Sukhothai Weekend Guide: Sawankhalok

Sukhothai Sawankhalok Street Art Ceno2 Me

Hunting down street art has led me to some interesting corners around the world, from former military barracks to once unassuming residential estates, but little did I think that it would take me to Sawankhalok, a tiny town in Thailand’s northern Sukhothai province that’s better known for its history and culture. I spend a very quick weekend exploring this city, and here’s why a little Sukhothai Weekend Guide that I put together with things to do in Sawankhalok and why you should visit this little town.

Thanks to the folks from Assajan Collective and Tourism Authority of Thailand who sponsored this trip and introduced me to this under-the-radar spot in Thailand.


Where is Sukhothai?

Sawankhalok is a town in the larger Sukhothai province, located in the Northern part of Thailand and was the first capital of Siam. Sukhothai was the centre of the Siam Kingdom in the 13th-15th century and also considered the birthplace of Thai culture and the first Thai script and literature. This area is most famous for its UNESCO World Heritage Sites where you can see ruins and other remnants of this golden era.

Sukhothai overall is a pretty quiet region that sees more local than foreign tourists. Sawankhalok itself used to be much busier, but unfortunately with direct roads leading from the airport to the historical sites, it often gets bypassed today, which is a bit of a pity because it is a charming small town if you just want somewhere quiet to chill out.

The best time to visit Sukhothai is generally from October onwards when the rainy season ends and the cooler weather begins. I visited in September where it was still relatively warm and slightly wet.


Things to do in Sukhothai

The most popular spots to visit in Sukhothai include the Sukhothai Historical Park, Si Satchanalai Historical Park and Kamphaeng Phet, but if you are looking for more than just historical relics and ruins, here are some other suggestions on things to do in Sukhothai, namely in the town of Sawankhalok.


Sukhothai Airport

Sukhothai’s Airport (THS) is privately owned by Bangkok Airways, and while it is very small and quaint and built to feel like a tropical resort with an open-air concept, traditional Thai sala-style architecture and the cutest little people-movers crossing the tarmac that make you feel like you’re in a theme park.

Sukhothai Airport Welcome
Welcome to Sukhothai

But what’s truly fascinating about this airport are the adjoining attractions that make up the airport grounds. There is a private zoo right next to the airport – I didn’t have time to check it out properly or get a great photo, but I spotted some zebra and deer, and they apparently have giraffes as well. They are currently building a dinosaur museum of sorts as well.

Sukhothai Airport Tarmac
How pretty is this airport!
Sukhothai Airport Dinosaur Museum
It is kinda bizarre to see random dinosaur statues in Sukhothai

Organic Agriculture Project

I did visit the Sukhothai Airport Organic Agriculture Project, a mini showcase farm with paddy fields and livestock. It is often visited by students and other visitors keen to learn about organic farming.

Sukhothai Organic Agriculture Entrance
Entrance

Rice is a key feature here – Sukhothai is pretty famous for its rice, and you can learn all about how they grow rice organically and buy some as a souvenir as well. There is a restaurant on site as well if you rather just eat the rice instead.

Sukhothai Organic Agriculture Rice Sorting
These ladies sort the rice grains by hand (!)

If you want to try planting rice, they have a short ‘outdoor classroom’ experience where visitors get to put on a uniform similar to what their workers wear and do a bunch of different activities that include riding buffalo, planting rice and collecting duck eggs. It’s a fun way to spend a few hours.

Sukhothai Organic Agriculture Farm
Some of the farmland
Sukhothai Organic Agriculture Farming Experience Me
Do I look like a proper farmhand? Love the traditional hat
Sukhothai Organic Agriculture Ducks Cage
Good golly ducks are noisy. Their eggs are scattered all around the cage
Sukhothai Organic Agriculture Albino Buffalo
An albino buffalo!

How to get there: The Organic Agriculture Centre is right next to the Sukhothai Airport on Klong Krachong.

