Sukhothai, “dawn of happiness” in Pali, is often considered the birthplace of the Thai nation. Sometime around 1247 AD the Khmer military outpost there was overthrown by Thai forces, bringing an end to an era of vassalage to Angkor. Not long after, having made alliances with other principalities in the region, Sukhothai became the first truly independent Thai kingdom and the most powerful nation in Southeast Asia. During the reign of Ramkhamhaeng (1279–1298), most of what is now Thailand, the Lanna north excluded, fell under its sway.

Wat Mahathat, originally the site of a Khmer sanctuary, was transformed by Sukhothai’s kings into a royal temple and Theravada Buddhist monastery, becoming the spiritual center of the kingdom and at one time the most important Buddhist monastery in Southeast Asia.