Rich in historic temples, statues, artwork, and literature, Thailand is a wonderland for history buffs. With distinct eras that define the storied history of the Nation, many of the ruins of ancient Thailand have withstood the test of time and are available for visitors to explore.
Each era comes with distinct architecture and backstory, from Sukhothai to Rattanakosin. Learn more about the eras of Thailand and the best spots to visit below!
Sukhothai Historic Park
The era of Sukhothai was the first era of Thailand and was founded in 1238 by King Sri Indraditya. However, the monarchy fell in 1438 when King Ramkhamhaeng died. King Ramkhamhaeng is credited with, among other things, the creation of the Thai script.
Today, the ruins of the once bustling kingdom (whose name translates to “The dawn of happiness”) are available for viewing at Sukhothai Park in the lower northern part of Thailand. In addition, visitors can peruse towering Buddha statues, temples, and even a history museum at Sukhothai Park. Within the park are five different zones, each with its own admission fee, so arrive prepared to purchase admission to each zone you’d like to visit.
Many of the ruins of Sukhothai Park are considered Khmer style, as this was one of the premier architectural styles that predated the Sukhothai era. This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to nearly 200 ruins to explore.
Here are a few ruins to add to your must-see when visiting Sukhothai Park.
Not to be confused with other Wat Mahathats, Wat Mahathat is actually a common temple name throughout Thailand. It means “Great relic” and can be used for any temple that houses Buddha relics. It was initially constructed to hold Sukhothai’s Buddha relics.
Wat Mahathat was once considered the main temple in Sukhothai and is a marvel to experience. The city’s design is based on the shape of a mandala, which symbolizes the universe.
The temple consists of one main stupa shaped like a lotus bud. It is surrounded by 168 stuccoed sculptures of Buddhist disciples. Eight total stupas surround the temple, four of which are excellent examples of Mon Haripunchai – Lanna style architecture, while the others are Khmer style. The main stupa is flanked by two 30-foot Buddha images called Phra Attharot.
King Ramkhamhaeng Monument
This bronze sculpture commemorates King Ramkhamhaeng. The King is portrayed seated on a Manangkhasila Asana Throne, holding a book to symbolize the King’s focus on education.
Wat Si Sawai
Surrounded by a laterite wall, Wat Si Sawai is three pagodas designed with Lopburi architecture. Upon excavations at the site, historians determined that the temple was initially built as a Hindu temple and later repurposed as a Buddhist temple. The building itself is said to predate the Sukhothai empire.
Today, visitors can explore Wat Si Sawai and stop to reflect on its massive pond.
The Ayutthaya era ran from 1351-1757. The Ayutthayan King, King Uthong, introduced Theravada Buddhism and the Dharmasastra legal code in Thailand until the late 19th century.
The Ayutthaya era is Thailand’s “golden age” of the arts, literature, and trade with the East and the West. It was also an era of great medical breakthroughs for the Nation before it fell to the Burmese Army in 1767.
Today, Ayutthaya is known as Ayutthaya Historical Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage site where visitors can gaze upon artifacts such as wall paintings, sculptures, and even manuscripts written on palm leaves. Within Ayutthaya, there are many ruins to visit, including:
Built by King Prasat Thong in 1630, Wat Chaiwatthanaram is one of the most popular sites within Ayutthaya Historical Park. This Khmer-style temple comprises a 115-foot prang and four smaller prangs on a rectangular platform.
On the central platform, eight chedi-like chapels are connected via a rectangular cross-shaped passageway that was once roofed but is only foundations today. The chapels are adorned with paintings on the inside and relief work on the outside. Over the years, the temple was looted by thieves but underwent a restoration that ran from 1987 to 1992.
Wat Lokayasutharam is home to the famous Reclining Buddha statue, which is said to portray Buddha as he dies and enters Nirvana. The statue is 137 feet long and stands 26 feet tall, and is said to have been constructed in the 14th century. The statue was believed to be used as a meeting hall in front of a courtyard.
The era of Thonburi occurred from 1767 – 1851. The kingdom was founded by Taskin The Great, who would be overthrown in 1782. Taskin is credited with reunifying Siam, which had split into five different states following the collapse of Ayutthaya.
Ruins of the kingdom have been found via archaeological excavations, but many ruins need to be visited up close. Still, tourists can stop by the Siriraj Bimuksthan Museum and Museum Siam to get a feel for historic Thonburi and view Wichai Prasit Fort from the Pak Khlong Talat area or up close with permission from the Navy.
Founded in 1782 and reigning until 1932, the Rattanakosin kingdom was established by Rama I of the Chakri dynasty, replacing Thonburi as Thailand’s capital. However, the Rattanakosin Kingdom ended in 1932. Following the economic depression, King Prajadhipok released some of his power to the Prime Minister. This did not sit well with the people, however. On June 24, 1932, the Bangkok garrison staged a mutiny, taking control of the monarchy and ending 800 years of monarchic rule.
Today, visitors to the Rattanakosin Kingdom can experience many relics from the 150-year reign, including The Grand Palace.
The Grand Palace
The Grand Palace includes many memorable relics, including Wat Phra Kaew.
Wat Phra Kaew is better known as The Temple of The Emerald Buddha and is considered the most sacred temple in Thailand. Consecrated in 1782, the Temple of The Emerald Buddha is Bangkok’s most visited landmark and a sacred pilgrimage for many Buddhists.
Though the emerald Buddha statue is just under 26 inches, it is fascinating for historians and devout believers alike. The statue’s origins are unknown, but some scholars believe it is from the 13th or 14th century. The Emerald Buddha sits atop a gilded throne, which not only keeps it safe but hoists it high enough into the air that it can be seen from a distance by the crowds of revelers that enter the temple.
One of the oldest temples in the Rattanakosin era, Wat Suthat is considered one of six First Class Royal Temples. The temple was requested in 1782 by Rama I, the first King of the Rattanakosin Kingdom. Still, it was not completed until 1847, when King Rama III ruled.
Wat Suthat is also known as the Temple of The Giant Swing because of a giant red swing outside the temple. The swing was created in 1784 for use in a Brahmin religious ritual. It was later used for games where young men would try to see who could swing high enough to collect a bag of gold coins with their teeth. However, the practice was deemed too dangerous to continue and stopped in the 1930s.
Today you can visit Wat Suthat and the 69-foot Giant Swing, but you cannot swing on the religious monument. Still, it makes a fascinating trip and photo op!
Visiting Thailand By Era
While there are many ways to plan your Thailand itinerary, for history buffs, exploring the Land of Smiles by each historical era is an exciting way to understand Thailand’s rich history and to show that there truly is a destination for every dream.