On my last trip to Thailand, my buddy Becca and I visited Sukhothai. It is a city and national historical park about 450 km north of Bangkok. It’s a small slow town that is a bit off the beaten path for most travelers. I had read much about the city and the park and was eager to visit the famous and rather large Buddha at Wat Sri Chum. Sukhothai is considered the cradle of Thai civilization. The name means literally “Dawn of Happiness.” The city was founded in 1238 by two Thai princes who seceded from the Khmer Empire. As a kingdom, Sukothai grew to be larger than modern Thailand. It lasted only 120 years before is was co-opted into a new Thai kingdom.
Sukhothai is now the provincial seat for the northern province which bears it’s name. The city itself is divided into old and new Sukhothai. Old Sukhothai is a large historical park with ruins dating back to the original kingdom. The ruins have heavy Khmer influences. At times, the ruins have an Angkorean feel to them and there is actually one temple that is attributed to Jayavarman VII. Jayavarman VII is the builder of Bayon and several of the Angkor Temples. He is the famous Buddha King of Cambodia.
There are hundreds of ancient buildings and Wats or Temples in old Sukhothai. Hundreds of statues of Buddha throughout the park. Wat Saphan Hin is one such Wat. It is located about 7 miles outside of the old city on a hill top. The Wat houses a Buddha which is some 40 feet tall. I was very much looking forward to trekking out to this particular Wat even though it was so far out.
Everyone to whom I spoke and all the I read prior to visiting Sukhothai recommended renting bikes as the best way to tour the old city. Traffic is light in Sukhothai. The people are friendly. Sukhothai is not large as far as cities go but the ruins and temples are spread out. Too far to walk and not far enough for a car or Tuk Tuk. Renting bikes was an excellent recommendation. Becca and I rented bikes from our hotel. Mapped out our sight seeing trail. Then started out to see the magnificence that are the nearly 1000 year old ruins of Sukhothai. We spent most of the morning tooling around the ruins in the main part of the park. The noon sun came up and started to beat down on us. So we decided it was time to get some shade and a cold one. Grab a bite to eat and plan the rest of the afternoon. We stopped at a local restaurant and ate. I drank a couple of beers. Had a whiskey or two with our waitresses. One of whom was cute as a button. So I snapped a couple of pictures of her. We rested a bit. Then decided to head back to the hotel for a mid-afternoon nap. The 85-90 degree sun had drained us a bit and I was a bit sun burnt from being out all morning.
After resting for a couple of hours, we realized that we had missed Wat Saphan Hin. No way i was going to miss that. We decided to go back out and find the hilltop Wat and it’s massive Buddha statue. It was nearing 4 PM. The park closed at dusk. We figured sun down was a good three hours away. Plenty of time.
We headed out.
We stopped near the entrance to the park to view the foot print of Buddha that we had missed earlier. Then we headed out to find our Wat.
We biked out on the main road that should have taken us about half way to Wat Saphan Hin. When we came to the walls of the old city, I was comfortable enough that I knew where I was heading. We exited the old city. Turned down a road which ran parallel to the northern wall. About two hundreds meters up that road, we found our turn off. This road took us about half a mile into what looked to be a farm neighborhood. Lots of barns and cows and such. I had a map of the park with us. Even so, somewhere along the way, I must have confused a road or two as they weren’t marked with any kind of real signs that I could discern.
We pedaled for about 10 minutes up the country lane. It was time to ask direction. I saw a friendly looking Thai fellow. So I pulled out my map and asked for directions to Wat Saphan Hin. We were on fairly familiar ground as I remembered passing near to this location earlier in the day. We were near Wat Sri Chum and the huge seated Buddha.
After a series of failed attempts at Thai, unintelligible grunts on both of our parts and several directional gestures based on the map and our location, our Thai friend sent us off in the general direction of Wat Saphan Hin.
We pedaled back to the main road and turned right towards our destination. I thought that it would be a few hundred meters down the road. Oh no! It took another half hour to get to the road that would take us to our Temple. By the time we hit that road, the sun was fading off into the distance. The road to the Wat was closed and barred. But we bravely stayed on course. I wanted to see my Wat on the Hill. I’d be damned if a mere unmanned barrier was going to keep me from my destination.
It was another 10 minutes or so down that road when we finally reached the Temple.
Wat Saphan Hin.
We made it. Barely enough light to snap photos. But we were able to get some great sunset pics and then night photos of the Temple.
It was a beautiful site. It was also exhausting walking up the steep, rocky hill to the Wat. Especially after a long day of pedaling around and climbing on and exploring all of the ruins in the old city. Well worth the climb, though. We took our pictures. We rested a bit. And then realized that it was pretty damn dark and we were far outside of the city.
Time to go.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been out in a forest at dark. I had forgotten the bugs. The bats. All of the flying insects that would be on the road.
Becca and I started back. It was still a bit light out. So it wasn’t bad at first. As we got to the main road, it started to get dark pretty fast. Absolutely no street lights in the old city or in the area we are biking. Another thing that I didn’t take into account. Although, LonelyPlanet.com did warn me of this. Obviously, I forgot the warning.
I start cruising down the road as fast as I can pedal.
“What the hell was that!”
I start getting pelted by bugs. Large flying insects popping me in the forehead. Small bugs flying into my eyes and nose. Any time I open my mouth to yell back at Becca, I swallow a pound of nats, flys and mosquitos. I start laughing because I hear Becca scream once or twice. I think I was buzzed at least once by a bat. I saw something swoop down and nearly hit me on the head. At one point, I’m fairly certain a small bird landed in my hair and attempted to make a nest.
I start pedaling faster and doing that forward lean as if I were rolling against a strong headwind. All the while getting wind blasted by all manner, all sizes of insects and small birds. lol
We rocketed through this thick mass of nasty bugs for a good 30 minutes before it subsided as we came to the edge of the old city. I had dead bugs on my glasses. There were bugs in my hair. Bugs stained my shirt. Bugs crawling out of my nose and ears. I couldn’t help but laugh. So we rested there for a second as we picked small bugs and bird feathers out of our teeth and hair.
We stopped at the edge of the park for a bit. Then proceeded on to the restaurant at which we had eaten earlier. We sat and ate a bit. Drank a few beers and then returned to our hotel. I had every intention of getting out and experiencing the Sukhothai nightlife. But, apparently, the day was too much. Our adventure too great. I decided to take a quick nap and didn’t re-awaken until after midnight.
The next morning, we left Sukhothai and returned to Bangkok. We awakened early so we could see the ancient ruins at Si Satchanalai Historical Park prior to our flight. More on that later…