It’s a common question. “I have ___ days in Thailand. Which should I visit: Ayutthaya or Sukhothai?”
There’s a few different variables that might affect your choice. But we have a clear favorite and we’ll tell you what makes our pick the best. Because while both sites are UNESCO World Heritage Sites they’re actually quite different.
Ayutthaya Historical Park
Ayutthaya was the 2nd capital of Thailand from 1350 to 1767 (after conquering the Kingdom of Sukhothai).
The advantages of Ayutthaya
It is far easier to get to than Sukhothai. You can get to Ayutthaya in 1 to 2 hours from Bangkok depending on your mode of transport (an hour if taking a private tour, 1 ½ to 2 hrs if you take the train).
There is more to see at Ayutthaya. In the 16th century the city had a population of over 1 million and was one of the world’s largest cities. It has more attractions and they’re more spread out than in Sukhothai.
Ayutthaya can be seen on a day trip. You can easily leave Bangkok early in the morning and see all the highlights of Ayutthaya in a day before coming back to Bangkok for late afternoon/early evening. I would actually insist that any visitor visiting Bangkok build in a day to visit Ayutthaya.
More:the Best of Ayutthaya in a Day
The disadvantages of Ayutthaya?
More Crowded. Because of it’s convenient distance from Bangkok you’ll have a lot of tourists coming to Ayutthaya, most of them being large tour groups.
Attractions further apart. Although some tourists rent a bike to tour Ayutthaya, it’s really not a good idea as the different temples are often quite far apart. You’ll also have to share the road with minibuses as well as large buses. The best way to explore Ayutthaya (if not taking an organized tour) is to hire a tuk-tuk driver which should cost no more than 300 Baht (about $10 US) per hour.
Sukhothai Historical Park
Sukhothai was the first capital of Thailand, the city being founded in 1238.
I’ll start with the major disadvantage of Sukhothai: it’s about 6 hours south of Chiang Mai and about 7 hours north of Bangkok. This strikes Sukhothai off many traveller’s “must see” list. And that’s a shame.
More: Getting from Chiang Mai to Sukhothai. And where to stay – New Sukhothai or Old Sukhothai?
Other than that, Sukhothai has some advantages:
Compact, in a relaxed setting. The historic park – especially the Central zone which has most of the highlights – is a delineated, compact area surrounded by a moat and old city walls. Within it you’ll find temples, often surrounded by ponds.
Easy to explore. Because of the setting, the best way to explore Sukhothai Historical Park is to rent a bike which you can do at the park entrance. You won’t have to worry about minibuses or large buses and the only tuk-tuks allowed are environmentally-friendly electric ones.
Uncrowded. There are much fewer tourists at Sukhothai than at Ayutthaya. The tourists that you do see are usually independent tourists and not tour groups.
The above all make Sukhothai a much more pristine, relaxing place to explore the ruins.
More: Sukhothai Historical Park Itinerary: What you should See and How much time you should Spend
Sukhothai has another advantage: Just an hour away is Si Satchanalai Historical Park which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It gets even fewer visitors and, as in Sukhothai, the best way to explore is to rent a bike and explore the grounds and temples.
More: Why you should visit Si Satchanalai Historical Park
So, Ayutthaya or Sukhothai? Our vote
Our vote is with Sukhothai. Both Ayutthaya and Sukhothai have great temples and ruins – but in Sukhothai you’ll also have an authentic, unspoiled experience.
So my recommendation:
If you’re only visiting Thailand for a few days and are in Bangkok (as you most likely would be), then schedule a day trip to Ayutthaya. If you can’t make it to both sites then you should at least see Ayutthaya.
If you’ve got a longer holiday in Thailand, reserve 2 full days for Sukhothai. Stay at the fantastic Thai Thai Guesthouse in Old Sukhothai (it’s just outside the park gates). On the 1st day visit Sukhothai Historic Park. On the 2nd day visit Si Satchanalai Historic Park (the guesthouse I just mentioned will arrange a driver to take you there and will wait for you for the duration of your visit).
Ayutthaya or Sukhothai – Do you have a favorite?
Related: Bbqboy’s Ultimate Guide to the Best of Thailand (for adults)
Related: Chiang Mai: Our favorite Temples in Photos
Related: Songkran in Pattaya. And on actually enjoying Thailand’s “Sex Capital”
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wow i’m surprised by just how similar they are. I’ve only been to Ayutthaya, sukhothai looks really interesting though. I didnt find there were a huge number of tourists at the former, maybe I was lucky that day? but in Thailand finding an authentic historical experience away from crowds is a real achievement!
Nice “mind getaway” from the daily hum drum here in Idaho, one day I will make it there. As always, I enjoyed your post 😊
I think we’re all feeling the daily hum drum Paula. Ah!! I think you just inspired a future blog post..
Lisa and Robert
We adored Sukhothai. We disliked the town (really bad food and vicious mosquitoes), but the temples are amazing and the area is downright peaceful. From what I remember of our visit some 14 or so years ago, Ayutthaya was enjoyable too but, as you say, far more crowded. But, honestly, I would jump at the chance to go to either of them at the moment!
We would as well. I’d kill right now for some Thai food and a Singha, followed by an evening out watching Muay Thai.
I assume you both still stuck in Minneapolis waiting for an opportunity to get out?
Lisa and Robert
Yep, still stuck in Minneapolis. (At least we found a good Asian grocery and Robert can cook so we can satisfy our penang curry cravings.) Lease expires in early October and we have no idea what we are going to do then — the building we are in has raised their prices astronomically so we can’t stay here unless they lower them again. Seriously thinking of buying something that we can lock and leave in the future given how worthless a US passport is right now. On the other hand, if Trump wins the election the last place we will want to be is in the US. I hope your plans for getting back to Spain are on track. I’m guessing neither of us are getting back to Thailand anytime soon.
Your landlord taking advantage of the situation? Maybe you have to move further south to avoid the cold? Sorry to hear about that, the stability of an apartment is important right now for anyone stuck in this kind of situation.
Good about the Asia grocery. We’ve been ordering a lot of Indian food, something you can’t find in a lot of places.
Things on track for us but getting worse in Spain. We’re keeping options open. But I keep saying to Lissette there’s no way in hell I’m going through a Canadian winter…
Yes, no Thailand anytime soon. I understand that foreigners (except under special circumstances) not allowed in Thailand at all. Must be difficult on their tourism industry.
Stop with Trump. He is maybe bad for the average American, but for us foreigners he is far better than the neoconservatives like Clinton or the late McCain, who were all into waging wars and “policing” the whole world…
Most foreigners wouldn’t agree with you unless they’re Russian Lionel. And just know that if Trump isn’t “policing” it’s just because he doesn’t give a crap. You might think that’s great, but just know that if your country got attacked America under Trump wouldn’t come to anyone’s rescue…
And I think Americans can go ahead and vent on their own president. I certainly won’t stop them.
Long live Mother Russia!