The 3 ancient cities of Ayutthaya, Sukhothai and Lopburi provide a valuable insight into Thailand’s past. Visit and explore these ruins to learn about Thai and Buddhist history.
These 3 cities are found in Thailand’s central region. This is the historic heartland of Thailand, the centre of the current nation’s predecessors. The KIngdom Of Sukhothai existed from 1238 until 1438. The Kingdom of Ayutthaya existed from 1351 to 1767. And Lopburi’s history dates back over 3,500 years. Both Ayutthaya and Lopburi are possible to visit by day trip from Bangkok. All 3 make for a good stopping point on the route between the Thai capital and the northern city Chiang Mai. As well as their historical significance they provide a great look at Buddhist culture. You can see how it has evolved from then in comparison with the modern temples you see now.
The centre of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, it was an important trading point between the East and the West. This was due to its strategic location and the rivers which supplied Ayutthaya. Note that it wasn’t always the capital, Phitsanulok and Lopburi had brief periods which interrupted it’s run. The city was burned in 1767 by invading Burmese forces. When you visit notice that many of Buddhist statues have been decapitated, this was by Burmese forces looking for hidden gold. After this the Siam Kings moved the capital south, establishing Bangkok itself as the capital in 1782.
Ayutthaya is 2 hours north of Bangkok by train. A ticket in 3rd class will cost you less than a dollar. The city is split in 2. The modern city, where today’s inhabitants live, is where you will find the restaurants and accommodation. And the historical park, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. The highlights here can be covered in a day. If you want to fully explore the area then 2 days is sufficient.
Many Thai historians regards the foundation of the Sukhothai Kingdom as the beginning of the Thai nation. Whilst Thai history does exist before then, it’s seen as a pivotal moment. Before 1238 Sukhothai was dominated by the Lavo Kingdom, itself dominated by the Khmer. You can still see Khmer style influence on some of the temples here. Sukhothai was the capital of this kingdom in the years 1238–1347 and 1430–1438. Phitsanulok being the capital in between these years. It eventually became dominated by Ayutthaya. The old city of Sukhothai was eventually abandoned by Rama 1st in 1793 after he had established Bangkok as the country’s capital.
New Sukhothai is where the modern inhabitants live, and where the transport links and accommodation are found. If coming by train from Bangkok/Chiang Mai then get off at Phitsanulok, which is an hour away by bus. Otherwise the city has a large(ish) bus station which serves many destinations. The old Sukhothai ruins are found in Sukhothai Historical Park. This is also a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s 12KM West of the new city, and you can take a cheap Songthaew from the bus station/city centre to reach them. I’d recommend 2 nights here, so you can have a full day exploring the park.
The origins of Lopburi can be traced back to 3500 years ago, with evidence of settlements in the area. It became an important city in Thai history. Particularly as centre of the Lavo Kingdom, which in turn became subordinate to the Khmer empire. The city was actually known as ‘Lavo’ for much of its history. During the Ayutthaya era it served as a second capital for a period. Nowadays the old ruins are mixed in with the new city. There are also Monkeys who rule the town, the above picture is of the ‘monkey’ temple where they like to hang out. It can be quite a sight walking towards it and see 100’s of monkeys running all over the roads!
If you want to visit Lopburi for the day you can from Bangkok, though it will require lots of time on the train! It’s about 4 hours away. The city itself doesn’t require a lot of time to explore, half a day is fine. Hence why you could catch an early train there and then a late one back. Alternatively you can stop by for the night on the way from Bangkok/Ayutthaya to the north of the country. Or vice versa. If pressed for time I’d say skip it in favour of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai. It’s cool to check out but those 2 are better preserved and bigger.