Remember back in grade school when you wrote your name and then after each letter you’d have to write an adjective or word that described you and began with that letter? I feel like everyone has done that at least once. I was pretty bad at it back in the day. I have not one but two A’s in my name, inevitably one was always angel. Anyway, here I am a decade later and I’m doing it again. I decided I need to breathe new life into my blog posts. I’m worried they’re becoming a bit drab and predictable. My main goal is not to put you to sleep although if you’re in need of an afternoon nap and reading about my life helps you out, then so be it, read on. Today I’m afraid you’ll stay awake though because like I said, there’s a new format going on around these parts. I’m going to tell you all about Sukhothai, an ancient city in Thailand, by highlighting some adjectives that correspond with the city’s name, which by the way means ‘Rising of Happiness.’
S-SERENE. Sukhothai is many things, but most of all it is serene. We arrived in the early morning and the whole town was sleepy and quiet. There was barely any traffic the whole weekend and to be honest I didn’t talk to or come across many people. The ones I did run into were shy and soft-spoken. There wasn’t a sound at the ruins except for the occasional call of a songbird. As we rode the motorbike along the rural roads a calm surrounded us, even at fifty miles per hour. The empty streets and quiet mornings and afternoons made for a truly peaceful weekend. I may have mentioned before that I’m in the middle of a fitness program called p90x. Basically you have to do at least an hour-long workout every day. On weekends it always takes some accommodating because I never know where I’ll be or how much space I will have. Initially I was worried that I wouldn’t have a proper spot to do yoga on Sunday, but when I passed a grassy area outside of a school I knew I could escape there for my ninety minutes of meditation. I woke up early on Sunday. The morning was cool and there was still dew on the grass. I spread out my towel and began to move through the poses. For the most part I keep my eyes closed if I’m doing yoga without a mirror, but after twenty minutes or so I opened my eyes and to my surprise there were over twenty people watching me. I had no idea. I don’t know how long they were there or where they came from, but it was a wide range of people. A group of young boys and girls, some older middle-aged men, a few teenage girls and older grandmother aged ladies. I had heard some cars passing, but apparently some of them stopped. It was awkward at first, but then I decided to just close my eyes and continue. They were so quiet that it really made no difference if they were there or not. When I opened my eyes another fifteen minutes later they were all gone.
U-UNDERSTATED. I read a good bit about each place before I go to get a general idea of what to expect. The section about Sukhothai in the guide book was all about ruins, temples and monuments. There was little about the surrounding area of the old city. The rural roads bordering the historical park was the real gem of the weekend. Once Saleem and I saw a few big Buddha statues and towers we decided to leave the park and go exploring. We wound down each round, stopping frequently to take photos or just enjoy the view. The natural beauty that surrounds the park was overwhelming. There were miles of rice paddies and stretches of what looked to me like old moats that are now overgrown with trees and vines. Each pond or waterway looked like it was covered with a brilliant green scum, but upon closer inspection it was actually a blanket of little green plants. I went to Sukhothai expecting to see ruins and ancient formations, but I didn’t expect to see such breathtaking views of mountains, ponds and endless roads lined with farms.
K-KIND. I’m really thinking of a particular person, but in general the vibe at Sukhothai was a kind one. The woman I’m referring to owns a bungalow and restaurant near where we were staying. On Saturday morning we stopped in to eat lunch before exploring the ruins. We asked her if she was serving food and she said yes, but she had a worried look on her face. We looked at the menus and wrote down our order. A half hour passed and we hadn’t heard anything going on in the kitchen or anywhere on the property really, so Josh went downstairs to check things out. He couldn’t find the lady. We realized she had gone to the market to get all the ingredients for our lunch. We felt bad, but we really didn’t have the time to waste, so we explained to her partner that we would come back for dinner instead. On our way out we saw her coming back on her motorcycle with bags full of vegetables. She looked crushed when she saw we were leaving, but when we told her we’d be back she lit up again and wished us goodbye. That night for dinner I had spicy red curry tofu in a coconut soup with rice. It was delicious. It was probably because her main ingredient was kindness.