Contact: The Outdoor Classroom usually runs from 9am-12pm and costs 900 THB/person. Check out their website for more details.


Sawankhalok Train Station

The Sawankhalok Train Station is over 120 years old and was the centre around which the town revolved back in the day. It was built by the then-King to commemorate the birthplace of his Queen.

Sukhothai Sawankhalok Train Station Tracks
The tracks behind me lead to a dead end. The train has to pull back out the way it came in
Sukhothai Sawankhalok Train Station Schedule
Trains come here 2x a day, once in each direction. See the transport section for timings

Back when trains ran on steam, Sawankhalok was the perfect halfway stop for the trains to refill their steam engines en route from Bangkok to Chiangmai. The train station is also a very short distance away from the Yom River, making it convenient to transfer goods from boat to train.

Sukhothai Sawankhalok Train Station Well
The well which supplied water to the steam trains

The wooden buildings around the train station are around 90 years olf and were once hotels that housed guests passing through Sawankhalok. Most of them have been turned into shops today.

Sukhothai Sawankhalok Train Station Shophouses
Old wooden houses

How to get there: Sawankhalok Train Station is considered the heart of Sawankhalok and located along Thanon Phisan Sunthornkit


Sawankhalok Street Art Alley

Earlier in 2019, several artists from around Thailand and the ASEAN region were invited to Sawankhalok to create murals along a stretch of road near the town centre. Known as the Experiencing ASEAN Pop Culture project, it saw artists from Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand come together to create a lovely alleyway of art to liven up the city.

Sukhothai Sawankhalok Street Art Sign
A splash of colour in old Sawankhalok

The artworks have been quite well received, drawing curious tourists and increasing sales in the surrounding businesses, and they just might extend this project to other parts of the city, stay tuned!

Sukhothai Sawankhalok Train Station Klang Muong
Train station is across the street

Visit on Saturday evening when they block off the street and set up a stage and some stalls for a mini weekend market.

Sukhothai Sawankhalok Street Art Lane
One end of the alleyway

Here’s a little bit more about each of the art works and artists. I love how they were inspired by the local community and painted things that reflected Sawankhalok and Sukhothai’s culture.

Sukhothai Sawankhalok Street Art Ceno2 Me
By Ceno2 (Singapore). This figure is Salukjit Tienhirun, a famous Muay Thai boxer born in Sukhothai. The fish on his ribs is a common symbol found on Sangkhalot ceramics that come from this area, a reference to the ‘Land of Rice and Fish’, a Thai proverb about abundance.
Sukhothai Sawankhalok Street Art Jay
By Jay (Thailand). If that symbol look familiar, it’s the Rama IV symbol used to represent the late Thai King.
Sukhothai Sawankhalok Street Art KenjiChai
By Kenji Chai (Malaysia). This child is the culture guardian and a visual reminder of Sukhothai’s heritage. Also, can you spot Kenji’s signature dog? It can also be found in several spots nearby this alley.
Sukhothai Sawankhalok Street Art Jackrit Anantakul
By Jackkrit Anantakul (Thailand). “Love is here” is inspired by the tenants of the building it is painted on. If you look closely, you’ll find several hanging sculptures made of upcycled materials from around the area, a nod to the mechanics. Also, that hexagonal shape is a nod to the craft of the traditional Krung people.
Sukhothai Sawankhalok Street Art PeapTarr LisaMam
By Peap Tarr and Lisa Mam (Cambodia). The Ramdul Flower (White Cheesewood) is a flower that can be found both in Cambodia and Sukhothai, a nod to their shared heritage.
Sukhothai Sawankhalok Street Art Ceno2 Lady
By Ceno2 (Singapore). This lady is holding chopsticks, a reference to the popular Sawankhalok noodle, and she is actually an amalgamation of several local faces from the neighbourhood.

How to get there: Cross the road from Sawankhalok train station to Klang Muong. Walk down it and you should see the first street art work (Ceno2’s Muay Thai Fighter to your right) along Thanon Phisan Sunthornkit.


