My Heart Belongs to Sukhothai

A stone Buddha at Sukhothai World Heritage Site
“Stone Buddhas meditate our forgotten fate” Sukhothai-A Poem

My heart belongs to old Sukhothai.

Whenever I’m asked where to visit in Thailand, I always say Sukhothai. Quiet. Ancient. Pastoral. Historic. Soulful.  Far from the madding crowds and very Thai. The perfect place.

I was last here 20 years ago and worried that Sukhothai would no longer be the peaceful place I remembered.  What I remembered most about the old city was its haunting stillness. Sukhothai is the moral and ambient opposite of Pattaya or Soi Cowboy.

By luck, chance or just an average day, when I visit Sukhothai there are few people around.

 

Sukhothai World Heritage Site

Since 2000, tourism has boomed in Thailand, going from about 8 million back then to upwards of 40 million today. (please read by blog post: The Golden Era of Thai Tourism: 1947-79) Surely Sukhothai had become another casualty of mass tourism.

It hasn’t. Thank God.

Sukhothai remains its quiet, mysterious self. You can still bicycle around the ancient city and see relatively few people. In 20 years, things haven’t change much-something you could never say about Chiang Mai. (Please see: The Truth about Chiang Mai-Paradise Lost)

800 Years In 5 Bullet Points

Sukhothai World Heritage Site
The earliest Sukhothai wats were heavily influenced by Angkor Wat architecture.

I’ll spare you the history lesson and simply mention a few bullet point basics:

  • Sukhothai means “The Dawn of Happiness” in Sanskrit. The city was founded in 1238 although its roots go deeper.
  • Thai school children are taught that Sukhothai is the font of their culture. Its a powerful symbol of Thai identity.

    Sukhothai World Heritage Site
    Enchanting Sukhothai
  • King Ram Kham Haeng of Sukhothai created the Thai alphabet used today. (The 1st letter is “gaw gai” –see poem below)
  • By the 15th century, Old Sukhothai was abandoned and remains so today. (There’s new Sukhothai about 10 kilometers away.)
  • The core of the ancient city is about 70 square kilometers and hold 193 ruins-some huge and some small. There are also extensive ruins nearby at Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet which were important towns of the Sukhothai Kingdom.

So there you have ancient Sukhothai in just 5 easy-peasy bullet points. But wait! I’ve written a poem that I hope captures the haunting spirit of this ancient city and why I love it so.

Sukhothai World Heritage Site

King Rhama Kham Haeng of Sukhothai
King Rham Kham Haeng of Sukhothai.

Sukhothai

Ramma-Lamma-Dang, King Rham-Kham-Haeng
On Sukhothai’s stone throne you sit
A city gleaming, a city teaming
Monks chant to an ancient spirit.
Where tamarinds grow and clear waters flow
Golden sunsets wink goodnight
No beating war drum, for peace has come
Your Kingdom resplendent in morning’s light.

Your watercolor realm with happiness at its helm

Where elephants walked the streets and ways.
From Angkor flutes and Khmer roots
a city always under an Apsara’s gaze.
But Angkor’s greediness bode ill for obedience
So Sukhothai dreamt a kingdom of its own.
Weary to contribute to Angkor’s tribute
Sukhothai claimed freedom as a touchstone.

With chronicled fuss, historians assure us

that Thainess sprouted here long ago.
But truth be bold when cold truth is told
Siam’s genesis resides in history’s shadow.
Ramma-Lamma-Dang, King Rham-Kham-Haeng
made alphabet soup for Thai.
Exciting as lightening, reading and writing
School kids now learned their first gaw gai.

Sangkalok pottery, monkey mockery

Bustling bazaars and markets at night
Stone hewn Wats, spired stupa tops
Monks chanted endlessly to starlight.
Whispered Sukhothai a gentle lullaby
Your denizens all at peace.
Women weaving, men believing
in tranquility to never cease.

Ramma-Lamma-Dang, King Rham-Kham-Haeng

Silence is now your kingdom’s legacy.
Stone Buddhas meditate our forgotten fate
Father Time has claimed his supremacy.
A child’s laughter, 800 years after
Returns on the wind as sad goodbye.
The old gently smile, but its sorrow with style
Our destiny the same as Sukhothai.

Logistics

Driving: Sukhothai Historical Park lies between Bangkok (445 Kilometers/6 hrs. driving) and Chiang Mai (280 Kilometers/4.5 hrs. driving). So driving is a good option whether you’re coming from either north or south.

Flying: Air Asia flies daily from Don Mueang Airport. Bangkok Airways flies daily from Suvarnabhumi Airport. There may be other flights. Check around.

The Legenda Sukhothai Hotel. Recommended
The Legendha Sukhothai Hotel. Recommended

Lodging: I can only recommend what I know first hand-The Legendha Sukhothai.  www.legendhasukhothai  The hotel has Thai architecture and is beautifully landscaped with tropical plants. It’s located very close to the old city. If you exit via their back gate you’ll come across a large ruin of an elephant stupa.

Getting Around: The ruins are extensive-probably too extensive for walking between them.  You can rent bicycles, hire a golf cart or ride a free intra-park shuttle. There are a couple of refreshment stands within the park.

Links

Sukhothai Kingdom (Wikipedia)
Sukhothai (Ancient History Encyclopedia)
Sukhothai: Exploring Thailand Ancient Golden City (Culture Trip)
About Sukhothai (Official website of Tourism of Thailand)

 

Sukhothai World Heritage Site
Sukhothai flows with water everywhere.

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