Saturday, March 1, 2008

Sukhothai - Temples of an Ancient City

A little nervous, but very excited, I woke up at 5AM to read up on Sukhothai. After everything was sorted out, I headed to the nearby 7-11 for a take-out, then took a sangtheaw (60 baht) to the Main Bus Garage. It is located east from the central Chiangmai, quite far from the center. The bus station turned out to be a line of stalls selling tickets to the different destinations in Thailand. I was just on time and bought myself a 230 baht ticket to Sukhothai (the seller wouldn't sell me a return). I was told there will be two trips from Sukhothai back to Chiangmai later in the day: one at 4:30PM and another at 8PM. I expect to reach Sukhothai at 12 noon pending several stops along the way.

The AC bus was comfortable, and left 10 minutes late from sked. Thirty minutes into Chiangmai, we stopped by a station in Lam phung to pick up 3 passengers. At 8:30, we were in Lampang, and waited 10 minutes for more passengers.

Lam pang bus pickup

Lam phung

A Russian girl needed to go to the toilet but the assistant couldn't understand her. That was a funny scene. She looked like she needed to go!

Dry hilly curves on the way

Onwards, we passed by Thoen Industrial Community College, some hills, and the Mae Mok Reservoir. By 12:30N, we reached the well-maintained bus station at the New Sukhothai City. I hurriedly looked for a place to eat. Eateries were sparse, which I couldn't understand, as this was a busy station for both locals and farangs, and people need to eat, you know. I was able to ask someone to create a dish of fried rice with egg, vegetables and sausage on a plate, at 40 baht. I double checked the return bus at the counter: #16 leaves at 16:30 (4:30PM, E-Santours) and #17 leaves at 20:15 (8:15), Wintour). It was easy to decide which one to take. Travel back to Chiangmai takes 5-6 hours and I don’t wanna be walking on dark corridors at 2AM, like I did in Bangkok. Figured, I would have to finish rounding up the temples by 4PM. That will be enough time to catch a sangtheaw back to the station for the 4:30 departure.

Giant Buddha on the road

Sukhothai Bus Station

Digital Mall

Having decided that, I let go of my earlier intentions to visit Thongchai Wittayu, the biggest electronic mall in the north. This shop is said to offer huge discounts for any electronic gadgets, much like Bangkok’s Phanthip Plaza. My brother has been asking me to inquire for a Nikon SLR D40X. The said camera is PhP29K ($750) in Manila. In Hanoi, I was able to ask 2 stores which offered it at just $650 including the 1G memory card and a case. I was hoping it would be cheaper here. My Canon Sureshot G9, which I bought in Manila at $800 was a mind-blowing $280 in Hanoi. I could have bought 2 of G9 plus a cheap one.

My rice meal (not on the menu)

The Official Sukhothai Historical City Map

Just Like Riding A Bike…

Now back to Sukhothai. The whole site covers an area of approximately 70 square kilometres and is divided into 5 zones. The central zone contains the majority of the ruins and a museum. Admission is 40 baht (6 am to 6 pm) plus extra for vehicles, including bicycles. Maps can be bought at the ticket office for 3 baht. The other zones (north, east, south and west) have separate fees of 30 baht. Bicycles are the favoured mode of transport, though it is perfectly feasible to walk around the central and northern zones in 6 hours or so. There is an electronic tram-guided tour (B20) available for the lazy willies, but then, that wouldn’t be fun!

Bike Rentals @ B20 for a 4-hour use

From the bus station, I looked for a sangtheaw that would take me to the old city, the Historical Park, which is 12 km west of the New City. Saw one leaving, with an Italian couple, so I got in and we left. The couple is billeted in the popular city of Phitsanulok, just an hour from Sukhothai, and they just flew in a couple of days ago. Earlier, I asked the driver how much the fare is to the old city, and he said B100. Hah! He must think I was born yesterday. I said “no”. Bargain, man! He finally offered, B50, so I got in. (The Italians agreed for B60.) Ten minutes later, we were at the entrance. I saw a line of bike shops, so I headed towards one. The Italian couple followed me. Turns out they weren’t reading about the place and didn’t know how to go about the temple visit. Though complaining that they were hungry, they still opted to follow my lead.

Wat Mahathat

I was a little nervous since I haven't ridden a bike (20 baht) in ages. Honestly, I am not sure I actually learned riding one as a kid. Hahaha. I knew I had a yaya following me behind my 3-wheeled bike. Jeez! The thought cracks me up. I know I would look ridiculous on a bike now, but somehow I would learn right here and now.

Wat Mahathat

After a few embarrassing moments looking like an animated schmuck who couldn’t control the bike, I finally got the hang of it. I tell you, I have never been so initially scared, falling off the miniature lakes and moats around the temple – or hitting a tree, or an oncoming bike, for that matter. BUT bike was the only way to navigate the temples, and I didn’t have enough time to leisurely learn. I was partially afraid to wreck the bike, or lose the bike from thieves thus I had to keep buckling the wheels in chains every time I’d roam the temples (and this took time).

Learn I did! And proudly so. 

Wat Sa Si (just behind Mahathat)

Wat Si Sawai

I love the flow of the wind against my face. It was just exhilarating biking around the grounds. I loved the moats in some of the temples. The most imposing of them is Wat Mahathat, right near the entrance of the central area. There are several other temples in the north area, east and west area. Wat Si Chum boasts of a hiding Buddha. Wat Sa Si is surrounded by a moat (a body of water), as does Wat Phra Phai Luang of the north area. The temples are interesting, although it does not compare to the grandeur and scope of the Angkor Temples of Cambodia, or even of South Thailand’s Ayutthaya. Three hours later, I returned the bike. I hailed a sangtheaw.

Wat Si Sawai

Wat Sorasak
A tall German guy went up the back with me and we started chatting up a storm. He was warm and looks you straight in the eye when he talks. His name is Mario, from Berlin. He was to go pick up his stuff at some guesthouse at the New Sukhothai City, then he was headed for Chiang Mai. I had to cut his story and got off when we reached the station. He was still getting his stuff, then join me for the 4:30 bus. That would be a welcome change. He is a smart conversationalist, and I’d appreciate someone to chat with for the 6 hour ride back to Chiang Mai. Cool!

Ta Pha Daeng Shrine

Wat Tra Kuan

Wat Si Chum

This is the Eye in the Sky!

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