kingdom of Supannabhum and Sri Thamnakorn (Tambralinga) and, through Tambralinga, adopted Theravada as state religion. Traditional history described the extension of Sukhothai in a great fashion and the accuracy of these claims is disputed. To the north, Ramkamhaeng put Phrae and Muang Sua (Luang Prabang) under tribute.

To the west, Ramkhamhaeng helped the Mons under Wareru (who is said to have eloped with Ramkamhaeng’s daughter) to free themselves from Pagan control and established a kingdom at Martaban (they later moved to Pegu). So, Thai historians considered the Kingdom of Martaban a Sukhothai tributary. However, in practice, such Sukhothai domination may not have extended that far.

With regard to culture, Ramkhamhaeng requested the monks from Sri Thamnakorn to propagate the Theravada religion in Sukhothai. In 1283, the Thai script was invented by Ramkamhaeng, formulating into the controversial Ramkamhaeng Stele discovered by Mongkut 600 years later.

It was also this time that the first relation with Yuan Dynasty was formulated and Sukhothai began sending trade missions to China. The well-known exported good of Sukhothai was the Sangkalok (Song Dynasty pottery) – the only period that Siam produced Chinese-styled ceramics and fell out of use by the 14th century.

Decline and domination of Ayutthaya[edit]

The Sukhothai domination was, however, short. After the death of Ramkhamhaeng, the Sukhothai tributaries broke away. Ramkhamhaeng was succeeded by his son Loethai. The vassal kingdoms, first Uttaradit in the north, then soon after the Laotian kingdoms of Luang Prabang and Vientiane (Wiangchan), liberated themselves from their overlord. In 1319 the Mon state to the west broke away, and in 1321 Lanna placed Tak, one of the oldest towns under the control of Sukhothai, under its control. To the south the powerful city of Suphanburi also broke free early in the reign of Loethai. Thus the kingdom was quickly reduced to its former local importance only. Meanwhile, Ayutthaya rose in strength, and finally in 1378 King Thammaracha II had to submit to this new power.

In 1378, the armies from Ayutthaya kingdom invaded and put Sukhothai under her tributary. Suffering the urban decline, Luethai moved the capital to Pitsanulok. In 1584 during the reign of Naresuan of Ayutthaya, as part of the Burmese–Siamese War (1594–1605), Sukhothai has been abandoned by order of the king.

Later Development[edit]

Wat Mahathat in Sukhothai Historical Park

Sukhothai repopulated again but suffered from continuously urban decline due to successive Burmese–Siamese wars especially Burmese–Siamese War (1765–67). In 1793 Rama I, after establishing Bangkok as a new capital city of the Kingdom, found New Sukhothai in Thani, 12 km (7.5 mi) to the east of old Sukhothai, thus the fully abandonment of Sukhothai. In 1801 Rama I commissioned the construction of many royal temples in the capital city, ordered that various old Buddha images should be brought to Bangkok from the ruined temples around the country. One of the Buddha images is the famous 8 metre (25 foot) tall bronze Phra Sri Sakyamuni (Thai: พระศรีศากยมุนี; RTGS: Phra Si Sakkayamuni), the principal Buddha image of Wat Suthat, which was the principal Buddha image of Wat Mahathat, the biggest temple in Sukhothai. In 1833 Mongkut, during his monkhood, travelled to Sukhothai and discovered the controversial Ramkhamhaeng stele in Wat Mahathat and other artifects, now in the National Museum in Bangkok. The formal name of this stone is The King Ram Khamhaeng Inscription Documentary heritage inscribed on the Memory of the World Register in 2003 by UNESCO.

In 1907 Vajiravudh as a crown prince, made two months archaeological field trip to Nakhon Sawan, Kampheang Phet, Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai, Uttaradit and Pitsanulok. After return to Bangkok, he published "Phra Ruang City Journey" (Thai: เที่ยวเมืองพระร่วง; RTGS: Tiew Muang Phra Ruang) to promote historical and archaelogical study among general public. The work has been used as structure by later archaeologists and historians including Damrong Rajanubhab, the founder of the modern Thai education system and George Coedès, a 20th-century scholar of southeast Asian archaeology and history.

In July 1988 the park was officially opened. On December 12, 1991, it was declared a World Heritage Site as part of the Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns together with the associated historical parks in Kamphaeng Phet and Si Satchanalai.


The Sukhothai Historical Park is under the direction of the Fine Arts Department, Ministry of Culture. The protection of the area was first announced in the Royal Gazette on June 6, 1962.[3] At present the protection enforcement through the Act on Ancient Monuments, Antiques, Objects of Art and National Museums, B.E. 2504 (1961) as amended by Act (No. 2), B.E. 2535 (1992).


Wat Mahathat[edit]

Wat Mahathat

Wat Mahathat or Mahathat Temple(Thai: วัดมหาธาตุ) is the most important and impressive temple in Sukhothai Historical Park. The temple’s name translates to “temple of the great relic”. The temple was founded by Sri Indraditya, between 1292 and 1347 as the main temple of the city as well as the Sukhothai Kingdom. The design based on Mandala, representing the universe with main principal stupa, built in 1345 to enshrine relics of the Buddha, surrounded by smaller stupas in eight directions. The main stupa has the graceful shape of a lotus bud, which characterizes the Sukhothai architectural arts. Its base is adorned with 168 stuccoed sculptings of Buddhist disciples walking with their hands clasped together in salutation. The eight smaller stupas, of which the four at the corners are in Mon Haripunchai - Lanna style and the four in between show Khmer influence. At both sides of the main stupa has two 9 metre tall standing Buddha images called Phra Attharot (Thai: พระอัฏฐารส). The temple also comprises assembly hall (Vihara), Mandapa, ordination hall (Uposathagara) and 200 subodinate stupas. The Ramkhamhaeng stele was discovered in this temple.

