Ancient Capitals of Thailand



Ancient Capitals of Thailand

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Airports Bangkok Airways offers daily flights from Suvarnabhumi International Airport to Sukhothai. To continue to Chiang Mai by air requires first going to Phitsanulok, 40 miles (60 km) east of Sukhothai.

Transport Self­driving is recommended. Trains, buses, and minivans all reach nearby Ayutthaya from Bangkok. From Ayutthaya, trains travel to Phitsanulok, and buses reach Sukhothai town directly. Continuing north to Chiang Mai, there are buses from Sukhothai and trains from Phitsanulok.

Day 1: Bangkok

Morning Bangkok is huge, but its best sights are found within a fairly small area along the Chao Phraya River. Wat Phra Kaeo holds one of Thailand’s most esteemed cultural artifacts, a small jade Buddha image. Ornate pavilions and gil ded chedi (pagodas) fill the compound, which is surrounded by a walk way decorated with scenes from the Ramakie. Residence of the first six kings of the current Chakri dynasty, the Grand Palace is a mixture of traditional Thai and European Neo­Classical architecture. Most impressive is the Dusit Throne Hall, which contains the original teak throne of the dynasty’s founder.

If time permits, visit the National Museum; it holds some of the best artifacts from the sites you’ll be visiting.

Day 2: Ayutthaya

In the morning, drive or take a bus to Ayutthaya, which was the cosmopolitan capital of Siam from the 14th century until it was razed by Burmese invaders in 1767. The Historical Park includes over a dozen temples; most have now been restored, although those left in ruins still manage to evoke the former splendor of this once great city. Sites are spread out, so take a driven tour or rent a bicycle to get the most out of your visit. For an informative orientation, start at the Ayutthaya Historical Study Center. Admire the elegant corncob­shaped prang (a Khmerstyle chedi, or pagoda) at Wat Phra Ram and wander the sprawling grounds of Wat Phra Si Sanphet.

Day 3: Ayutthaya

Start the day at Wat Phra Mahathat, the largest temple complex in Ayutthaya, then get a tuk-tuk (motorized trishaw) to Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, which lies just off the island and is home to a magnificent reclining Buddha. See a unique strand of Thai Buddhism that embraces Chinese folk religion (with firecrackers and fortune telling) at the nearby Wat Phanan Choeng. In the evening, take a boat ride around the island, viewing the beautifully lit temples of old Ayutthaya.

Day 4: Sukhothai

Leave in the morning for Sukhothai (meaning “dawn of happiness”), the site of a 13thcentury kingdom considered by Thais to be the source of their language and culture. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sukhothai Historical Park lies in the center of a lush green valley. The park is huge so it’s best to rent a bicycle at the entrance to travel between sites. Start with Wat Mahathat in the center of the walled royal city, and admire its elegant chedi and magnificent Buddha. Choose from a variety of cafés and guesthouses nearby after the park closes at 6pm.

Day 5: Sukhothai

Spend the day exploring the temples surrounding the Royal City. Just outside the east gate, compare the bellshaped chedi at Wat Chang Lom, with the elegant Sukhothai style at nearby Wat Chedi Sung. To the north, admire the immense Buddha image of Wat Si Chum. Wat Saphan Hin lies to the west atop a small hill, which affords fine views over the valley.

Day 6: Si Satchanalai

Take a morning trip to Si Satchanalai from Sukhothai or, if you’re driving, stop on the way to Chiang Mai. Si Satchanalai-Chalieng Historical Park is located on the banks of the Yom River, which adds to the peaceful atmosphere here. The largest temple, Wat Chang Lom, sports a Sri Lankan­style, bell­shaped chedi. A lone chedi is all that remains of Wat Suwan Khiri, but the views from the hilltop it perches on, of the rivers and rice fields beyond, are spectacular.

Day 7: Chiang Mai

Morning Start at the splendid Wat Phra Sing near the center of the old city, and then walk down treelined Ratchadamnoen Road to historic Wat Chedi Luang. A few blocks to the northeast, relax in the peaceful shady compound of Wat Chiang Man, the city’s oldest wat.

Afternoon From Chiang Mai Zoo, at the foot of the mountain, board a minibus for the winding 7­mile (12­km) climb up Doi Suthep. The temple of Wat Doi Suthep, originally constructed in the 14th century, attracts a steady stream of worshipers and visitors who admire the gilded central chedi (pagoda) and the panoramic views. In the evening, go shopping in the Night Bazaar.

To extend your trip…

Stop in at Lampang on the way to Chiang Mai and explore the town in a horse­drawn carriage.

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