Ayutthaya, Sukhothai, or Lopburi: Which Ancient Thai Ruins Should You See?

When choosing between Ayutthaya, Sukhothai, and Lopburi, there are many factors to consider. All three are remnants of Siamese cities filled with fascinating Buddhist and ancient Thai ruins. Ayutthaya and Sukhothai both served as capital cities of Siam and are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List for their cultural and historical significance. Lopburi is one of the oldest inhabited cities of Thailand and currently serves as capital city of the Lopburi province. It is known for its many ancient Thai ruins, most of which have gone basically unrestored. Lopburi’s resident monkeys are the main reason for tourists stopping here.

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If your time in Thailand is limited, here is some information on all three to help you decide which ancient Thai ruins to make time for.

Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya is a historical park containing hundreds of ruins dating back to the 13th through 18th centuries. At the height of its power, the Ayutthaya Kingdom was one of the largest and wealthiest in Asia. The kings of the Ayutthaya Kingdom ruled with absolute power over a Buddhist society. WATCH VIDEO: A Visit to the Ancient Kingdom of Ayutthaya

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After 50 years of bloody struggles against the Burmese, Ayutthaya was eventually overtaken in 1765 by an army of over 40,000 Burmese soldiers. They pillaged, burned, and looted the sacred temples, shrines, and monasteries. Nowadays the Ayutthaya Historical Park is where the unearthed ruins are held.

Among the buildings are impressive structures such as Wat Phra Ram Temple, Wat Chaiwatthanaram monastery, and Wat Phra Si Sanphet. There is also a beautiful Buddha head statue enveloped in tree roots behind the Mahathat Temple.

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Practical Info

The Ayutthaya Historical Park is an hour drive from Bangkok, which makes it a great day trip option. Admission is 50 Baht, but there are several temples inside with their own entrance fees. It is an additional 20 Baht for a booklet with information about each temple and the royal palace. The park is fairly close to the city, so there will be car and motorbike traffic to contend with while exploring. Since it is such a popular day trip from Bangkok, try to arrive as early as possible to avoid the crowds and the afternoon heat.

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Sukhothai

Unlike Ayutthaya, Sukhothai is too far away to be a day trip from Bangkok (five-hour drive), but it is an incredible UNESCO site nonetheless. It was the first ancient capital of the kingdom of Siam from 1238 to 1438. Sukothai Historical Park is quite easy to navigate on foot or by bicycle since the majority of the ruins are held within a rectangular walled complex.

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Sukhothai literally translates into “Dawn of Happiness.” What remains of the great capital today are the ruins of the royal palace and 26 temples. The largest of these is Wat Mahathat, which served as the city’s main temple and shrine to several relics of the Buddha. Just west of Wat Mahathat is Wat Si Sawai; a temple with unique Hindu architectural features reminiscent of the temples in Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Perhaps the most impressive structure in Sukhothai is the giant seated Buddha in the Wat Si Chum temple. It stands 15 meters tall and is 11 meters wide. An extra fee must be paid to visit Wat Si Chum temple, but it is well worth it to get to see the giant white Buddha!

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Visiting Sukothai has an added bonus; it is just 68 kilometers from its sister city and fellow UNESCO World Heritage Site, Si Satchanalai Historical Park, which contains over 270 historical monuments, temples, and Buddha statues. Of these, Wat Chang Lom is particularly striking because its base is surrounded by large elephant sculptures (pictured below). The park itself is well maintained and easy to get around on foot. Admission to Si Satchanalai Historical Park is 100 Baht.

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Practical Info

Sukhothai has several intact and restored Buddha statues, and its position away from the traffic of the city center makes it easy to get around. There are also several casual restaurants and ice cream shops along the perimeter of the complex. Admission is 100 Baht, but it will cost a bit more if you plan on seeing all the temples.