Hai Coffee Shop

If you need a coffee break after all that walking around, make a pitstop at this little coffee shop, a family-run business with over 90 years of history.

Sukhothai Sawankhalok Hai Coffeeshop Prep
Old school coffee making style

I was pretty lucky to meet the owner of Hai Coffee Shop. The coffee shop was opened by his parents and named for him, and his son is the one making coffee these days.

Sukhothai Sawankhalok Hai Coffeeshop Elders
The man on the far right is the owner of the shop, Hai. He spends his days chilling out with his friends over many cuppas.

How to get there: This coffee shop is on Thanon Phisan Sunthornkit at the cross junction along the street art lane, directly opposite Ceno2’s Old Lady


Learn some local craft

Make a Dok Tan Ta Wan

Migrating from Luang Prabang in Laos 65 years ago, the Tai Klung have managed to preserve their language, food and traditions and welcome visitors curious to learn a little more. Something I really enjoyed doing was making my own Dok Tan Ta Wan (translates to Sunflower), a traditional craft by the local Tai Klung ethnic group who are known for their craft in textiles, wood and basket weaving.

Sukhothai Krung DokTanTaWan
Dok Tan Ta Wan are decorative items that are also meant to invite luck and certain attributes

You can buy a ready-made Dok Tan Ta Wan from them, but it costs the same (just 20 THB for a little one) and it’s frankly more fun to try your hand at making your own. The process basically involves tying some coloured string around a wooden frame and forming your own colour story – each colour does represent a certain wish. I found it quite simple and finished quite fast, and while my companions took a bit more effort to get it done. It’s a nice souvenir to take home with you.

Sukhothai Krung DokTanTaWan WIP
Work in progress
Sukhothai Krung DokTanTaWan Mine
I picked my colours purely for aesthetic purposes, but it turns out I weaved in hopes for new beginnings and perfection (yellow), leadership (blue), prosperity and power (red) and a smidgen of strength (black)

If you have more time, sit down for a Tai Klung traditional meal of So Le Kai consisting of minced chicken with a lot of relish.

Sukhothai Krung DokTanTaWan Group
Made with the help of our 2 teachers

How to get there: The Tai Klung Cultural Centre is located in the village of Ban Koh Noi in Nong O, north of Si Satchanalai Historical Park and the Yom River.

Contact: Check out their facebook page (Thai) or contact +66 89 643 1687


Design your own Sangkhalok Ceramic

Sawankhalok is pretty famous for a style of ceramic known as Sangkhalok Ceramic, which is said to be inspired by the white and blue Chinese ceramics, though the flower and fish patterns are quite uniquely Thai.

Sukhothai Prasert Antique Ceramics Old
Just a really old piece of Sangkhalok Ceramic
Sukhothai Prasert Antique
Prasert Antique

I visited Prasert Antique which manufactures and sells Sangkhalok style ceramics, but also conducts workshops that lets you try your hand at making your own Sangkhalok-inspired ceramics. Here’s an interesting article on ChinaDaily with more about the history of Sangkhalok Ceramics.

Sukhothai Prasert Antique Ceramics Teaching
A quick lesson on Sangkhalok style ceramics
Sukhothai Prasert Antique Ceramics WIP
Copying the iconic fish in pencil as a draft – how do you think I did?
Sukhothai Prasert Antique Ceramics Mine
The final product is painted on using an ash mixture that gives it its signature blue colour
Sukhothai Prasert Antique Ceramics Many
Other people’s works
Sukhothai Prasert Antique Shop
Pick up something actually done by a proper ceramics maker

How to get there: Prasert Antique is located off Highway 1201 in Ban Nong O, north of Si Satchanalai Historical Park and by the Yom River.

Contact: Check out their facebook page (Thai) or contact +66 89 643 1687

Sawankhaworanayok National Museum

Many old fragments of pottery dating back to the 13th century have been unearthed around the Sukhothai region, and there are old kilns that you can explore as well if you are interested to learn more. History buffs should check out the Sawankhaworanayok National Museum, a little 2-storey museum with lots of ceramic artefacts on display.