Wat Si Sawai[edit]

Wat Si Sawai

Wat Si Sawai (Thai: วัดศรีสวาย) is one the oldest temples in Sukhothai. The temple was founded in the late 12th or early 13th century as Hindu Shrine for Vishnu and the place for Thiruppavai ceremony before the liberation from Lawo and foundation of Sukhothai Kingdom. The temple has three well-preserved laterite prang, representing the Hindu trinity, enclosed by a double rampart and a moat. The lower parts of prangs are apparently Khmer, while the upper have been expanded or renovated by Thai in brick and stucco. The central prang is held in Lawo or Hindu-style. Each prang contains a cella, possibly a podium for lingam and crypt. There are few remain stucco work on the top of central prang. Later around the 14th century the temple was adapted to the needs of the Buddhist faith, Vihara have been added in the south of central prang. Numurous Chinese porcelains and Hindu god statues had been found in the area, one of artifect is the Shiva statue discovered by Vajiravudh in 1907. The temple is important for study how Khmer art transforming into Thai art.

Wat Phra Phai Luang[edit]

Wat Phra Phai Luang

Wat Phra Phai Luang (Thai: วัดพระพายหลวง) was the ritual center of Sukhothai and the biggest temple in the city area. Built in the late 12th century during the reign of Jayavarman VII when the city was still under control of Khmer-Lawo. After the liberation and the construction of Wat Mahathat, Wat Phra Phai Luang lost it main ceremonial role and become Theravada Buddhist temple. Similar to Wat Si Sawai, the temple has three laterite prang, but only one still preserved in good condition. Archaeologists suspect that the three prangs originally stood on a common laterite base. All three prangs were open to the east, with doors flanked by columns which carry a richly decorated tympanum depicting scenes from the life of Buddha. The doors on the other three sides were so-called "false doors". The tympanum The complex is enclosed by double moat. The outer moat is 600 meters length and is fed by the Lam-Pan River. In the north-west of prang complex are the remains of late 14th century Vihara, Mandapa and a small ordination hall with eight Bai Sema. The temple is an importance place to study the transition of Khmer art to Thai art. since in 14th century the prang has been renovated by adding elaborate stucco in leaves and frames patterns which become the basic pattern of Thai art; however, most of stucco arts are now kept at Ramkhamhaeng National Museum.

Wat Sa Si[edit]

Wat Sa Si

Wat Sa Si (Thai: วัดสระศรี) is a small temple close to Ramkhamhaeng Monument. Wat Sa Si is beautifully situated in the midst of Traphang-Trakuan lake northwest of Wat Mahathat. Due to its location, the temple is one of the most beautiful place in Sukhothai. The temple has a Lanka styled stupa. The Vihara of Wat Sa Si is situated on the east side of the stupa. Further east lies the ordination hall on its own little island. Also a large number of smaller stupas, of which today only the foundations are visible. Due to the similarities in structure and similar Bai Sema landmarks, it is believed today that Wat Sa Si were built at the same time of Wat Tra Kuan and Wat Chana Songkhram.

Wat Tra Kuan[edit]

Wat Tra Kuan (Thai: วัดตระกวน) is a small temple close to Ramkhamhaeng Monument north of Wat Mahathat. The original name of the temple is not Thai, according to a theory of Vajiravudh Tra Kuan is a Khmer term for a plant that is morning glory, a medicinal plant is used in traditional Asian medicine. Wat Tra Kuan was founded in the time of the Kingdom of Sukhothai, probably the temple was finished at the beginning of the 15th century. In the "Wat-Sorasak stone inscription" (also Inscription no. Called 49) of the temple in 1417 it was mentioned as a monk (bhikkhu) from the north lived here while he visited his nephew.



  1. ^ a b "Sukhothai Historical Park". Thailand's World. Retrieved 2008-10-25. 
  2. ^ Terwiel, Barend Jan (1983). "Ahom and the Study of Early Thai Society". Journal of the Siam Society (Siamese Heritage Trust). JSS Vol. 71.0 (digital): image 4. Retrieved March 7, 2013. "khun : ruler of a fortified town and its surrounding villages, together called a mu'ang. In older sources the prefix ph'o ("father") is sometimes used as well." 
  3. ^ "ประกาศกรมศิลปากร เรื่อง กำหนดเขตที่ดินโบราณสถาน". Royal Gazette (in Thai) 79 (58 ง): 1469. 1962-06-26. 

Further reading[edit]

  • A.B. Griswold: Towards A History Of Sukhothai Art. The Fine Arts Department, Bangkok 1967 (no ISBN)
  • Hiram W. Woodward Jr.: Guide to Old Sukhothai. The Fine Arts Department, Bangkok 1972 (no ISBN)
  • Betty Gosling: Sukhothai Its History, Culture, And Art. Asia Books (Oxford University Press), Bangkok 1991, ISBN 974-8206-85-8

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 17°01′16″N 99°42′13″E / 17.02111°N 99.70361°E / 17.02111; 99.70361