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Lopburi

Aptly nicknamed “the city of monkeys,” Lopburi is a historically significant city located about three hours north of Bangkok. It is one of the oldest inhabited cities in Thailand, having served as the second capital of the Ayutthaya Kingdom during the sixth century A.D. Before that Lopburi was one of the westernmost cities of the Angkor Empire, now known as Cambodia. WATCH VIDEO: Exploring the Monkey Temple of Lopburi

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Lopburi, which is also known as Lavo, Lavapura, and Luovo, is divided into the old town and new town. Most of the ruins are scattered among modern buildings near the train station in the old town. Lopburi is a popular tourist attraction because of its resident crab-eating macaques that have practically infested the old town. Whether you love them or you hate them, these mischievous monkeys have the run of the town.

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Near the train station is the famed Phra Prang Sam Yot Temple, or “Monkey Temple.” It is a beautiful example of architecture from the Angkor, or Khmer, Empire.

Practical Info

It is possible to make this a day trip from Bangkok, but you may be rushed since you’ll have to go three hours in each direction. Many people visit Lopburi as a day trip from Ayutthaya. The macaques are not fearful of humans. They are curious and can become very aggressive when food is around. Do not leave your belongings unattended or let them climb on you. They will try to take your sunglasses, jewelry, and even your admission ticket to the Monkey Temple like they did to me! Admission to Phra Prang Sam Yot Temple, or “Monkey Temple” is 150 Baht. The majority of the ruins are in and around the old town. Walking is the best way to see them, but be warned: the heat can be quite intense.

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Which of the Ancient Ruins Should You See?

It really depends on how much time you have in Thailand. If you don’t plan on heading to central or northern Thailand and you have a day to spare in Bangkok, definitely try to make a day trip to Ayutthaya.

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If you are road-tripping in Thailand (like we did thanks to Thai Rent a Car), you could drive from Bangkok to Sukhothai with a stop in Lopburi. You would need a car to visit nearby Si Satchanalai, which could work out nicely. We recommend spending a night in Sukhothai so you could have a full day to see the ruins. A great hotel option very close to the entrance of the park is the Le Charme Sukhothai Resort. The hotel itself is quiet, clean, and has a good restaurant on premises. It also has a beautiful lotus pond in the center (see below).

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If we had to choose just one of the ancient Thai ruins to visit, it would definitely be Sukhothai because of the sheer number of Buddha statues and the preservation of the ruins. There are also less tourists there than Ayutthaya, and no monkeys in sight. Sukhothai is definitely the must-see of all three. If you have the opportunity to self-drive, it is an unforgettable (and affordable) experience.

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If you’ve been to any of these ancient Thai ruins, which was your favorite? Tell us about it! Leave us a comment below.

Special thanks to Thai Rent a Car for their support.

25 Responses to “Ayutthaya, Sukhothai, or Lopburi: Which Ancient Thai Ruins Should You See?”

  1. Doria

    What is the best way to get to Ayutthaya if you are not renting a car?

    Reply
    • David

      if you don’t have a car the best way is by train. You could also go by boat which I heard is pretty amazing! Let me know what you decide to do.

      Reply
  2. michelle ang

    we will be in BKK by train to lopburi to see the sunflower on the 27 nov 2015 … and plan to visit sukhothai the next day , can u suggest boat or train to go .. then back to bangkok the same day ???

    thanks

    Reply
    • David

      You should go by train. I don’t think you can do it the same day because Sukhothai is about 3-4 hours north of Bangkok. You can probably do it but would be rushed to see the site. Let me know what you decide.

      Reply
  3. Yuan

    What about from chiang mai? I’m heading down to bangkok, is it easy to do on the way? Also I’m by myself with luggage. Too much of a hassle?

    Reply
    • David

      it might be difficult with luggage to see all of these. I am sure you stop in Sukhothai and Ayutthaya but I am not sure about Lopburi. Please check which train you are going with. If you stop in Sukhothai I would say stay one night leave your bag and see the site.

