How to See an Ancient City in a Day!

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March 22nd 2018
Published: March 22nd 2018
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Woolly says – We’d spent a day travelling, Chiang Mai railways station was a delight, from the floral arrangements and statues to the way in which they announced the time with lots of dings and dongs and a few verses of the national anthem. Our seats might not have been the comfiest but the views more than made up for that as we chugged past paddy fields and into the jungle where the biggest bamboo trees (or are they bushes?) stood towering high above the tree tops. A lady in pink wandered up and down the carriages offering us food and drinks on an hourly basis, all included in the price of our tickets! I have never eaten so much!

We had to ban him from the trolley in the end fearing that other travellers would be left hungry as he ate everything in sight!

Woolly says – A fast tuk tuk ride from Phitsanulok train station to the bus station gave us an hour to wait for our bus to our final destination. Sukhothai is in central Thailand, around 400 km north of Bangkok and is split into the modern town and the ancient city and former capital of Siam dating back to the 13th century. Our accommodation was in the modern area, but a short bus ride would take us to the delights of the old city in the morning. The morning was overcast but muggy and as we ate breakfast in a very pleasant garden we debated how we were going to tackle the 6,596 km² former capital, I for one wasn’t planning on walking and looked to Jo in the hope that she had a plan, as the rickety bus dropped us just within the city walls it appeared that she had been considering the matter and had a strategy. The first part included hiring a tuk tuk for an hour at a ridiculously cheap cost to take us around the perimeters.

Bike hire was everywhere but having asked how far to one of the key parts and been told that it was around six kilometres there I didn’t fancy cycling there and back and then around the inner city.

Woolly says – Our driver seemed a very jolly type and spent the first ten minutes shouting ‘photographs’ before laughing each time, I checked under the benches to see if there were any empty bottles and just hoped it was his nature not his drinking that made him so happy. Our first stop was a wonder (and I warn you now there are a lot of photos to view….. feel free to skip the writing and just take a look instead!), Wat Sorasakwas built in the Ceylonese style had wonderful elephants coming out of each side, up close they looked as though their bodies had been elongated and I did hope that they hadn’t been hurt when put in there! It gave us a chance to look closely at the construction of these wonderful buildings, as striped back to the brickwork they had nothing to hide. The biscuit bricks were thin, and it was through the building skills rather than carving techniques that places like the Grand Palace and Wat Po are achieved, underneath there just like this little gem. Our driver headed off taking us through quiet and peaceful country lanes, everywhere we looked was another Wat from the 13th or 14th century, there was no way of seeing each and everyone in a year let alone a day.

Next came a modern looking Wat which had been refurbished in the last ten years and held a golden Buddha, Woolly and I were more interested in the ceramic dragon that crept up its stair case than going inside, pictures taken we were off again.

Woolly says – We drove across a bridge and into the moated area of Wat Phra Phai Luang, with blackened columns and the sandstone showing underneath our eyes kept turning to the large white temple that had once been the first of three, the other two stood in ruins nearby but the remaining one looked lovely with it’s decorative carvings. The complex must have been huge if the size of the Buddha was anything to go by, although his plaster work had pretty much disappeared it made fascinating viewing to see how he had been constructed from bricks and then plastered over before gilding and jewels would have been added. With so much to see we hurried back to our tuk tuk and sped off once again. Next came Wat Sri Chum, built in the late 14th century by King Maha Thammaracha II, the first thing we noticed was that Buddha was viewed through a split in the walls surrounding him, it was fascinating to see how small the space was that they had put the fifteen meters high sitting Buddha into, did they build him first and then surround him or had he been taken in piece by piece? A huge restoration project had been completed in 1953 and photographs nearby showed us how little had actually remained of the immense man prior to the work being carried out.

Possibly my favourite Buddha of the trip so far, an air of mystery surrounded him and up close he looked incredible.

Woolly says – Our driver asked which Wat was next and having shaken our heads at the usual touristy ones he nodded and said, ‘I know of one with a walking Buddha’, well what’s a mammoth to do when presented with a whole new type of Buddha. The roads took us past many houses on stilts and fields being ploughed by oxen, it was so lovely to be out of a city and able to breath in the freshness around us. Wat Cheptuphon was yet another delight, the temple columns stood with nothing to hold anymore but giving us a fair idea as to how large it would have been, the huge wall that supported not just a walking Buddha but a standing on the reverse side were huge and once again provided us with the ability to see how they had been constructed so many centuries ago. Having walked through the ruins and admired the lilies in the moat we hopped back on board and raced back towards the inner city.

A cold drink in a nicely air conditioned café left us ready to start on part two of the day.

Woolly says – The mugginess hadn’t gone and I for one was rather glad that they didn’t have cycles in mammoth size as it meant I could perch on the handlebars and let Jo do the peddling. The inner city was beautifully maintained with lovely orange flowering bushes lining the walkways and magnolia trees to provide shade. Wat Mahathat was the first and the largest on the site, it’s brick stupas came in all sizes and were in far better condition than the ones of the outer city. The large temple sat proudly in the centre of the area with a decorated block which not only had Buddhas to look at but gave a base that showed us his followers as well, each one slightly different. Some of the buildings were tilting to the side and didn’t look at though they would remain standing for much longer, the corrosion of the sandstone was evident everywhere with holes in the columns getting bigger by the day. As I stood next to one of the large seated Buddha’s and looked around I realised that there were ponds everywhere, this place must have looked incredible when it had first been built. Jo pedalled onto the next Wat which had three temples all in various states of decline, they had started life as Hindu shrines and been added onto when converted to a Buddhist temple much later in their lives.

The park area was glorious and as we cycled along the small roads admiring Wat after Wat, there seemed to be no end to them.

Woolly says – We gave up looking at each name and just enjoyed the contrast of the brickwork and grass and the work that had gone into creating these wonders. Having exhausted the Wat’s and ourselves we handed the bikes back and considered the museum, possibly an overdose on our day, we decided on a sit down and a very late lunch instead. We’d worried that one day here wouldn’t be enough but on consideration I really didn’t feel I could have done another day of Wat ruins wonderful though they were. Tomorrow takes us back to Bangkok for a quick overnight stop before heading to the beach for some real rest, shame I haven’t got my bucket and spade but I’m sure I can find something to amuse me while Jo bakes in the sun!

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