The Sukhothai Historical Park, 264 miles (427km) north of Bangkok, preserves the spectacular vestiges of a royal capital that emerged on the central plains of Thailand in the 13th century, after the fall of the Khmer Empire. Surrounded by rivers, paddy fields and wooded hills, the site encompasses 40 temples complexes, the remnants of a walled palace and nearly 200 chedis (stupas) of various sizes, separated by neatly cropped lawns and tree-studded grounds. Serene Buddhas gaze from ceiling-less shrines, stucco elephants line the sides of ancient, crumbling brick pyramids and Sri Lankan-style stupas are reflected to magical effect in shimmering green lily ponds.
Just over an hour’s drive further north, Si Satchanalai holds the remnants of another moated 13th century city, centred on a huge bell-shaped chedi, Wat Cham Lom. Visits to both these extraordinary UNESCO-listed sites can be made en route to or from Chiang Mai, or by direct flight to Sukhothai airport from Bangkok.