Following a week in Chiang Mai, we set off to the ancient capital of Sukhothai. Located roughly halfway between Chiang Mai and Bangkok it seemed to be a convenient place to stopover. The bus journey took a little longer than we expected and around 6 hours later we arrived in New Sukhothai at a fairly impressive bus station. Our search for accommodation was a little frustrating due to the fact that most places were full on a Saturday night. One place we looked at had an entrance hall dorm available but the staff barely spoke a word of English and left us confused. We ended up at EZ House where a room for 850 Baht was reduced to 700 Baht and then thirty minutes later, a whole new room was suggested which hadn’t previously existed. The only catch was that it was a fan room and had no possibilty for air conditioning. At this time of year in Sukhothai, the average daily temperature is 37 degrees Celcius and at night it drops to around 25 degrees Celcius. So it promised to be a little hot. Luckily, we were able to sleep and decided to stick to the fan room for a few nights (it was also very cheap at 300 per night).
Since it was Saturday night, the walking street and night market were open so we went there in search of dinner. At dusk New Sukhothai becomes like a scene from the Alfred Hitchcock movie ‘Birds’. The noise of birds coming to roost is loud and cacophonous. At first we could hear them, but didn’t know where they were until we looked to the electricity cables and there sat thousands of Myna birds all squawking, chattering and flapping. In places the number of birds was shocking to the point of being a little bit scary. We tried not to walk under the cables as we suspected the risk of bird poo landing on us was fairly high. You could hear the splattering of it hitting the pavement when you walked close to the wires. We were lucky to make it to the market without any bird poo accompanying us. The market was buzzing with the smells of a hundred different foods filling the air (much better than bird poo). Our first snack was some fried chicken patties with plenty of chilli and onion which we only chose thanks to the queue of locals and a man gesturing that they were good; he was right. We also found some spiral potato, a pizza cone, omelete and rice crackers. The locals were buying bag loads of food to take home for a huge feast. It is certainly no surprise that obesity and diabetes are becoming a problem in Thailand considering the amount they eat and the fact that almost every Thai food contains sugar. It’s a little too much sugar for us, but the sweet, sour and salty flavours are delicious.
On our first day we caught the bus to Old Sukhothai which is the site of one of the former capitals of Siam. This is the best preserved of the three capitals and a UNESCO world heritage site. Catching the bus from new to old Sukhothai is easy since a bus stop is located in the centre of town and it costs just 30 Baht one way. Old Sukhothai is divided into three main regions; Central, West and North, but there are ruins within a radius of 70km that belong to the city. We opted to start with the central zone and see how we got on. Most people hire a bike and cycle around the zones but we opted to cover the ~4km on foot. Each zone has a separate ticket (100 Baht) and it is possible to visit them all in one day by bike. There’s also a museum full of artefacts which costs extra (150 Baht).
The central zone was the royal centre of the city and contains several large temples and lakes. The area is now like a large park with walkways and roads cutting through the trees and lawns or edging around the main reservoirs. The main attractions is the royal temple Wat Mahathat which has some impressive standing buddha statues and a huge chedi. We then followed a circular route around Wat Si Sawai, Wat Trapang Ngoen, Wat Sa Si and finished with the King Ram Khamhaeng moument. It was a nice walk and the ruins were interesting to see, but we found ourselves comparing them to the majestic Angkor which Sukhothai just can’t win. The ruins at Sukhothai actually date from the post Angkorian period and historians draw some similarities in the style of the architecture. We noticed some rather obvious differences. For example there are numerous chedis and the style of the brick built pillars is nothing like Angkor. Sukhothai has much less stone carving as most of the temples were adorned with stucco which has not survived as long, we were only able to catch glimpses of some of the more elaborate decoration. The imagery of Buddha was also very different and distinctively Thai. The Buddha statues are curvy and elegant rather than imposing and majestic like those in Angkor. That said we felt the ruins of Sukhothai were well maintained, less like a circus and more informative than Angkor. The Thais have done a good job preserving a historical monument and utilising it as a tourist attraction.
It took only two hours to complete our walk and drink all of our water. The heat in Sukhothai builds fast and by 11am it was getting tiring and sweaty. We chose to end our templing and make for a nice cold coffee. Back in New Sukhothai we found the best way to spend the afternoon was in the café in our hotel. The thai milk tea which is bizarrely orange, sweet and packed with vanilla was deliciously refreshing. We have to confess we were a little disappointed with New Sukhothai. It basically consists of a long road and a few side streets filled with houses, shops and restuarants. There is very little to do or see although if you are interested in pottery, there is a museum nearby.
Our second day in Sukhothai was a day for a lie in and relaxation. We could have done more but to be honest we didn’t feel like more temples just yet. Instead we had some yummy food and drinks and planned how to get to Ayuthaya the next day.