March 21, 2008

Easter in Thailand Day 2: The heat in Sukhothai

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Got up real early today to catch my 7:45am flight from Bangkok to Sukhothai. I flew in an ATR 72 operated by Bangkok Airways, and the destination was Sukhothai Airport, which is actually a private airport owned by the airline. There are only 2 flights a day to and from Bangkok. Conveniently Bangkok Airways provides transfer from the airport into both New Sukhothai as well as the old city, so I took the shuttle and was dropped off at my hotel.

I chose to stay at Tharaburi Resort, which is just outside Sukhothai Historical Park. This is a very small hotel but it seemed like the only choice for me, since it offered both convenience in terms of proximity, as well as a reasonably high standard in terms of accomodations. I checked into my Grand Deluxe Room around 10am. The door to the room actually faced the street, so I was a bit worried about it being noisy. The other side of the room opened up to my own private terrace, which faces the interior decorative pond. Looks like the perfect place to sit and have a cigar at some point!

I decide to rest for a bit after check-in, since the light at this time of day isn't suitable for photography. I grab a quick bite at the hotel's restaurant - fried egg omelet with minced pork - and take a nap to recover from the last of sleep over the last 2 days.

At 2pm I decide to get up and hire a tuk-tuk to get around the park. This has got to be the most sorry-ass tuk-tuk I've ever seen, but later I realized that this is par for the course in these parts. Anyway, with my big camera bag on my shoulder and my Lonely Planet, I set off to see the sights.

First stop was Wat Saphan Hin, about 4km west of the park. This is located on top of a small hill about 200m up. I climbed to the temple via the stone bridge which leads up. The location gives a good view of the plain below. I also get my first view of the Buddha statues as well as an example of ruined wihan that I will see repeatedly in this area. The laterite columns are interesting, since the dirt has eroded and only the iron oxide and minerals remain.

I also realized that this afternoon would not produce many interesting pictures. All the Buddha statues in the area face east, which means that it would be pointless to take photos in the afternoon.

Next stop is Wat Si Chum, just north of the park. This is my favorite wat among the ones in Sukhothai. The Buddha statue sits inside the mondop enclosure, and has impressively long and curvy fingers - especially for the right hand pointing down to the earth. I also like the giant, old trees planted in the courtyard.

Moving on to Wat Phra Phai Luang, inside a moat. The complex is reasonably large, but the main feature is the remains of one Khmer-style prang out of the original three. 

Now we move inside the perimeter of the park, and make a stop to check out Wat Sorasak. This is a brick chedi in the Sri Lankan style, with stucco elephants around the base symbolizing that they are carrying the world. This chedi is very well-preserved, probably because it dates from a later period. I also check out the square chedi across the road.

Next up is Wat Sa Si, which sits on an island in a pond. I tried to take some pictures from across the water, but lighting sucks. I get up close and take some pictures of the Sri Lankan, bell-shaped chedi but the Buddha statue is just hopeless.

Now to the piece de resistance - Wat Mahathat. This is the main temple dating from the 13th century, and has its own moat. The main chedi is of the classic Sukhothai style of the lotus bud, and the whole area is dotted with chedis and Buddha statues. I run into a movie crew shooting a scene in one of the ruined wihans, with a group of ladies dressed up in traditional costumes dance in unison. I spend lots of time here to cover everything.

Last stop of the day is Wat Si Sawai, whose 3 Khmer-style prangs are still intact. A group of pigeons have made themselves comfortable on the prangs, and are busy communicating with each other. I spot 3 bottles of Yakult - with straws stuck through the tops - placed as offerings, and chuckle at this sight.

I finally return to my hotel after more than 3 hours in the sun. This is Thailand's dry season, and it's excruciatingly hot up north. It is therefore unfortunate that I managed to pack none of the things that I really needed on this trip: hat, sun screen, moisturizer, sunglasses, and insect repellent. The receptionist at the hotel, Lucy, was shocked to see my condition after being in the sun. Me thinks I need to do some shopping.

After a quick shower and a light rest, I borrow a bicycle from the hotel and set off for the nearby night market. I ended up choosing bits and pieces of hawker food from vendors at around 10 Baht a piece, and get my first taste of Thai street food. I also pick up a big hat and a bottle of sun screen. Now I'm set for the rest of the trip! I finish off the evening by getting a so-so massage in the hotel, and collapse on the bed, exhausted.

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