      Reply
  4. Peter

    I have been to all three places and Sukhothai is certainly my favourite. Second would be Ayutthaya (but make sure to go when least number of tourists – i.e. early morning and off-season). Least favorite is Lopburi. Monkey Feast Festival at Lopburi is a great experience if you’e a lover of these cute little dirty crazy creatures.

    Reply
  5. Curtis

    I’m planning to go to all 3 places starting from Ayutthaya, Lopburi and then to Sukhothai for a few days. Will spend a night in Lopburi, and then head to Sukhothai the next day and staying in Sukhothai for a night again. The entire trip will be by public transport. Do you know the best public transport between Ayutthaya – Lopburi, and Lopburi – Sukhothai? Thank you!

    Reply
  6. Kris

    I am planning a trip to Bangkok and would love to rent a car to go to Sukhothai, what are the roads like? Is it easy to find ones way? I’ve driven in other countries before and it’s been a nightmare with no road signs, no mile markers, nothing on the map to go by and it took me ages to find where I was going. With Sukhothai being a couple hours away from bangkok, i’d hate to get lost!

    Reply
    • David

      Hi Kris,
      Thanks for stopping by the blog. I drove to Sukhothai from Bangkok without a GPS and was able to find my way quite easily. Just have someone at the car rental agency give you the route on a map. I recommend Thai Rent a Car Agency at the airport. They gave me a good, clean car and a fair price. Plus, the staff spoke English well and they have over 20 locations around the country, which makes it easy to drop off the car in another city you may be headed to like Chiang Mai.

      Please note that in Thailand they drive on the left-hand side of the road, which was the most challenging part of the drive for me. Other than that, there was good signage and the highways are in well-kept. I believe there were tolls to get to Sukhothai, so bring some cash with you for those. Also, once you are in Sukhothai there is a parking lot near the main entrance. From there, you can walk to each of the temples and monuments. Around the perimeter of the park there are local restaurants serving up cheap food like chicken satay, papaya salad, pad thai, etc.. There is also an ice cream shop where you can buy water and soft drinks.

      I hope this helps!! Have a great trip and enjoy your visit to Sukhothai 🙂

      Reply
  7. fernando

    Hi David I was thinking first timer there by my self what places would be nice to travel to that is not far away from Bangkok like temples. Islands and so on I was thinking in December for two weeks I’ve read all you have said and seen the pics are the hotels there expensive per night and how much would you need to take with you thx.

    Reply
    • David

      Hi Fernando,

      You can spend very little on a hostel or spend more on a hotel it really depends on what your looking for.

      Reply
  8. Faridah

    I just like to know if there is a temple in sukhothai that is decorated with elephants heads. I saw it in the photos. Which is it and is it really big. Thanks.

    Reply
  9. Renata Maria

    Hi David! I’m going on December to Thailand and I’m definitely doing Sukhothai (thanks to your blog!). Do you know if it is possible to do Bangkok-Ayutthaya-Sukhothai-Chiang Mai by public transportation (train or bus)? Thanks for your help!

    Reply
  10. eugene shvarts

    Hi David,
    We are going to Thailand in February, and I was wondering if I could pick your brain on few things. Thanks

    Reply
  11. pov

    Hi
    Is it possible to visit Sukhothai, Lopburi, and Ayutthaya in one day by private car ?

    Reply
    • David

      You can do Lopburi and Ayutthaya in one day but not Sukhothai as the drive is about 3 hours more. If you did do all three you wouldn’t see much at any of them. I would say do two days at least to see them all.

      Reply
  12. Chris Salamone

    very interesting post share Ayutthaya, Sukhothai.

    Reply
  13. James Gillingham

    What a GREAT post. Been to “ayutthaya” many times on the strip, going to stay at the sukhothai.

    Reply
  14. Leanne

    Hi David!
    Planning to do a day trip to Ayutthaya and Lopburi from Bangkok by train. Do we have to buy train tickets in advance or we can just buy at the station?

    thanks!

    Reply
  15. Acton Ace

    My next family trip Ayutthaya !

    Reply
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