Along with Angkor Wat and Ayutthaya, Sukhothai is one of the three most remarkable historical sights to be found in South East Asia. Sukhothai, which means "Dawn of Happiness" is a wonderful place for you to stop off on your way to Chiang Mai, or just to pay a visit in its own right. Even if you are not a student of history, you will still be impressed by the historical park,which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Sitesince 1991. Located some 12km from the modern town, you will find the remains of the kingdom in the Old City ("meung gow") in eleven thousand acres of historic parkland. Many of these towering, unique monuments - built over 800 years ago - can be visited in a single day by bicycle. The Sukhothai kingdom's "golden age" of civilisation lasted from the mid-13th to the late 14th Century and rose to pre-eminence as the Khmer Empire power started to diminish. Thailand's most famous Sukhothai ruler, King Ramkhamhaeng, is considered to be the founding father of the nation and is said to have invented the Thai alphabet, as well as developing an intricate canal system and establishing fine arts. In all, eight kings ruled Sukhothai, but in 1365, it became subservient to the powerful Ayutthaya Kingdom and soon fell into terminal decline. Today's modern Sokhothai has a population of around 50,000 and is divided into two separate districts, Old Town ("Muang Gao") and New Town ("Muang Mai"), which spreads out on both sides of the Yom River, that runs from east to west through the town. The New Town, is a medium-sized city, with a fresh food market, and laid back atmosphere, but there's not a lot in the way of interesting places to visit. However, the excellent transport links to just about anywhere, near and far, and the availability of good value accommodation, means that it is an ideal base from which to visit the old city. If you wish to be 'closer to the action', the Old Town, which includes the Historical Park, also has accommodation for backpackers. Dreamy, ancient Sukhothai is thought to be the most romantic of Thailand's ancient cities and is "the" place to go to celebrate the annual Loy Krathong Festival. This is held on the full moon in November, with a spectacular lightshow, traditional Thai dancing and music performances, and you can launch candle-lit 'krathongs' onto the Historical Park lakes. There is also a free light and sound show near Wat Sa Si on the first Friday of each month.
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