Saturday, January 3rd 2015

I woke up after having a better than expected sleep. I was now in the province of Sukhothai. Sukhothai means the ‘Dawn of Happiness.’ We were in and among the northern central plains, also known as part of the ‘rice bowl of Thailand.’ We were not too far away from the UNESCO World Heritage site of Old Sukhothai, an ancient Kingdom, which was born out of the old Khmer Empire in the early 13 century. The remains are now known as meuang gow (old city).

Sukhothai National Historical Park, Sukhothai Province

I had been sleeping alone in Annie’s and her sister’s house, while she slept next door with the mother. I decided that today I’d go off cycling on my own. I showered and then got ready. The first person I should happen to bump into was Annie as she walked toward the house.

Annie was happy that I was wanting to go and explore the countryside within the local environs of her province. At least this would allow her some time to be with her mother, without having to think too much about me. The fact that her mother couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t really make much conversation in Thai, didn’t really help the situation.

So, after sharing a few words with her, I went off cycling along the 1056 road, heading out towards the mountains and the border with the province of Lampang. The roads were quiet with the only agricultural vehicles on the road and a few lorries from the local quarries.

Annie had suggested that I should attempt to be back by 11 o’clock as she wanted to take me to the Sukhothai Historical Park, in the afternoon.

The scenery was idyllic and beautiful, typified by gentle, rolling hills and flat rice plains. I was just so glad to have got away from the concrete, polluted mega-city of Bangkok. There was greenery here with trees and crops growing. Nature was here in abundance with swarms of dragonflies that hovered above and cicada insects that merrily rasped away at the roadside. No doubt there were snakes out there too, deadly ones at that.

The mountainous backdrop of Sukhothai

My plan was to cycle as far west as possible. Possibly venturing into the Lampang province if I could cycle that far. I had visions that I’d lose my way in and among the winding roads that weaved in between the numerous rice fields and rubber plantation along the way.

I had been warned that in certain areas the roads were very bad and the surface was in very bad condition. Probably after been turned up by the heavy quarry trucks. In a few places, all I could see were clouds of white dust that seemed to linger, as the speeding traffic sped along the roads at speed disturbing the dust that had previously settled.

I approached some strange looking triangular looking mountains that were scattered all over the place, their escarpments were covered in trees. I was hoping that I might catch the sight of a snake or two, but all I came across were ones that had been squashed including my first sight of a banded krait.

I cycled from route 1056 onto the 1327 and then at Thung Saliam, cycled on the 1048 road. The aim was to clock at least 100km in the four hours that I had. Which was easily within my grasp. I missed my turn off and headed out towards Lampang, which had been my initial destination.

A dead banded krait – DEADLY

People in backs of pickup trucks waved at me. A motorcyclist slowed down to talk to me too. I even got offered a tot of whisky by a group of men, when I asked them if I was going in the right direction.

Annie had advised me that the people of Sukhothai were much happier and much more friendly towards outsiders than the people in Bangkok. She was right on all accounts. I passed many people who offered me genuine smiles and waves, this was so wonderful and refreshing.

I eventually arrived back from my adventure just after 11:15. I’d sent Annie a couple of text messages along the way just to notify her that I was OK and that I hadn’t been abducted by aliens, well not yet at least.

In the afternoon as promised, Annie took me to the Sukhothai Historical Park.

Buddha Statue (Phra Achana) at Si Chum Temple
Buddha Statue (Phra Achana) close up
Even Closer

The Sukhothai Historical Park was once the flourishing capital of Siam. In the old days, it was the centre for administration, religion and the economy. Sukhothai Historical Park doesn’t only offer historical value, it also possesses the remains with exquisite architecture reflecting the civilization in the past and had gained its UNESCO World Heritage status in 1991.

Me holding a lotus flower, near the Si Cum Temple

It covers an area of 70 square km, which includes the ruins of the ancient glorious Sukhothai Kingdom.

Si Sawai Temple

Once at the park, we walked around the attraction. We took many photographs of the structures like the: Mahathat Temple and the Si Sawai Temple. The Mahathat Temple is located in the centre of the ancient town. The temple compound contains principle pagoda, Wiham, Monthop and over 200 pagodas. The principle pagoda epitomizes the fine Sukothai architectural style. It’s surrounded by 8 pagodas. The ones on the four corners present Haripunchai style and the others present Sukhothai and Lankan art style and all looked so wonderful.

Buddha Statue at Mahathat Temple

According to the 1st stone inscription, this once housed a Golden Buddha. Later, in the early Rattanakosin era, a Buddha image was installed in Suthat Thepwararam temple by King Rama I. This image known as the“Phra Si Sakkayamunee” and was removed during the reign of King Rama II. It now is housed in the Wat Suthat Thepphaararam, one of the Royal Temples in Bangkok.

Mahathat Temple 

The Si Sawai Temple was located to the south of the Mahathat temple. There are three Lopburi style phrangs (pagoda) standing on the base decorated with stuccos. Besides the lintels, there are fragments of Hindu images and linga indicating that the temple was once a sanctuary of Hinduism.

Three Ruin Khmer style Phrangs in the Lopburi style

We walked around the fascinating park and then returned to the car and drove off to another area. There were so many interesting things to look at there too. The park itself was beautifully green. The ruins themselves were in relatively good condition considering their age.

At times I teased Annie by playing ‘hide and seek’ with her in and around the ruins. At one point, she was expecting me to come out from behind a ruin, but I was not there to her surprise; I was somewhere else. It was so funny at the time, but it kept her on her toes.

After tiring ourselves out with walking around and playing silly games, we decided to head back.

Trying the art of sitting in the Lotus position
Annie can do it but I can’t

Once back I attempted to get some sleep. Annie later came to see if I was OK. We spoke at length about the visit to the park. Annie told me in confidence that she’d heard her sister commenting to her other sister that I was very polite. Annie was very pleased with that. Her mother also had seemed to take a liking to me too. This was very good for me, especially in a country were first impressions counted.

Phokhun Ramkhamhaeng Maharat Monument. The statue of King Ram-Khamhaeng sits on the throne teaching his people. 
‘Lai  Sue Thai’, The Thai alphabet created by King Ramkhamhaeng the great of Sukhothai

Tomorrow, was the day when we would set off back to Bangkok, an arduous journey at the best of times. Sukhothai had been a fascinating place. A place that I’d read so much about and had been enthralled by tales that Annie had told me on so many occasions. In coming here I felt that I’d been adopted into Annie’s family and had been welcomed with open arms by their penchant for their generosity and hospitality.

Annie ringing the bell, something tells me this trip is nearly over.