As I sprinted to North Thailand (my time was short, I was meeting Michelle in Laos in less than two weeks), I stopped at the ruins of two of the great ancient kingdoms of Thailand, Ayuthaya and Sukhothai.
I saw them in the opposite order as far as pomp goes. Ayutthaya was a later kingdom, reigning from 1351-1757. At one time it was one of the greatest kingdoms in the world. The empire stretched well into Mayalsia, Laos, Cambodia, and Burma. It is the great empire known to the west as Siam. It was eventually crumbled by invading Burmese soldiers.
The ruins are scattered around an urban area, which was an odd was to see such temples, sandwiched between 7-11's and noodle shops. I toured the city on a nearly 40C day by bicycle, maybe the hottest day of the year. Most who saw me thought I was insane. I went to visit two temples a couple miles outside of the city center, years of bike riding gave me the confidence to brave the highway by pedal. The locals got quite a kick out of this; though it is normal for Thais to bike crazily on any road, most tourist just take the bus. I got many congratulatory honks and thumbs up in my ride. I did have an accident on a tiny side streets, hitting a speed bump too quickly while entranced by another of the awe-inspiring buildings of the city. I was fine, merely skinning my elbow. Giant Buddhas, towering wat, crumbled palaces, Ayutthaya was quite amazing.
The next day I headed to the capital of the prior empire of Sukothai which lasted from 1238-1583, when the Ayutthaya kingdom absorbed them. The ruins of Sukothai are similar architecturally, with slight differences of styles. However, the ruins are more ruined and not as spectacular as their latter cousins. The settings however are much nicer. The jungle absorbed many of the buildings and it never became a modern city like Ayutthaya, so the ruins are set in a peaceful park. It has one of the most famous and powerful Buddha images in the world, with its iconic, half gilded hand, the Phra Achana at Wat Si Chum. I did only spend half a day biking around. There are only so many ruins a person can see in a short time before attention wains.
Both are lovely and worth a visit.