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THAILAND | Wednesday, 30 May 2012 | Views [751]

Bridge into Wat Mahathat

Bridge into Wat Mahathat

After a 10 hour train journey from Ayuttaya, I'm beginning understand why train journeys in Thailand are so much slower by train than by road. There's seems to be a never ending stream of unscheduled stops, broken down train parts and invisible items blocking the rail tracks. The first item is of course the most confusing as the stop bear no resemblance to the printed train schedule I got from Hua Lampthong station in Bangkok.

I'd decided to stay the new city of Sukhothai thinking I could do a bit of exploring before the UNESCO site of Old Sukhothai. The 2 hour delay on the train meant that it was already 7 o'clock in the evening, so there's not much choice except to go to the hotel. I'd booked into Sila Resort, who also provided a free pick-up service. This is the contraption used to get me to the hotel. Basically it's a converted motorbike with front-facing passenger seats. Pretty useful from the driver's point of view in case of an accident with a full load of passengers, there's plenty of cushioning for the driver/rider:

At 300 Baht per night I was expecting something horrendous. In fact, place is a converted house with shared bathroom. But then it could just be that everything is cheaper in this part of Thailand. The entire hotel is also staffed by women, accounting for the cleanliness of the establishment.<plug>They even provide transport for you to catch the bus to the old city</plug>.

The next morning, the same motorbike contraption takes me takes me to the Songthaew stopping area where's already a group of tourists all heading to Old Sukhothai. It cost something like 35 Baht for the shared 12 km journey and I'm pretty sure I'm being over-charged. Still, the songthaew drops us off virtually at the entrance to the historical park, where there's plenty of bicycle hire shops. There's also plenty of guest houses and eateries, making even the Old Sukhothai a reasonable base for those who just want to see the site and perhaps like to get in real early.

The bike cost a not an unreasonable 30 Bahts for the whole day, and necessary as I planned to visit the whole site. The park is actually divided into three parts, the Central, Western and Northern zones. I had a bike and it still took me 5 hours to get around all three parts, so viewing the site on foot is not realistic unless it's just to see the Central zone, which is also the most visited part. Annoyingly, there's no one entrance fee for the entire site, each zone has it's separate entrance fee.

So it's about 9AM and already quite hot. At this time of the year, it doesn't get much cooler, not even only warm, no matter how early anyone gets in. 

The temples and ruins themselves dating back to the 13th century and are remarkably well preserved. In the Central zone, the most popular temple and also my personal favourite is Wat Mahathat:

There's plenty of interesting temples in the Central zone such as Wat Si Sawai:

Wat Sa Si:

The next stop is the Western Zone, which is a good 2km away. In a way, I wasn't too bothered about the ride, since the journey is on a long road and meant I could cycle quickly with the wind rushing past along with the cooling effect. I was a bit skeptical when I got to the entrance of the Western zone though:

The first temple and most popular is Wat Saphan Hin, which requires a 200m climb up a small hill. Apparently one past lazy ass king used to ride an elephant up to worship the giant Buddha on top of the hill:

The Buddha at the top:

There's also plenty of smaller temples in the zone, most of which were in ruins with nothing left but some foundation and standing columns. Other than Wat Saphan Hin, the other temples are not really worth the effort unless you have a lot of time (or a motorcycle).

It's lunchtime when I decide to finish up at the Western zone. There aren't many shops in this part and the one shop that I found is sparsely stocked, drinks only and no food. The elderly lady at the shop was kind enough to let me have some plain rice which I insisted on paying for.

In the Northern zone, the entrance fee is only applicable to see Wat Si Chum, which incidentally is also the best temple in this zone. At Wat Si Chum, I love the way the giant Buddha seems to be peering out through the temple, looking directly at the visitors:

Another great temple worth seeing in this zone is Wat Phra Phai Luang, which is located on an island close to Wat Si Chum:

So with all the main temples done. I start cycling back towards the exit via the northern part of the Central zone, stopping whenever I see an interesting temple such as Wat Son Khao:

And Wat Sorasak:

The great thing about the whole site is that it can even be used as a place just for biking. The site itself is set in parks and forested areas. So it didn't seem so bad about the entrance charges to see that my money is being used to pay for an army of workers, toiling through the day to tend to the large expanse of paved pathways, manicured lawns, the trees that never over-grow into paths or ruins. Much of the park is picture perfect landscaped gardens, mini lakes and islands accessible via pretty little bridges, water lillies sitting on water filled moats etc, offering an orgy of photographic opportunities.

I'd also decided to stay another night in Sukhothai to make another attempt at exploring the new city. Alas within 10 minutes of getting back to Sila Resort, a downpour began and didn't end for another hour later. The very deep looking puddles finally broke my spirit for exploration. In the end, I also decided not to stay and see the connected UNESCO World Heritages Sites of Si Santchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet. These two other sites would have been days trips of their own. I've tried this with other twinned cities and groupings of sites and the consecutive days of temple trampling just makes me feeling increasing fatigued with the sight seeing.

And one final piece of drama on my way to the bus station next morning. We'd arrived so early that the gates to the bus station wasn't even open. I had to climb over this and walk 400m:

Tags: bicycle tour, buddha, buddhist, sukhothai, temple complex, temples, thailand, train, unesco


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