Today we continued our Adventures in the ancient city of Sukhothai – but this time we had an expert local guide and more transportation than our feet. It still involved our feet, but included 10 wheels!
After another hearty breakfast at the hotel, we met Sumitra (nickname ‘Me-ow’) and her colleague in the driveway of the hotel to get outfitted for our half day bike trip. We didn’t head directly to the central area but instead pedaled our way through the countryside to some very interesting sites.
The first was Wat Cheduphon – the largest temple complex outside the city walls. It is know for 4 vast Buddha statutes in each of the main positions – sitting, standing, reclining and the rare walking position. Me-ow shared a lot of history of Sukhothai including why these temples are in ruins while Chiang Mai’s of the same age are still beautiful and maintained. The short story is when Sukothai was annexed by the Ayutthaya kingdom and the capital moved, all the people were eventually brought to the new capital to provide protection from invaders. Sukhothai was effectively abandoned and the temples fell into ruins. By the time people returned, the temples were in bad shape due to weather, accidents and relic hunters and it was too big an effort to fix them. The government has done limited restoration over the past 100 years but most have been left in ruin for historical purposes.
After leaving the Wat we wound 5km through the farmlands outside the city. Most income in the area is agriculture – primarily rice but also sugarcane, tapioca and even teak and chili peppers. We saw examples of all of those.
Our next stop was the Saritphong Dam which dates back to the 14th century and is relatively unchanged today. It was evidence of significant water management innovation by the Sukhothai Kingdom and a further reason it was named a UNESCO world site.
Riding back to town brought us to the most significant sites in the Ancient City. The temple of the Kingdom’s royal family Wat Mahathat – which is the largest temple complex – has architecture from the Khmer period, the Sukhothai period and then the Ayutthaya period all built around and on top of the other.
We heard a brief lecture under the gracious shade of a bodhi tree. Suaram and Brian later meditated there like Buddha would have.
We made a quick stop at a monument to the Father of Thailand, King Ramkhamheung (still decorated from his birthday celebration two days ago).
Me-ow told a story that during his reign, the King kept a gong by the city gates. If someone felt they suffered an unjust ruling by the courts, they could ring the gong and the King would do a final adjudication. The kids – perhaps feeling their injustices – tried out a replica of the gong.
We made a quick stop at a lovely temple reached by a bridge. It is home of a walking Buddha stature that is a significant and unique example of the Sukhothai style of art. From there we headed to a local restaurant for a delicious lunch and a well deserved rest from the bikes.
After lunch we couldn’t resist one last stop – at Wat Chang Lom. Wat of course means temple, Chang is elephant and Lom is under or supporting. Perhaps this picture will help show how this site got its name.
After we cruised back to the hotel and gave Me-ow our thanks for a fantastic tour, we collapsed in the pool to relax, refresh and practice our karate kicks?