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Sukhothai, meaning the ''Dawn of Happiness'' was the first free Thai city founded in 1238 by two Thai chieftains, ending Khmer rule from Cambodia. By the early 1300s, Sukhothai had extended sovereignty to the entire Peninsula which is currently Thailand, the power and influence by conquest, a farsighted network of marriage alliances with the ruling families of other Thai states, and by the use of a common religion, Theravada Buddhism, to cement relations with other states.

According to the inscription, the king did not levy road tolls or taxes on merchandise. His liberality was such that he did not tax his subjects' inheritance at all. Such a paternalistic and benevolent style of kingship has caused posterity to regard the Sukhothai kingdom's heyday as a " golden age " in Thai history. 

The political decline of Sukhothai was not wholly owing to deficiencies in leadership. Rather it resulted from the emergence of strong Thai states further south, whose political and economic power began to challenge Sukhothai. In 1378, the Ayutthaya King Borommaracha I subdued Sukhothai's frontier city of Chakangrao, and henceforth Sukhothai became a tributary state of Ayutthaya.

In 1978 the Thai government designated Sukothai a Historical Park. No less than 200 archeological sites were inventoried ... monuments were repaired and made accessible ... and landscaping (according to the descriptions in Inscription I on the stone of King Ramkhamhaeng) commenced. After 10 years of hard work, in honor of the present King Bhumibol's 60th birthday, the park was officially opened. 

Hence there are 2 Sukothais, the "old" city in a number of parks, described by websites & tourist guides as the finest archaeological ruins in the world, surrounding the "live" city which, if ever mentioned is described as "dreadful". I suppose the opposite picture is a fine example in that I couldn't find any photos of the town ... in the media or my own collection.

The tourist input tends to be backpackers who flock to the parks, stay in cheap accommodation and eat in the local restaurants ... there are few big hotels, and the atmosphere is thus that of a small country town. There is none of the frantic pace and traffic of Bangkok and it is, to me, a delightful relaxing place to spend a week or so ... the backpackers tend to rush in and out at a "Bangkok" pace in their need to see Northern Thailand, and nothing but the parks are on their list of things worth seeing.

Awards have been won by Sukothai airport, pictured on the left, and looking more like a temple. The airport is small, relaxed and virtually open air, as opposed to the air-conditioned monstrosities everywhere else in the world. A little 72 seater ATR72 Bangkok Airways turboprop for the 300 miles to Bangkok will cost about 25 and takes 50 minutes, instead of 5 hours by road. 

There are few golf courses but those that exist are cheap, quiet and the usual Thai standard. I have many times played the army course, about 25 miles away, next to Phitsanulok airport. The army will move greens, lakes and bridges as practice for their profession and the result is excellent. For more info see the Thai golf section.

So anyway that's "Jekyl & Hyde" Sukothai, it's just the question of which is which that's the problem. For my part, the only time I ever go anyway near Warwick Castle or Coventry Motor Museum is when I have family tourists from Thailand to entertain. They are fine places the first time you see them ... but the second time they're too expensive.

For more info & pictures, surf the net. Start with Asia for Visitors or Asia Photo Gallery

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Thailand website by Tim James