Day 194-197 – Sukhothai 27th-30th Mar 2012

27th March 2012

Farewell Phitsanulok. Jumping in a tuk-tuk outside the station we were transported to the bus station for our connection to Sukhothai.

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It was another of the on-its-last-legs buses that seem to be a feature of South East Asia, but it was comfortable enough with plenty of fans and the doors left open. At least whilst we were moving, it was hot otherwise!

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Ere long we arrived at Sukhothai bus station, a few kilometres outside of the new town. So we had to take a pickup from there to the hotel we had chosen for our stay. We were joined by another couple of backpackers who ended up staying in the same hotel. We had to wait a little for the room to be ready, but soon we were installed at 300B per night for fan, and then set off to find Poo café to eat lunch, and maybe hire some scooters.

The map bore no relation to reality (as usual) but we did find the tourist info. They directed us to Poo café we were looking for and we ate a nice enough lunch (that bore no resemblance to the name) before heading back to the hotel. On the way back we passed Pai Coffe outside which was a sign advertising a swimming pool. We enquired within as to the cost (50B a head) and for good measure how much a room would be.

Since the room was 600B per night with air con, and it would cost us 250B for us all to use the pool, we decided that it made sense to stay at Pai Coffee where we would have a pool whenever we wanted. As the temperature was pushing 40 degrees this was to prove a godsend.

Returning to our first hotel we gathered our things, paid a nominal fee for the use of the room and then we decamped to Pai Coffee. We had a lovely room just around the corner from the pool. Whilst the boys made the pool their own, terrorising 4 pretty French girls with bombings and the odd splash of two, we unpacked and then went to join them.

For dinner we crossed the river and walked a little while to find Dream Café, a restaurant recommended in the LP guide. It was practically deserted, a couple were the only other diners. The owner was very welcoming and since we didn’t really know what to eat, we asked him to recommend some dishes for us all to try.

The boys were very taken by a plasma lamp, giggling with pleasure as they placed their hands on it and the beams of light arced towards their outstretched fingers. When the food arrived it was delicious and it disappeared in no time. We had to order some more!

Full and happy we walked back to the hotel and after a last swim, we tucked ourselves into bed.

28th March 2012

The main event beckoned. After breakfast in the hotel we were off to see the ruins of Sukhothai. Since it is claimed to be the Angkor Wat of Thailand expectations were high.

We walked up the road to catch the bus from outside Poo café to the old city….

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What is it about our boys that makes them feel instantly at home wherever they are???

A short ride later we arrived inside the old city where we disembarked near the main entrance gate. Opposite the bus stop are a couple of bicycle hire places and we headed across to get some wheels. Three bikes would suffice, an echo of Ayuthaya, with Oskar on his own, and the two smaller boys riding behind Tania with Luca and Mateo with me.

They provided us with a map, suggesting a stop at the tourist information cum museum centre first and then circling back around the outskirts of the old city. We duly followed, as it turned out it was where we wanted to go on the first day.

The roads were quiet enough, and we cycled steadily in the heat (it was midday when we arrived) stopping to take photos at every opportunity. There was a definite similarity with Ayuthaya, the architecture and layout was distinctly familiar. But the temples lacked the vastness of Ayuthaya, the grand scale that made that place so impressive. However, the ruins are well preserved considering they pre-date Ayuthaya and the buildings and Buddhas are strikingly beautiful.

On the way to the information centre we passed the Elephant Temple, a stupa supported by a multitude of carved elephants, and the first of many large Buddha statues.

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The Information Centre had a large scale model of the Sukhothai National Park showing the layout and position of all of the temples. Quite impressive when show in relief like that. And there were a number of information panels relating the history of some of the temples. Other than that, it was a little lacking in information and did little else to impress.

Remounting the bikes we headed across a wooden bridge to Wat Phra Phai Luang. The oldest temple in Sukhothai and the second most important after Wat Mahathat. Supposedly the centre of the early Sukhothai settlement the three prangs date back 700 years and it is constructed in the Bayon style of Khmer architecture – prominent here and in Siem Reap, Cambodia, inside a triple moat, giving the impression of visiting an island temple.

