Sukhothai is a small city divided into two zones – the riverside New City, where the bulk of guesthouses, shops and restaurants are located, and Old City; the site of Sukhothai Historical Park, formerly known as Dawn of Happiness. New City is rather charmless; there would be no reason to visit if not for the historical park.
We wandered around New City on our first day here, and were intrigued by these matching T-shirts. A kinder version of “I’m with Stupid”, but with the same twist – the wearers would need to line themselves up appropriately before heading out.
We also discovered the answer to a question we had about a fruit we kept seeing, and finally tried – green, apple-shaped, kind of pucker-y, not that sweet. Turns out it is guava. (or farang, the Thai name, also for foreigner). I was so surprised – I imagined guava would be soft and sweet, like mango or papaya. Working our way through Thailand’s many wonderful fresh fruits – one stand at a time.
Time for the temples! Now I’m a fan of trudging around in 36 degree heat with 90% humidity as much as the next guy. As fascinating as ancient temples can be, after a few dozen they can fall into the camp of ABC (Another Bloody Church), and our sightseeing can quickly move from being engrossing to feeling obligatory. But when the view looks like this, the temples pull us in:
Old City is located 12 km. from New City, and is easily accessible by songthaew, a truck-like conversion with bench seats that is short on comfort, but long on local colour. Since many of these drivers eat, smoke and text while they drive, we rely on the hanging flowers and talismans to keep us safe. Plus, it’s great entertainment for $1.
The Sukhothai Historical Park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site 25 years ago, but the ruins date back to the 14th century. It is a vast area, spread out over 70 sq. Km., encompassing the moated, walled old city and sprawling into the countryside. If you keep to the main sites, it can be done on foot, but we wanted to see as much as we could, so we rented bikes for the day. It added a lot to our visit – so much fun to cruise around and feel the wind (light breeze?) at our backs.
To give you an idea of the layout, this map shows the main temples (called wats) as well as the outlying areas. We stuck to the sites inside the walls, and visited Wat Si Chum, the large temple at the northern edge.
The Park is gorgeous, but one delightful aspect of this area was the moats, the trees, lily ponds, and small lakes – all serving to soften and highlight the ruins and to provide much-appreciated shade. Although there were great busloads of tourists, we often found ourselves alone – there is more than enough room for everyone.
We began with the site’s largest and most important ruin, Wat Mahathat. It featured a number of chedi (the lotus-bud topped conical structures) and Buddhas and columns.
We visited this same wat later in the day, from another angle and came upon these two gentlemen, lighting incense and praying. It is interesting to observe how Thais pray quietly and reverently in public outdoor places. Buddha provides great solace, in his many incarnations. It is a religion I know very little about and am curious to learn more.
There were mobs of schoolchildren at the historical park. In many places in the park, they were lined up listening intently to their teachers. To our teacher friends and family – come and teach in Thailand – these kids are a dream come true. Neat little uniforms, no acting out, very attentive.
Whenever we ran into them, they were quite curious and friendly. “Hell-ooo”, they would call out, and then all giggle when we called back to them. Since we are finding Thai a very tricky language to get right, we were the cause of great amusement, even among the teachers. Below, the boys lined up to buy incense to pray at the wat.
The outer reaches of the park have both a stone wall and a moat. The moats were full of water lilies – so beautiful during the day. All that still water must bring out the mosquitoes at night.
There were a couple of small islands with ruins, accessible by bridges. Such a painterly quality to this scene.
Wat Si Siwai has three Khmer-style prang; a bit distinctive from the other wats. We entered into the centre prang and peered up inside. Nothing but a hole in the wooden roof and the unmistakable smell of bat guano.
One photo op after another – this atmospheric shot as we pedalled past.
And finally, we reached Wat Si Chum, just outside the gates. The 15m Buddha stares down from his perch in the square shrine. If you can see the man in the bottom right of the photo, you’ll get a sense of scale.
One of the notable features of the Buddha are his giant, gold-fingernailed hands. I asked this young woman to pose beside them to give you an idea of their size.
We’re into the rhythm of the road now – time has slowed to a dreamlike state and even though we may not get used to the heat, we’re figuring out how not to fight it. (Pulling at my hair and waving at my face has not worked so far.)
We’re heading north to Chiang Mai tomorrow and will spend at least a week there.
26 thoughts on “Sukhothai: Dawn of Happiness”
Always a treat to travel along with you two. Your model Posing with the golden finger nails, appears to have no shoes. Just curious. Plus keep your shoes on and travel safe.
Yes, you must remove your shoes whenever you are in the presence of Buddha (in an enclosed space or temple). You are required to step over a threshold (not on it), and enter without shoes. That does not just apply to Buddha – you will often see lines of shoes sitting outside stores or restaurants – feet and shoes are considered dirty. Thai people are very gracious about tourists leaving their shoes on, except for entering temples – shoes off are non-negotiable.
