I loved many things about my three-week G Adventures tour through northern Thailand and the eastern Thai islands, but the Buddhist ruins at Sukhothai Historical Park will stay with me forever. (I had been furiously pinning pictures of this UNESCO World Heritage Site before my trip—for those who don't get the whole Pinterest thing, the first 30 seconds of this video will give you a pretty good idea).
For me, visting Sukhothai was a bit like seeing the Colosseum. I almost couldn't believe I was really there and not just looking at a photograph. The Buddhist heritage and architecture, and beautiful natural setting (lotus flowers adorned the grounds) embodied why I had wanted to travel to Thailand, and it was so fulfilling to experience it in person.
Our tour group reached Sukhothai after a seven-hour bus ride from Bangkok on a comfortable local coach. The next morning we hopped into a 'local taxi' as our tour leader AJ called it (not a cab) to head to the historical park. I highly recommend exploring the park by bike. It was hot the day we visited and the breeze I felt while biking was a welcome reprieve.
You can spend a few hours at this 70-sq km park exploring the ruins (Buddha statues and temples made from brick covered with stucco), which date back to the 13th and 14th centuries when Sukhothai was the capital of the Kingdom of Siam. The lotus flower ponds are beautiful, too.
One of my favourite temples that we visited was Wat Si Sawai. It's one of the oldest in the park, created in the late 12th or early 13th century as a Hindu shrine before Sukhothai Kingdom was founded. In the 14th century the temple was adapted to reflect Buddhist faith.
Sukhothai Historical Park has some newer features, too, like the statue of King Ram Khamhaeng built in 1969. He was the first King of Sukhothai and is credited with creating the Thai alphabet.
Exploring the park left us with an appetite so we headed for lunch, which was Pad Thai and Chang beer (one of the country's two most popular beers—the other is Singha). This was a great start to an amazing two weeks in northern Thailand—a completely different experience from the Thai islands. If you're visiting Thailand, make a point to head to both regions of the country. This was the trip of a lifetime for me, and I'll definitely be writing more about it.