Serene Sukhothai

Warning: This blog comes with an inordinate number of bird photos (and a dog).

We knew it was a good sign that both the cabbie and bus driver in Bangkok gave a little sigh when we told them where we were off to next. As in, ‘Ahhhh…. Sukhothai’, followed with ‘…you’ll have a great time’.  Yep – you’ ve got to trust a cabbie.

As much as we’d enjoyed our 2 nights in Bangkok, we were a little relieved to be leaving. By the time we were on the bus manoeuvring the traffic jams out the city, news updates were flashing up on the TV (yes, all the buses seem to have them!) of the escalating violence of the protests. Thanks Rachael Pickles! We’d originally planned to spend closer to a week here but thanks to her great tips we managed to save ourselves from getting right royally stuck.

A city like Bangkok makes most places seem like Ambridge by comparison, and Sukhothai was no exception. We were staying in the New City part, which did have one busyish road running right through it but aside from that felt fairly quiet. So quiet, in fact, that it seemed our guesthouse and the bar next door were the only ‘establishments’ in the whole place. We ending up eating there for most meals, in the process stumbling across ‘Sukhothai noodles’, an amazingly porky/fishy/fatty/vinegary/chilli-ey dish full of unidentifiable minced meat, noodles and green beans. Sounds gross, was brilliant.

Bowl of fun. Sukhothai Noodles

A great alternative another night was street food which turned out to be THE BEST pad thai I’ve ever eaten, all for about 60p. This was followed by a chocolate pancake cooked on a griddle on the pavement that was also pretty good but within about 30 seconds of eating it I was THE FULLEST I’ve ever been (except for that time when we all went round to Graham and Lisa’s and ate about 12 curries, anyone remember?) and Nick almost had to carry me back.

Still, enough about food. The reason we went to Sukhothai in the first place was to visit the little-known Sukhothai Historical park, or ‘The Old City’ as it’s also known.  Sukhothai was the capital of the first Kingdom of Siam in the 13th and 14th Centuries, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’d never heard of it before we started our research on Northern Thailand, and to our delight found that not many other people seem to have either.

Nobody else around!

A fairly far cry from the huge crowds of Angkor and the rolling vastness of the plains of Bagan, Sukhothai Historical Park is smallish, quiet and free from crowds. At least it was between the hours of 7 and 10 am, our favourite time for visiting. Both mornings we left the hotel at 6.30 am, catching the local bus (a pick-up truck with benches running along the sides)and  arriving at the park just as it opened and about half an hour before the sun came up proper. This gave us the chance to walk around the silent temples as they were slowly warmed by the early light – the colours unique to that small window of the day – and to do so completely alone, and before the sun got too blistering hot (by 9am it was already getting uncomfortable).

Sunrise on stone
Even dogs look good in a sunrise.

The temples themselves were beautiful. Having by now seen countless pagodas / temples / stupas / payas / shrines (and still not really knowing the difference between them although Nick did explain it once) it is remarkable to see how very different they can be in character and appearance. The most striking feature of the Sukhothai temples, to me, were the sylph-like buddhas that graced their halls, sitting so serenely that the temptation to flop down and start immediately meditating was very strong. That coupled with dreamlike quality of the quiet sunrise created a great sense of peacefulness. Maybe I should become a Buddhist (although I hear they don’t drink).

Facing the wrong way again
The kingdom is ours. Till about 10am.
Temples and trees
Watermelon for breakfast
My favourite temple

The other great advantage to our early morning jaunts was that we were right in on the bird action. With no-one else about, and our sweet time to take, we were on the look-out for other interesting things in the many, many trees and ponds. And many, many things did we see. We reckon we saw about EIGHT Kingfishers (common ones and white-throated ones – we googled them), two Wood Hoopoes, plenty of waders and things and a very cute owl! The people who did pass us by must have thought us very weird as a lot of the time we were standing with our backs to a temple pointing our camera lens up a nearby tree. Crazy English folk.

White-throated Kingfisher
Normal Kingfisher
Wood Hoopoe
This one's for you Grandad!

When the number of people coming through the gates turned from a trickle to a terrible tide of coach parties, and the sun became just too hot, we hopped back on the empty pick-up truck bus and cackled gleefully at the crowds of people trying to take photos of the crowds of people. We learnt two valuable lessons in Sukhothai: 1). Get up as early as you can, and 2). Look closely into the bushes, you never know what you might find.  Unfortunately not great advice for just about anywhere else in the world (especially the parks in London).

NEXT TIME: Riding changs in Chiang Mai

BREAKING BAD UPDATE: Series 4, episode 3 (we’re slacking).

That's not a bird!

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