We only have today in Sukhothai and that is solely to visit the historic park that is home to the best temple ruins in Thailand. The park was only a 20 minute walk from our hotel so after the predictable eggs and toast for breakfast we set off to explore.
As with most things in Thailand, entry was very cheap, at £2 each it was a bargain. Where to start!
Upon entering we headed for Sat Mahathat, the heart of the ancient city. It’s the most important and principle temple of Sukhothai. The centre piece of the temple, a “chedi”, is shaped like a lotus bud which characterises the art of Sukhothai. The Chedi is decorated at its base with 168 Buddha disciples walking with their hands clasped together in salutation. At both sides on the chedi stand two 12 meter high standing Buddha images called Attharot. I think a selection of photos will give this ruin the justice it deserves more than words, it was a magnificent site:
Once we had explored the main temple we was very curious to see what the smaller temple ruins had to offer. Looking at the map we was given upon entering just created more confusion and we ended up just using basic compass navigation. Wat Sa Si was a temple built in the middle of the lake on an island located North West of Sat Mahathat (where we was) so just looking at the compass we started walking. Wat Sa Si, in our opinion had a very similar look and feel to the main temple just on a smaller scale, it differed obviously as it was surrounded by water. However reading some of the information scattered around the Chedi (bell shaped monument) was of a Sri Lankan design and the layout of the temple showed historical evidence of the prevalence of Sinhalese Buddhism. Still, it looked the same to us laymans 🙂
There was one temple that even we could tell was totally different called Wat Si Sawai. This is the kind of temple you see in all the books and would not look out of place in the middle of the jungle, or in an Indiana Jones film. It’s three prangs were built in a Lop Buri style, or so the information board told us. The carved lintel depicted the god Vishnu who reclined on the Naga seat, apparently this indicates that this temple was originally a Hindu sanctuary. It was later transformed into a Buddhist temple.
One thing we was starting to realise as we walked around the historical park was just how nice it is here. The temples and ruins are beautiful, but the park itself is very well kept with a nice relaxed atmosphere, a far cry from Pattaya and Bangkok. Unlike a lot of other historical sites, temples and shrines we have been to it didn’t have the touristy feel to it and there was very few people there.
The inner park is not too big and can be accessed all by foot. If you want to explore the north and west temples you will need to hire a bike, they are 60p each so well within budget. Cycling to the north ad finding another temple that looked like it could be very interesting we found another ticket booth and soon found out that it was another £2 each to enter. After all the temples looking quite the same we decided to not pay and just explored the smaller ruins all around the area. We actually stumbled across this monument that is probably one of our favourites and was just at the side of the main road.
Reaching the west area there was yet again another ticket booth, so we asked if you had to pay to access all the other areas and found out only the east and south are free. So predictably we made our way south to find a headless Buddha. After a 20 minute ride we found ourself in the middle of the countryside and in front of temple ruins that had not been restored at all. It was actually great to see it in this state, you could work out where the wall would have been, and from what was left imagine what it could have looked like. Again, we was the only people there.
I would highly recommend a stop off in Sukhothai if you are visiting the North of Thailand. It’s only 5 hours from Chiang Mai and 7 hours from Bangkok by bus so makes a good stopping point between the two (unless you like spending 12 hours on a bus!). The north already feels a little different to the south, there’s less of an emphasis on tourism, people seem more genuine, less likely to try and rip you off and English is not so widely spoken. There was a number of school trips at the historical park whilst we was there and we were shocked at their politeness, every one of them waved at us and said hello. We joked how if this was England they would all be fighting, teacher screaming and instead of saying hello they’d probably just throw stones at us! 🙂
Feeling all templed out we called it a day around 4pm and set off on the short walk back ot our hotel. There’s not too many restaurants around this part of Sukothai so we grabbed dinner at the hotel and spent the evening preparing for our next stop – Chiang Mai.