Sukhothai

สวัสดีครับ (sawatdee khrap=hello)
(I’m having fun with the Thai keyboard now that I can write Thai!)

Well, I was lazy (and sick) last weekend so I didn’t do anything then. I’m making up for that now though, because I’ve finally made it to Sukhothai (สุโขทัย), where I’m currently writing from. What is Sukhothai you ask? Well, it was the first capital of the Siamese Kingdom back in the 13th century. Basically, Thailand has had a few capitals in its past. You could say that Chiang Mai was a former capital too, which is true to some extent. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Lanna, a precursor to Siam. Sukhothai preceded Ayutthaya (remember, I was there earlier in the year?). Ancient Sukhothai didn’t last an enormously long time; only a couple of centuries, when the capital was moved to Ayutthaya. So, ancient Sukhothai now lies in ruins and is a Historic Park and World Heritage Site (my 4th of this trip if anyone is keeping track).

Getting to Sukhothai is quite a hike. It’s 7 hours north of Bangkok; about 2/3 of the way to Chiang Mai. I opted to take the bus overnight to get here. It sucks sleeping on buses, but it sure is time efficient! I ended up riding up to Bangkok with some friends from school who were taking the train up to Chiang Mai for the weekend (the train doesn’t pass through Sukhothai). The van ride took much longer than usual for some reason and we decided that as soon as we got there we needed to head to our respective stations. I was heading to the Northern Bus Station (Bangkok has 3 bus stations), which involved taking the Sky Train to the end of the line and then a taxi for several kilometers.

I booked myself a 1st class bus. I figured it was worth the extra money if I wanted to sleep. It was 70 baht more than 2nd class (around 320 total). The bus was leaving at 10:30pm. I was really hungry when I got to the station but it was so late that the food court had closed! So my dinner ended up being a sandwich from 7-Eleven!

There were around 5 people on the bus, which was great as there was plenty of space to spread out (at least as much as you can on a bus!). The seats reclined really far back, which was nice. They gave us blankets and pillows and a “snack box” that had half a sandwhich, and that’s it. After about 2 hours we stopped at this place that was pretty much a rest stop run by the bus company (which is in turn run by the government) where we got a free meal (which I foolishly declined). Despite the “comforts” of the first class bus, I still couldn’t sleep! I may have dozed for short gaps here and there but that was it.

We got to Sukhothai shortly before 5 am! And what is there to do in Sukhothai at 5am? Not much! I went to this 24 hour mini-mart near the bus station to get a snack and then took a moment to snack a bit and decide what to do. I thought it would be cool to walk into town (the new town that is) and watch the sunrise over the river. Along the way, I passed a lot of really unfriendly dogs who were out and about and would run after me barking and showing off their teeth! The stray dogs are so friendly but these damn territorial dogs who have owners scared the living daylights out of me several times this morning!

I got into the new town just as the sun was preparing to rise and it was a magical time. The street vendors were coming out with their carts that have full kitchens on them. Much like in Vietnam, around 100 Thais were in this park doing Tai-Chi. The monks were going around on their morning alms rounds (most of the monks I see wear sandals, but all these were walking through the city barefoot). It’s interesting to watch people giving the monks their alms…it’s almost ceremonial. They kneel down to do it and afterwards the monks chant a blessing for the alms-giver. It was really nice. I did get to watch the sunrise, though it wasn’t too special today. It’s okay, it was still worth it.

At 6:30am I caught a sawngthaew (which works like a collectivo in Mexico) to the Old City, which is where the Historic Park is located; around 14 kilometers from the New City. I wanted to stay in the old city at a guest house right outside the Historic Park. Once I got there I found the guest house I wanted and got myself a room and then took a well-needed nap! After my nap I showered and finally ate a real meal (for the first time in almost 24 hours), before heading to the Historic Park.

The park is pretty big, comprising of various different sections. The central and main section is within the old city walls. The others surround the city walls. I decided to start with the museum, which showcased a lot of artifacts and artwork found at the site. I was quite glad that I had studied Buddhism and Thai history because that knowledged helped everything in the museum make a lot more sense.

After the museum I headed into the central area of the park. All the ruins are of temples. The biggest and most impressive was Wat Mahathat, which has many different Chedi’s (stupas) and stone Buddha images that were not destroyed like their counterparts in Ayutthaya. The area also contained many smaller temples. Aside from the beauty of the place, it was also really peaceful. At one point I just decided to sit down on the ground in the shade and relax, which was nice because it was really hot today!

By 4pm I was beat and decided to call it a day. I think I’m going to take it easy tonight and rest up from my active day (which was done on little sleep). Tomorrow I’m planning on renting a bycicle to visit some of the outlying sites. I’ll take the bus back to Bangkok tomorrow night.

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