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The thermometer continued to climb and pushed into the late 30s early 40s as we got back on the bikes and headed to Wat Si Chum. The mondop here enshrines Phra Achana, a large seated Buddha image whose lap takes up most of the building. A giant hand rests on Buddha’s knee papered in gold leaf from worshippers. Quite astounding…

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Leaving this magnificent image behind we headed back to the main road and found a place to eat a late lunch. It was cheap and cheerful enough and gave us a respite from the fierce sun for a while. Afterwards, we continued our way back towards the centre of old Sukhothai. Pausing again at the Elephant temple, where a happy couple were having their wedding photos taken.

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We passed by the Cycle hire shop and rode along towards New Sukhothai stopping at another temple wherein stood a shrine holding Buddha’s footprint. In the lake surrounding it were lots of catfish which amused the boys – Mat go so amused he managed to drop his shoe in and I had to precariously hang off the stepped platform to rescue it.

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In the grounds, affixed to various objects where some choice philosophical phrases.

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We returned the bikes to the hire shop and jumped on a pickup back to town. The only thing on our minds was a cool, refreshing swim in the hotel pool… it had been a very hot day. Dinner was taken in the hotel and we were soon chatting with some other diners and sharing stories as well as a few beers. Then it was off to bed, more temples to see tomorrow.

29th March 2012

Today was earmarked for the inner temples of Old Sukhothai. We took a pickup and then rented some bikes – Oskar riding with me, Luca with Tania and Mateo on his own set of wheels this time.

First stop was Wat Mahatathat, the largest and most important temple in old Sukhothai. It is well-recognised by its lotus-bud shaped stupa. The central stupa is surrounded by nearly 200 minor stupas built in different styles and to the east is a large chapel that once enshrined Phra Si Sakaya Muni, Thailand’s largest bronze Buddha, now in Wat Suthat in Bangkok.

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It was an impressive site and even in the intense heat we took our time to wander around, taking in the huge statues and getting the feel of the once magnificent temple.

We headed off to Wat Si Sawai, with 3 Lop Buri-style stupas. Corn shaped and slim, certain parts of the base stucco relief resemble the pattern on bone china from the Yuan Dynasty. There is a suggestion that this was originally a Hindu shrine and later converted to into a Buddhist temple by adding a wihan in front.

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It was quite a small temple by comparison, but with the aid of the picture reconstruction we could imagine the space as it would have been 100s of years ago.

Next we moved onto Wat Sa Si, a round Ceylonese-style chedi, the main sanctuary located on an island. In front of the the chedi stands a large wihan which houses a stucco Buddha image in the Subduing Mara position. It was a very scenic and peaceful spot.

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And then it was back to the hire shop to return the bikes, a pickup back to hotel via the bus station to book transport back to Bangkok, and then into the pool, a welcome respite from the intense heat of the day.

We ate in the hotel and then settled into bed.

30th March 2012

As the hour for departure drew nearer, we said our goodbyes to the lovely staff and family at Pai Coffee, all except for 2 of the girls who kindly took us to the bus station. Then it was aboard the bus for the short journey to Bangkok. Well, I say short, but as we drew nearer we hit the rush hour traffic and ground to a halt. It was dark by the time we arrived at the bus terminal, and we disembarked in a bit of a rush.

In the confusion, Oskar managed to leave the carry pouch of his PSP on the bus complete with all of his games, and the games for the DS. When we realised it was missing, in the taxi, Oskar was distraught and feeling useless he collapsed in a flood of tears. Doing our best to comfort him we arrived at the MRT station to catch the sky train back to Suk 11.

We arrived back at the hotel, checked in, gathered our bags from the storage room and settled into our new room on the 3rd floor. Then it was off to the street vendors to get some dinner before retiring to bed.

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