Even if the good times don't last, they leave their mark. That seems to be the message of Sukhothai Historical Park, whose stint as the first Thai capital may have been a flash in the pan, but whose dogged stone temples and palaces are still standing eight centuries after their foundations were laid. Before Bangkok or even Ayutthaya rose to prominence, the city of Sukhothai in north-west Thailand was playing host to the country's Golden Age, and the birth of the Thai nation as we know it today. For a few generations, it was a royal residence, the home of King Ram Kamhaeng the Great, and the hub of key cultural shifts like the introduction of Theravada Buddhism and the Thai alphabet.
Relive the Golden Age of Thailand on a ramble or bike ride through Sukhothai Historical Park, 30 square miles of ruined temples, stupas, chedi and palaces which speak to the city's former greatness and the foundations of Thai Buddhism. Walk amidst the remains of Wat Mahatat, once the city's most sacred temple, admiring its faded but imposing Bronze Buddha and the 168 exquisitely carved stone disciples around the base of its stupa. You'll be charmed, too, by Wat Sorasak, where 24 carved elephant heads appear to be breaking out of a chedi. But most beautiful of all is the Loi Krathong in November: a glittering light festival held at the full moon, when the skies above Sukhothai flock with floating lanterns and fireworks, and local people release thousands of krathong banana leaf boats decked in candles and flowers to float on the lotus ponds of the city, bearing away with them all their anger and bad feelings.