(written by Dave)
When the alarm went off at 5:45 this morning, it seemed way too early to get up on a non-riding day. In fact, I almost had myself convinced that it was raining and there would be no sunrise or good morning light. Then Nancy informed me that the rain sound was the A/C and now that she was awake and would not be going back to sleep, I’d better get my bum out of bed (an afternoon nap would certainly be on call for later).
To my surprise, a cafe and the bike rental shops were both open, as they said they would be last night. We hired bikes so that we wouldn’t worry about ours (30 baht, or $1 each for the day). And we managed to get an ok espresso and even a croissant. We were the first customers at the entrance gate right at 6:30. Staying right in old town Sukhothai turned out to be a good plan.
And the morning light was great. I was like a kid in a candy shop taking photos of everything. We picked up the park audio device as well, so Nancy dutifully listened to all the park stop information points while I snapped away. To say the park is spectacular is a bit of an understatement. We spent 3 hours alone in the central section moving from wat to wat. There are many Buddhas, lakes and scenic vistas. We had the entire place to ourselves, except for the stray dogs and an occasional fellow tourist. I’m sure that the flooding has people scared but today it was to our benefit.
So, what’s the story on Sukhothai? I’ll try filling in a few bits here but this will be an absolute skim. Not just because I didn’t listen to every audio stop, but more because it was a a very complex era with government and Buddhism all blended together. I’m certain that understanding it fully could be a lifetime study if one choose. So here goes…
Sukhothai was founded in the 13th century (1238) and was the first truly independent kingdom of Thailand. Before that there was much influence and control from Burma and Khmer. It is considered the golden age of Thailand with much credit going to King Ramkhamhaeng who reigned from 1275 to 1317. He is credited with creating the first Thai script (being a bicycle traveller who can’t read anything, I am not overly impressed by this, I would have preferred he had given the English speaking folks from Europe a call :-). The kingdom lasted for about 200 years and spanned 9 kings eventually covering more territory than Thailand does today.
There are 70 historical sites within a 5km radius, so Sukhothai was an impressive city in it’s time. Today there is still a lot standing. Of course all the wooden roofs are gone but many pillars and buildings are still in evidence. I found it particularity interesting to learn that most of the buildings and Buddhas were made of stone covered by stucco. The stucco process is very exact with artist getting only 3 hours to cover a stone and create the image, before the stucco hardens. There are many exposed stones but also quite a bit of stucco as well. Very impressive that the stucco has lasted for 800 plus years. Most of the Buddhas in the park have had some form of restoration in the last 100 years, so they have more or less intact stucco.
We eventually made our way through the central section and after an iced coffee, headed to the northern section. I was sure glad that we had bikes as everything is very spread out. The northern section seemed a bit older with its’ major wat being more Khmer influenced. We wandered this section until late in the morning before coming back to the room to cool off.
We headed around the corner to have lunch at the cafe we ate at yesterday. The cafe gets a good write-up in Lonely Planet but our lunch yesterday was pretty bad. We decided to give it another try today and it wasn’t too bad this time around. I had to try the Thai version of an egg and bacon roll on the menu – it was missing BBQ sauce, a vital ingredient, but it wasn’t too bad. Nancy had a hamburger and said it was very good.
This afternoon I got my nap while Nancy did some more research on the route and accommodation options for the next couple of days. Then she headed out for a Thai massage to try to alleviate some aches and pains in her back while I went through the 160+ pictures from our sightseeing this morning.
Dinner was various items picked up at the hawker stalls down the road. Unfortunately when we got back to the room to eat we discovered that what we thought were chicken satays were in fact chicken LIVER satays. I ate some of mine but most were not very palatable and Nancy couldn’t eat hers (too much liver forced on her when she was a child, she says…) so we didn’t have quite as much to eat as we thought we did. I am sure we won’t starve though.
Tomorrow we continue our march north to Si Satchanalai, about 65k or so from here. There is another historical park there so there may be some more pictures of ruins and Buddhas tomorrow. And a quick note on the floods. It would seem that we are well north of the flooding problems now. The news is all about Bangkok and the surrounding areas with many photos of flooded areas. We can’t understand the Thai so we are not sure how bad it is or how many people are affected. We are just grateful that we somehow managed to skirt the floods without much issue. The forecast for the next 5 days is mostly clear skies.