We have seen many monks walking on the hot, dirty sidewalks without shoes (most have shoes of some description).
It is so interesting – we are picking up a lot of Thai customs by observing and reading. A toucher like me has a tough time here – I’m getting the feeling that patting someone on the arm is not entirely a good thing.
Looks so peaceful & lovely!! Enjoy Chiang MaI…
Thats where I visited the elephants & tigers…
There is also a temple made of wood, which is unusual…
I’m really excited about visiting Chiang Mai – so many people we know have been there and loved it. It will be nice to just stay put for a week or so, and just relax…
Love following you and Stephen on your travels, I learn so much.
Thanks Annie. The thing is, the more we see, the more we realize how little we know, and there is only so much time to read and discover. Curiosity is never satisfied.
Ginny, I still love the way you write. I thought you emails were always entertaining but your blog combines an additional informative slant. I loved your comment about the students being so attentive….better hold on to Stephen so he doesn’t start looking for community colleges for a post-retirement job! SueB
Thanks Sue! It’s funny how Stephen is not one bit tempted by that thought! I, on the other hand, would love to spend some time with kids. Maybe once we’ve settled a bit more, I can volunteer in schools. I really enjoy the brief interactions we have with them – it is very entertaining.
Have finally had a chance to catch up on everything here – very happy to hear you folks have settled into the rhythm of the road! Love the photo of the 15m Buddha!
Hi Alex – good to hear your rhythm of the road has settled as well. Here’s a bike challenge for you – we met a young couple from California last night – they are on the 6th month of a 7 month trip – started in Europe – France, Germany, Croatia were their favourites and then on to China and south into SEAsia. They BIKED the entire way and camped as well – spent on average $60 a day in Europe and $30 a day in SEAsia. Inspiring travel, but not inspiring enough to make me think I would be capable of doing that.
You’ll have to try the durian fruit next! Wasn’t one of my favourites, and you can’t eat it on trains or buses because of the strong smell but worth trying at the very least. Enjoy CM! are you staying in the old or new part?
We’re in the old part – just arrived – it looks great. I heard about durian fruit – there are signs in the airport and many hotels prohibiting it because of the rank smell. I do want to try it while we’re here, but as Anthony Bourdain very pungently noted, “eating durian is like French-kissing your dead grandmother.”
Now if that’s not enough to put you off…
Loving your descriptions and photos. Also love observing the children. When we were in Cambodia we visited an amazing school that were begging for volunteers on a 3 month basis. It takes kids off the streets that would normally be involved in the sex trade or orphans and gives them a chance at a normal life. There is also a free clinic on site that people volunteer at. Think it would be a very rewarding experience. Let me know if you are interested in visiting there and I will get the info for you. Even visiting there is rewarding. Safe and wonderful travels you two. Have just arrived in Argentina. Will see more of Chile on our outbound.
I remember your photos and descriptions of your experiences in Cambodia. Yes, please – send me the info about the school you visited – I would love to go.
Having fun following your adventures as well. You are leading the way for us. I have never heard anyone say about Argentina or Chile – “Well, that was a waste of time.”
What a treat to see you and Stephen looking so relaxed and engaged! Enjoy!
thanks Donna! We’re engaged alright. I have just discovered the wisdom(?) of eating a salad that probably was not washed with the cleanest of water. Not catastrophic, but not pleasant either. Oh well, you always wait for that to happen and then move on. Moving’ on…
Beautiful story so far Ginny.
Thanks Christine. We’re having a lot of fun, and meeting people from all over the world. The funny thing is, Thailand is nothing as I imagined it to be. More on that at some point.
Steve please bring me back a souvenir thai. To wear with my new suit
I will begin the search….something with elephants on it, I presume.
Lorne – you know Steve is actually out looking for an appropriate thai tie.
Loved your photos of the Historical Park – so peaceful looking (with some shade to boot!)
Heather – it is so peaceful there. In spite of busload upon busload of tourists and dozens and dozens of school kids, we often found ourselves all alone. Especially with bikes – it was so easy to get around and find quiet spots.
Hello friends ! The “guava” (as they call it) fruit, is also found abundantly in Brasil, where I grew up eating them by the score…..However, this Thai type of guava, must he an offshoot of the same, and for some reason eaten almost raw, by the looks of it on sale there. In Brasil we eat them nice and ripe, and they are simply delicious ! Enjoy the rest of your stay, best regards, Lis
Thanks LIs – I will have to try guava in other countries and see the difference. These have the crunch of apples, but a very mild taste.
Hi Ginny and Steve; what a treat to travel along with you, your writing is so personal and responsive to everything you’re experiencing, it’s easy to feel like I’m along for the ride. I visited some temples in Indonesia and Taiwan many years ago, but the experience has stayed with me, the scale, and the quiet peacefulness of these places is profound. Thanks for sharing so much of yourselves with us.
Take care, I’ll look forward to tuning in!