March 23, 2008

Easter in Thailand Day 4: Leaving Sukhothai

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Had breakfast early in the morning, and bid farewell to Debbie before her flight back to Bangkok. I really enjoyed her company yesterday.

Set off to Si Satchanalai-Chaliang Historical Park, another part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was about an hour by car, and we arrived a bit after 8:30am. My guide Tong tells me that the name Chaliang is actually a foreign word, having been translated from the Chinese name "Choeng Lieng", as the area was called during the time of Xuanzang (玄奘) and the Journey to the West (西遊記).

The first stop was Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat in Chaliang, with a central Khmer-style prang dominating the grounds. The wihan in front has a large, seated Buddha under a canopy to protect it from the elements. I also witness graceful examples of the walking Buddha, while I found that the Buddha here actually had an "Indian" nose - curve downward and back in.

As we pulled up in the car, my guide Tong remarked that it "snowed" the day before. In reality, there was a night market outside the temple and the crowd left behind an incredible amount of garbage, especially in the form of white plastic bags. Cleaning crew was in the middle of taking care of this when we arrived. It's actually quite sad and shows how people's lack of consideration can easily damage a valuable part of our history.

The other wihan housed 2 seated Buddhas - a smaller one in front of a larger statue. Tong called it "brother Buddhas" and said it was in the style of Si Satch. I find this very interesting.

We make a quick stop at the Archaeological Museum, where they dug into the ground and showed the different layers of the earth during specific historical periods. They also excavated skeletons buried with heads toward the west, which you can see clearly from above. 

Next door is Wat Chom Cheun, whose seated Buddha actually sits inside a well-restored structure with a roof. The Buddha is not in good shape, though, since the stucco is pretty much gone and the statue is now faceless.

Finally we get to Wat Chao Chan behind, whose main feature is a Khmer-style tower that has been well-restored. It's small but pretty.

We drive a bit further and enter the Si Satchanalai part of the park, and enter Wat Chedi Jet Thaew - the largest temple in the area. The central chedi is a smaller copy of the one at Sukhothai's Wat Mahathat, with the lotus bud on top. The outstanding feature is the statue of Buddha being sheltered from the rain by the 9-headed naga. The amazing thing here is that there is a bee's nest hanging from the central head of the naga. According to Tong, this is a rare occurrence and a sign of good fortune. I spend time walking around the grounds, exploring the 7 rows of chedi here.

Crossing the street, we come to Wat Chang Lom. Yes, there is yet another one in the area! This one is the largest of them all, and the very first one. It has 39 elephants on top of the base level, with the ones at the corners being twice the size of the others. The elephants here are in relatively better shape, though, as most remain standing albeit with broken trunks.

Next we go around to Wat Nang Phaya, dominated by a chedi surrounded by some old trees. The wihan in front shows the baroque decorative style, no doubt influenced by the French.

Now we go to the bottom of the hill, and climb a steep flight of stairs up to Wat Khao Phanom Ploeng - temple of the fire mountain. The stairs are made of laterite and now are full of holes. One can see lots of lichen growing out of these holes. Tong and I pause a couple of times on the way up, and finally reach the top. We get a pretty good view of the surrounding area from here.

I head west behind the temple, and follow the path to the top of the other hill next door to Wat Khao Suwan Khiri. Debbie was kind enough to tip me off about the path connecting the two temples, so that I don't walk back down the hill only to have to climb up again to reach the second temple.

This was the last stop in the area, and I head back to the Tharaburi for a shower, lunch and nap before my afternoon flight back to Bangkok. On the ride to Sukhothai airport, I realized that all the passengers in the van were Japanese (except for me, of course). At one point, even the others thought I was Japanese, and spoke to me in their native tongue! Now, while I do understand and speak Japanese, and I do like the Japanese as a people, I really resent being thought of as Japanese!

After checking into the Conrad again, I dropped my bags quickly and duck out for dinner. I walk back to Soi Polo to get some fried chicken. This time I am directed a couple of doors down, to the new, air-conditioned dining room I had passed a few days ago. I am skeptical, as there were reports on the internet that there is a fake "Polo chicken" restaurant around.

At this point a girl speaking perfect English tried to convince me that this is the real thing. According to her, the two restaurants are the same - the original, open air venue opens during the day and also serves as the main kitchen, while the newer, air-conditioned salon does a lot more business at night.

So I sit down at Polo Fried Chicken, and order the trademark chicken (only half). Service is quick, but I guess it doesn't take much to chop up a half chicken and spoon mounds of deep-fried garlic. The chicken is fried but without the heavy layer of breading. The skin is very tasty, and the meat is reasonably tender and moist - although it's clear that this isn't a freshly fried bird. I am not convinced that the sweet and sour dipping sauce adds a lot to it, so mostly I do without.

I eat quickly, and soon the bird is gone. I am pretty stuffed. Was the chicken good? Yes, it's a pretty good chicken, and a healthier alternative to KFC and Popeye's. But would I go out of my way to have this chicken again? Probably not. In the back of my mind, I am still drooling over the deep fried drumstick I had from the Sukhothai night market on Friday night...

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