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Sukhothai was the first ancient capital of Siam (now Thailand), from 1292 – 1438. It’s name means the “Dawn of Happiness” and its people thrived under the rule of King Ramkamhaeng. Over centuries it has expanded to include several amazing temples, including large buddha statues in various poses and chedis of different sizes. We had an opportunity to hire bicycles and ride around this UNESCO listed heritage site. More information below.
After leaving Bangkok we took a less direct route to Sukhothai via Phitsanulok. We had decided rather than fly we would take the train to from Bangkok north to Phitsanulok and then a bus to Sukhothai. It turned out to be a good move. We started out by taking a second class train for about four and a half hours. We were a bit surprised because we were served snacks and then a meal consisting of fish balls with fish sauce and some sort of other fish tasting meat with rice with water. It was interesting to see the countryside pass by and seeing people working in the rice fields. We also had a fun travel companion who was even more curious than we were.
About 150 km north of Bangkok we reached Lopburi home to the Monkey Temple, Prang Sam Yot, which is a Khmer style temple with three prangs which represent the three Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. This temple was later converted to Buddhism and taken over by hungry Macaques who are fed by locals (knowingly) and tourists (sometimes unwittingly). Unfortunately we did not have time to stop and look around this interesting city, but next time we do intend to visit.
Upon reaching Phitsanulok we needed to transfer to a bus, fortunately for us using our very limited Thai and the much better English skills of the bus driver we managed to catch a local bus to the main coach terminal. At the bus terminal we caught a bus that was very fabulous with all kinds of decorations and good luck charms, but lacked air conditioning. This proved to be of little consequence as all the windows were and both doors were open the entire rise and household fans swiveled down from the roof. The bus trip was meant to take one hour but ended up being a bit longer because of the random stopping to pick up people waiting alongside the road, and the stop we made to pick up a load of very large truck and tractor tires which were even loaded onto the roof. While this seemed somewhat unorthodox to us the other passengers were not surprised, and for us it added to the excitement of the trip.
Once reaching Sukhothai we wasted no time having a wander into the walled old city where most of the old temples are located. We only had about an hour before the sun started to set with some very dramatic skies as seen in the photograph below.
Old Sukhothai was fantastic and more than worth the trip! There is quite a bit to see and the entire site is very large and contains ruins of 20 wats including the grandest, Wat Mahathat. After one of the best dinners of our trip I came back to take photographs of the various wats at night, only to be foiled by heavy rain after only 30 minutes. One thing I did find out is that my Yongnuo flash triggers managed to trigger my two flashes more than 100 metres away, even through the starting rain. Looking at the back of the camera looking at my exposures I realised that I left my flash filters at home and without them there was a very noticeable colour disparity between the flash colour and tungsten lights as can be seen in the photo below.
The moral of that story is to pack some filters, but even with the best packing checklist it is possible to miss something. Had it not started raining I intended to try to adjust the flash colour with some sort of alternative filter, read this as orange Fanta label. I also needed to use a snoot or gobo to concentrate the light onto the statue rather than get the light spill on the shrubs. Oh well.
The next day we got an early start and took our hired bicycles through the Old City and even made it outside the walls to a very old looking temple that had quite a variety of buddas in various poses and a three prangs in the Khmer style. As we wandered around the ancient temples we noticed that we had the place almost entirely to our selves, the only other people were the grounds staff doing maintenance on the gardens. It wasn’t until 11 am or so that other tourists started arriving, and only in very small numbers.
This brings me to an important point, if you are planning on visiting Old Sukhothai it is far better to stay there rather than new Sukhothai. Having said that I think the entire day we saw a total of 20 other tourists, so not exactly a stampede. Of course we were not there during the peak tourist season. Here’s a photograph of Wat Mahathat the main temple in the park.
It was interesting to see the state of preservation of the various temples, some of them dating back as far as early 1200’s. Compared to some of the old buildings in Europe the temples in Sukhothai were in a much poorer state, possibly due to the building techniques and weather conditions rather than maintenance. A good example of this is the photo below that shows remains of what was once a reclining buddha.
That’s it for today, check back soon or subscribe (here’s how) to the blog to find out about Chiang Mai.