Itinerary – One Week Tour of the Capitals by Train

Ayutthaya, Sukhothai, Chiang Mai and Bangkok

So a friend of mine who lives in Japan was interested in doing a quick trip to Thailand and asked me for some ideas. Normally I would suggest at least three weeks in Thailand for someone coming from the Western Hemisphere but as he was already in the neighborhood relatively and just looking to get away I thought it would work.

Also, as he will be coming from Okinawa beaches aren’t a big priority; he wants a culture trip not a climate one. As such, if you land in Bangkok and aren’t looking to head to the beach you go north.

Room Rates

For a synopsis of the hotel experience in Thailand click here. Room rate estimates are at the bottom of the link.

Train Schedules

The Man in Seat 61 has never let me down – the site is an excellent resource for train travel throughout the world. Relevant schedules and fares for the line you will take are here.

So, that said, a day after landing in Bangkok…

Day 1: Bangkok to Ayutthaya

Travel Time: 2 hours by rail

Arrive at Hua Lamphong Train Station in the morning to leave for Ayutthaya. Trains leave every hour and there is no need to buy a ticket in advance. A soft seat ticket is 65 baht ($1.87USD) and takes about two hours so it’s not a heavy travel day. If you arrive in Ayutthaya in the morning and can’t check in to your guest house right away there is a left luggage service at the train station so you can head to the historical park right from there.

It’s about a 15 minute tuk tuk or saungthaew ride from the train station to the Ayutthaya Historical Park. Most of the guesthouses in the city are between the Prasak River and the historical park on the way from the train station as well if you wanted to drop your luggage there on your way to the park for the day.

You can also arrange for a tuk tuk for the day – easily the best way to get around Ayutthaya for around 200 THB per hour. Renting a motorbike is also an option if you’re comfortable on one, though I’d suggest against it if you’ve never been on one.

Ayutthaya is the former capital of Siam, prior to the establishment of Bangkok as the modern capital. For roughly 400 years until 1767 it was the centre of power in what is now Thailand as well as large parts of Laos and Cambodia. Often clashing with Burma, Ayutthaya was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767, an event which is still a historical sore point.

What remains today are the temples, constructed out of stone and impervious to the flames that devoured the rest of the city.

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Wat Maha That, Ayutthaya

Wat Phra Si, Wat Maha That and Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon are highlights. The Historical Park is the centrepiece of the day but a stroll in Rama Public Park is good in the evening and boat cruises can also be arranged on the Chao Phraya river.

Day 2: Ayutthaya to Sukhothai

Travel Time: 6 – 7 hours (Ayutthaya to Phitsanulok via train for 5 hours, one hour van or taxi to Sukhothai)

The next day is by train to north to Phitsanulok and then transferring from there to Sukhothai by van or taxi. Trains leave Ayutthaya for the north starting at around 8:30 a.m with four in the morning, two in the afternoon and the remainder being overnight sleepers. It is roughly five hours by train from Ayutthaya to Phitsanulok. Train schedules can be found here but you should always confirm info at the station.

At Phitsanulok, take a taxi (or saungthaew, the red trucks) or a van to Sukhothai – a trip of about an hour. I would avoid trying to see too much at the Historical Park by mid afternoon. Sukhothai is hot.

The historical park is roughly twelve kilometres to the west of modern Sukhothai. Spend the remains of the day strolling about this provincial Thai town. If you’re trip is in November, Sukhothai is also one of the better places in Thailand to experience the Loy Krathong festival on the full moon.

Day 3: Sukhothai

Sukhothai is revered by many Thais as the birthplace of the Thai nation. It’s name means “Dawn of Happiness” and it was founded in the early 13th century, about 50 years before Chiang Mai further north and over a century before Ayutthaya with whom it eventually merged. The founding of the city represents the founding of Siam and in many ways modern Thailand can trace its roots back to this place.

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Wat Mahathat, Sukhothai Historical Park

I was lucky that I went with someone who had studied art history and who was able to explain the Sukhothai style of sculpture and architecture to me, but I would suggest getting a knowledgeable guide to tour the park or do some reading on your own before arriving. A  UNESCO Heritage site, the park is extremely well maintained and hosts some of the most beautiful Buddha images I have seen anywhere. Phra Achana at Wat Si Chum is spectacular.

Head out earlier in the day to avoid the late afternoon heat and if need be, return to the park the next morning before leaving again for Phitsanulok at noon.

Day 4: Sukhothai to Chiang Mai

Travel Time: 7 – 8 hours (one hour to Phitsanulok via taxi and 6 hours to Chiang Mai via train)

By noon at the latest you should leave Sukhothai and head back to Phitsanulok for the 13:22 train to Chiang Mai which will arrive there at around 19:30. You will leave the plains of old Siam and slowly ascend into the highlands of Lanna. Welcome to the north.

Once in Chiang Mai, check into your room and take a stroll around the old town or head to the night market. If you happen to be in Chiang Mai on a Saturday evening, there is an excellent local walking street at the south gate of the Old Town and on Sundays there is the busier, if more touristy, Sunday walking street at the centre of the old town.

Day 5 & 6: Chiang Mai & Lanna

Chiang Mai, capital of Chiang Mai province and former capital of the Kingdom of Lanna is the heart of northern Thailand. Lanna, as opposed to Siam, was a separate Tai speaking kingdom that evolved in parallel with Sukhothai and later Ayutthaya futher south. Often caught between neighboring rivals Burma and Ayutthaya, Chiang Mai and Lanna went through periods of rule by either (with the Burmese ruling here for over a century until the late 1700’s) with sporadic periods of self rule. But it can’t be underscored enough that Lanna is a unique place within Thailand and has a distinct culture, dialect and customs from the rest of Thailand. It is Thai but in the Lanna style.

Chiang Mai deserves far more of a detailed breakdown than I can provide here but for a good two day tour around Lanna options would include:

  1. Doi Inthanon – roughly a two hour drive from the Old Town to the highest point in Thailand. Great views and a good survey of the local countryside on the way. (6 to 7 hours)
  2. A visit to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep is a must when visiting Chiang Mai and is a nice drive or taxi ride up Doi Suthep. The Phu Ping Palace just further up the road is very beautiful as well. It’s pretty easy to spend an afternoon touring around on a motorbike to different waterfalls and viewpoints. A nice break from the city. (3 to 4  hours)
  3. Spend an afternoon touring the Old Town’s hundreds of temples including Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chiang Mun.
  4. A visit to one of the regions reputable elephant sanctuaries is a full day well spent.
  5. Wat Rong Khun is roughly three hours northeast of Chiang Mai city in neighboring Chiang Rai province but it makes a spectacular destination if you wanted to get out and see the Lanna countryside

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    Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai Province

Chiang Mai works well as either a place to just soak up the atmosphere locally or as a base to explore Northern Thailand from and deserves a much more detailed description which will follow in a future post but, over a short two day stay the above would cover the basics very well.

Day 7 Bangkok

Travel Time: 1 hour 30 minutes flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok (several daily)

The 7th day could either be spent in Chiang Mai with a late flight for a return to Bangkok or an early flight to Bangkok for a one day visit. I love Bangkok and I think an early morning flight back and then visiting at least the city’s historic district would be a must, especially to complete a tour of Thailand’s capitals past and present. The Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho

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Reclining Buddha, Wat Pho, Bangkok

and Wat Arun with an evening drink on the roof of the Banyan Tree Hotel on Sathorn Road or several on Khao San make for a fine day in Bangkok.

And here I will leave you. Whatever happens after that evening drink is between you and Bangkok.

Don’t miss your flight.

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