H-HISTORIC. Sukhothai was an early kingdom in northern central Thailand from roughly 1238-1438. I’m not a historian so don’t let my lingo offend you. Back in the day kingdoms were being taken over, reestablished and expanded quite often. So even though it was a Thai empire starting in the 1200s the city dates back a long time before that. Some sources I read said that the secession from the Khmer empire began as early as 1180. Two Thai Rulers, Pho Khun Pha Muang and Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao came together to form a new Thai kingdom, which became known as Sukhothai. Sukhothai is not the first Thai empire even though many sources state that. It’s often times considered the beginning of the Thai nation only because not much was known about kingdoms prior to Sukhothai. The dynasty lasted over 200 years and was ruled by nine kings. The most famous king, Ramkhamhaeng, is credited for developing the first Thai script and his inscriptions are also considered the first Thai literature. Ramkhamhaeng expanded the kingdom to include an area even larger than present day Thailand, but another hundred years later Sukhothai was absorbed by the Ayuthaya empire. Ayuthaya is another ancient kingdom in Thailand that I blogged about here and here.
O-OBSERVANT. That’s more about Saleem and myself than the city of course. All day Saturday and for a few hours on Sunday morning we rode along the country roads looking left and right. We stopped countless times for photos, turned around to explore tiny lanes and even made mental maps of the landscape in order to find connecting routes to our favorite rice paddies. While we zoomed along we had to stop for herds of cattle that were crossing the road or sometimes coming towards us. There was a mad cow that had it out for me during one of these crossings. I was terrified, especially after my incident with the monkey that stole my fruit shake. I don’t trust these Thai animals anymore. We starred into the soils of countless rice paddies, time after time admiring their beauty. We watched the sunset over one mountain range and then zoomed to another area to catch it falling just below the peaks there too. We met cute little Thai children and got a glimpse of what rural Thailand was really about.
T-TRADITIONAL. This ties into the historical relevance of Sukhothai so I won’t go into it too much. The old city obviously has a traditional feel because of its roots. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site so many things are left as they once were. There are over 21 sites and four remaining ponds in the historical park and over 70 more sites in a 5-kilometer radius. The architecture of a majority of these temples is most typified by the classic lotus-bud chedi that features a conical spire topping a square sided structure on a three-tiered base. That sounds complicated, but you can see it in many of the temple photos.
H-HOLY. All things in Thailand have an element of religion involved. Everywhere you go you see offerings to Buddha in the form of water, incense and a dish of food. Even on the bus there will be a photo with an offering below it. The ruins have a calm and serene religious feel because of all the Buddha statues, monuments and monks wandering around. It is impossible not to feel some type of connection to religion when temples surround you. Usually I feel uncomfortable in ornate churches or things of that sort, but this is completely different. There is a certain element of modesty to the statues and temples and a welcoming air about all of it. Some of the ideas behind the temples are really neat too. For instance the Wat Mahathat, the largest wat in Sukhothai, is surrounded by brick walls and a moat and is believed to represent the outer wall of the universe and the cosmic ocean. You can see this wat and it’s deteriorating pillars one of the photos above. The Buddha statues pictured are also located in Wat Mahathat.
A-ALIVE. Even though it’s not rainy season the plants in Sukhothai are flourishing. I mentioned about the tiny green leaves that cover the surface of the ponds, but that’s just the beginning. Everywhere you look a bright green rice paddy is staring back at you. I haven’t ever seen such a brilliant green in nature. We passed hundreds of paddies and all the greens are slightly different yet equally bright. And the trees, they seemed to be as ancient as the city. Enormous trunks leading up to a brimming crown of green leaves. Some trees had wide tops that provided endless amounts of shade while others had long weeping branches accented by heavy brown vines. Where the manmade city was slowly deteriorating and withering away into the earth, the natural landscape was thriving, growing and expanding.
I-INDEPENDENT. Again this is referring to Saleem, myself and the motorbike we rented. Being able to rent a motorbike anywhere in Thailand is one of my favorite things about this country. It gives you the flexibility to do what you want when you want anywhere you want. It usually costs $10 or less for a full twenty-four hours. I once rented a motor scooter in the U.S. and it cost $17 for two hours and it wouldn’t go past 35 mph. I was pissed. This is the complete opposite. You hand over a copy of your passport and they hand you the keys. In my mind motor scooters are now synonymous with freedom and independence. No more waving down tuktuk drivers, paying individual fees and having someone else tell you where they think you want to go. The best part is when you don’t have a plan because then you can really just ride and let the road, your mind or your heart take you where it wants. That’s exactly what Saleem and I did during our weekend in Sukhothai and we ended up coming across some beautiful scenes both natural and manmade. We had our first real look at the rural life of Thai farmers living just outside one of the most visited historical sites in all of Thailand. Many of them seemed shocked yet happy to see us coming down the road. I’m guessing a lot of other travelers stick to the insides of the city walls, not us.