Sukhothai Sawankhalok National Museum Exterior
Sawankhaworanayok National Museum
Sukhothai Sawankhalok National Museum Exhibit
2 levels of exhibits. I’m not particularly inclined towards these sorts of museums, but there is some English signage so you can read more

Eat

Sukhothai Noodles

I wanted to try something unique to this area, so my guides brought me to Kala Noodle Shop – it’s a little house along a quiet stretch by the Yom River. This meal was really affordable – we ordered 6 different dishes which cost 180 THB (~S$8). That works out to one hearty meal costing just S$1.30!

Sukhothai noodles or Kuay Tiew Sukhothai is essentially a rice noodle dish. What makes it special are the toppings: essential ingredients to make it ‘Sukhothai’ are sliced long beans, salted turnip and lime juice.

Sukhothai Kuay Tiew Kala Sawankhalok Noodle
Yum Sawankhalok Noodle!
Sukhothai Kuay Tiew Kala Interior
Cosy little restaurant by the riverside

Guay Tiew Kala Rim Nam Yom (short name: Guay Tiew Kala). Contact at +66 87 312 3220 or check out their facebook page (thai)


How to get to Sukhothai

By plane

Unfortunately, there aren’t any direct flights from Singapore to Sawankhalok. You’ll have to fly to Bangkok, transit from the International to the Domestic terminal, and then hop on a 1.5 hour Bangkok Airways flight to Sukhothai Airport (THS). Sukhothai Airport is about 15 mins drive away from downtown Sawankhalok.

Here’s the Bangkok Airways flight schedule from Bangkok (BKK) to Sukhothai (THS):

Arrival

BKK > THS

0700 – 0820
1700 – 1820

Departure

THS > BKK

0850 – 1010
1750 – 1910


By Bus

You could take a bus from Bangkok’s northern Mochit Bus Station up to Sawankhalok, but it will take about 8 hours in total.


By Train

There is just one train that goes directly from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong Station to Sawankhalok Station.

Arrival

Bangkok Hua Lamphong > Sawankhalok

1050 – 1746

Departure

Sawankhalok > Bangkok Hua Lamphong

1801 – 0400 (+1)

Alternatively, there are more trains that go to Phitsanulok in about 7 hours, where you can change to a bus that takes about an hour to get to Sawankhalok.


How to get around Sukhothai

Sawankhalok is a pretty small town, but the best way for tourists to explore is to rent a car or a motorbike for the day to get around. I highly recommend getting a local guide as there really isn’t a lot of English in this small town, so communication might be a bit challenging on your own.

If you are looking for an English guide for Sawankhalok and Sukhothai, you can reach out to Miss Saeng at +66 97 924 5655 via LINE or phone.

Sukhothai Sawankhalok Old Police Station Group
We did pop by the old police station to learn more about the history of Sawankhalok. Thanks to my guides A and O for taking care of me in Sukhothai!

Where to stay in Sukhothai

Sukhothai Heritage Resort

I stayed at the Sukhothai Heritage Resort just 5 minutes away from Sukhothai Airport. It was a pretty nice resort and had a pool though I didn’t have time to use it, and while it is very conveniently near the airport, it is a bit of a distance away from Sawankhalok and the historical parks and you definitely need to drive to reach any sort of amenities.

Sukhothai Heritage Hotel Pond
A large pond as the centrepiece
Sukhothai Heritage Hotel Room
My room overlooking the pool area with a balcony

Check out Sukhothai Heritage Resort on Booking.com [affiliate link]

Other options

If you are looking for somewhere in Sawankhalok itself, Swankaburi Boutique Hotel [booking.com affiliate link] is very close to the Sawankhalok train station and more centrally located.

My trip to Sawankhalok and this post was sponsored by Assajan Collective and Tourism Authority of Thailand.

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