Sukhothai, which means “Dawn of Happiness,” also marked the dawning of the first Siamese Kingdom and the birth of the Thai language. Once an outpost of the Khmer empire, they were driven out by the Siamese who established their first Kingdom here in 1238. It was a golden age for classical art, architecture and Buddhism. To traverse these magnificent ruins in the Sukhothai Historical Park – Thailand’s equivalent of Angkor Wat – rent a mountain bike for a pittance.
You can also cycle leisurely past dozens of remnants from the next Siamese empire, Ayutthaya, in its “Ancient City,” or scattered around the town, and hugging the banks of the rivers, which form a natural moat around what was once considered the most glorious town and trading port in Asia. And well-appointed museums in the city give an overview of the Kingdom’s 400-year-plus reign.
There are not many towns in the world where you can drive by the ruins of a 15th century pagoda, just down the street from a modern convenience store, but that’s the magic of Ayutthaya for you.