Ayuthaya and Sukhothai
15.12.2011 - 17.12.2011
We left Bangkok on a morning train from Hualamphong Central Station where the Thai national anthem was played across the speaker system and everyone had stopped what they were doing to stand silently and respectfully on the spot.
During the two hour journey to Ayuthaya, heading north from Bangkok, we started to see some of the signs of the recent flooding that had hit the country. There were still flooded plains and many of the houses were built on wooden stilts, reminding us that the recent floods were definitely not the first they had experienced here.
We arrived at our lovely guesthouse where we rented some bicycles and were given a nice cup of tea, a map and some tips on what to visit in the area. We then spent the day cycling around the ruins of this ancient city.
Ayuthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with historic temples scattered all over the old city and along the rivers. Ayuthaya was named after the home of Rama in the Hindu epic Ramayana and in its heyday it crowned the pinnacle of ancient Thai history. It was from here that that the country achieved domination of the region and flourished for almost 400 years. Eventually the city was sacked by the Burmese after two years of war and so in 1767 power was transferred to Bangkok.
We had only one day in Ayuthaya but this was plenty of time to explore the ruins of various temples and the 15th Century Royal Palace. The weather was gorgeous, the cycling was easy and there were amazing sites everywhere we turned. Inside the temple we watched the devotees pressing small squares of gold leaf onto the Buddha statues. We also saw them praying whilst shaking an open box of chopsticks. Each stick is numbered and the first one to fall out when they shake the box is then allocated to a slip of paper with the same number on it which tells them their fortune.
One of the surprises we had was coming across an elephant kraal where we fed some of the older elephants. There was also one very cute baby elephant there that Sully made friends with.
In the evening we enjoyed our hotel room which was pure luxury compared to smelly hostel in Bangkok and went for some food at the small night market nearby the hotel.
The next morning we took a 4 hour train journey further north to Phitsanulok. The train was delayed but luckily we had a pack of cards on hand to keep us entertained. Whilst on board we were give fruit juice, snacks, a rice dish for lunch and a bottle of water, we weren’t expecting that! The journey through Thailand’s countryside was quite scenic and again we saw flooded plains along the route. After the train ride we took a bus for one hour to get to Sukhothai, a small town with a big history. A nice lady was waiting at the bus station with a sign saying Soph's name in big letters, ready to drop us at our guest house. We weren’t expecting her there so it was a nice surprise after the long journey.
We checked into our wooden hut and spent the afternoon reading, relaxing and making the most of the free pool table at the hotel restaurant. The food was delicious and we ate a little too much! We had tom yam, pad thai, grilled fish...everything tasted great!
Like Ayuthaya, Sukhothai Historical Park is an important ancient city but it is better preserved and is also a World Heritage Site. Sukhothai is older; it is considered the first independent Thai Kingdom to arise after the Khmer empire fell away in the 13th Century and the design of the buildings here was influenced by the style of the former Khmer rulers. Sukhothai means ‘Rising Happiness’.
We had one full day to visit the site of the ancient kingdom and again we explored on bike, stopping at each temple complex as we passed by. The area is surrounded by moats and is very green so it was a nice place to peddle around and get some fresh air and good exercise too!
We had a great few days exploring the ancient sites of Thailand and learning more about the history of the former empire and kingdom. The people we met were very friendly and the food was the most delicious we have had so far on our travels.