Sukhothai Vs Ayutthaya – How Do You Choose Which UNESCO Site To Visit?

Buddha statue across a pond in Sukhothai
Many people travel to Thailand and South East Asia to soak up the culture and see some of the most awe inspiring architecture in the world; ruins of lost civilisations and sites of religious devotion. But let’s face it, sometimes there are only so many temples you can get a bit apathetic towards the sights and sometimes, you just don’t have time to see everything. Central Thailand has two popular UNESCO world heritages sites, both the homes of former ruling dynasties in the history of Thailand. Sukhothai, the ruling power in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and Ayutthaya, which succeeded it, but was itself invaded and overthrown in 1767 after over four hundred ruling years. Both sites, on the face of it are pretty similar and both are close to the well-trodden train route between Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

If you have to pick one, which should you check out?

One way to decide is depending on how long you have to visit.
  • Sukhothai can be seen in one full day.
  • At Ayutthaya you can take many days to see everything this big site has to offer, two full days is probably ideal, but those with time to burn can be easily occupied for three or more days.

Sukhothai – compact, peaceful and cheap.

Some favour Sukhothai – whose name means ‘dawn of happiness’ and was the birthplace of the Thai alphabet, because of the layout. The park is compact, and a few kilometres outside of the modern city. The majority of the sites are set in a three square kilometre central zone, with one entrance fee. Further afield in the northern zone, the imposing golden thirty-six foot Buddha at Wat Si Chum is well worth seeing. Entrance to each zone costs around 100 baht and bicycles can be rented from the main gates for less than 50 baht per day.
The thirty-six foot golden Buddha at Wat Si Chum, Sukhothai.
It’s quite peaceful because the site is contained, like an outdoor museum, compared to Ayutthaya where the city has grown around the ruins.

Ayutthaya – larger, more buzzing, more sights to see.

Ayutthaya on the other hand, is comparatively buzzing, a huge sprawling historical centre with the roads of the city intwined within it. Wats (temples) and ruins line most of the busier roads in and around the city. The best way to get around it is by bicycle. Ayutthaya is home to a great many more sites than Sukhothai and showcases prangs, a type of carved tower-like architectural feature made famous by the Khmers at their historical sites such as Phanom Rung, Phimai and Angkor amongst others. When Ayutthaya finally succumbed to the Burmese, the invading forces desecrated Wats and beheaded Buddha statues, many of the sites, still remain headless and Wat Mahathat is home to one of the more iconic images of Ayutthaya – A single Buddha’s head entwined in the roots of a bodhi tree.
Sukhothai Vs Ayutthaya Buddha’s head entwined in the roots of a bodhi tree at Wat Mahathat, Ayutthaya.
Buddha’s head entwined in the roots of a bodhi tree at Wat Mahathat, Ayutthaya.
There are many Wats and temples well worth your attention including Wat Sri Sanphet and the huge, golden lying Buddha. Expect to sweat out a little bit more at Ayutthaya as everything is a little further apart. Another option is a hiring a tuk-tuk and driver, expect to pay around 300Baht per hour for the whole vehicle, which means you can get a good deal if there are a few of you (Ayutthaya have different tuk-tuks with bench seating in the back, like a Songtaew and can seat around six) Another option is renting a scooter, but a bicycle is the most economical option.
Sukhothai Vs Ayutthaya monks
Wat Sri Sanphet.

Location, location, location…

Another deciding factor could be their locations. Ayutthaya is only a two hour journey time from Bangkoks central Hua Lampong train station, at a cheap 30Baht fare which makes it really accessible for a day trip or overnighter from Bangkok. Sukhothai however, is accessed by one hour bus ride from the town of Phitsanulok, seven (or more) hours from Bangkok and right in the middle of the Bangkok to Chiang Mai rail service. Ideal for a stopover to break up the long journey before exploring the northern sights. If it’s possible, make time to check out both because they are cherished sites of Thai history.     

Here’s our summary:


  • Compact temple area
  • Easy to fully explore in a single day
  • Cheap entry price
  • 60 kilometres bus ride from Phitsanulok
Must see temple: Wat Si Chum.


  • Accessible from Bangkok as a day trip
  • Directly on the Bangkok to Chiang Mai train line
  • Many of the Wats are uplit in the evenings, providing different photo opportunities
  • Excellent food market in the town every night.
  • Individual entry prices for each site
  • Wats can be far apart
Must see temples: Gold Lying Buddha & Buddhas head at Wat Mahathat.
Ben Turland Author
Ben Turland | The Hungry Backpackers

Ben has travelled around South East Asia several times in the last few years, drawn back by the great food, culture and cheap lifestyle. Recently wed, he now takes his travel slow, travelling with his wife and his camera by his side, trying to taste, understand and document local food as much as possible.

3 thoughts on “Sukhothai Vs Ayutthaya – How Do You Choose Which UNESCO Site To Visit?”

  1. We visited both last year. They are equally impressive and beautiful in their own way (neither will disappoint you)! However, with Ayutthaya you need to buy an access card (was 220 Bhat last year) to get close to all the significant places which need to accessed from different entrances, e.g. the Buddha in the tree. Sukkothai’s entrance fee is about 100 Baht and feels less crowded by tourists since they are all scattered all over the park and not concentrated in a specific area as at Ayutthaya. We were at Sukkothai during Loi Krathong – great laser shows and fireworks which light up the ruins and Buddhas; a must experience!

  2. You can stay at the historical park in Sukothai. There are plenty of places to stay and places to eat very close to the park.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shopping Basket
Scroll to Top