The journey between Phitsanoluk and Sukhotai is simple enough, you load onto a small minivan with a bunch of locals, watch in trepidation as they strap your luggage onto the roof with bungee cord and look back at the bus station as you pull out and see the air conditioned coach you should have been on but you got on the wrong bus.
But a couple of hours later we got to Sukhotai and our luggage stayed firmly attached to the roof.
One tuk tuk later we are in our guesthouse, which is pleasant, and then because Jo can’t sit down for 30 seconds we are out walking the long road towards Sukhothai Historical Park. Fun fact, this has a bunch of different names, the Old City, Temple City, Historical Park – it’s all one place, thank you to the 3 incredibly helpful women in the tourist information center for that one.
After more walking in the heat we give up the walking idea and flag down a bus – it’s a cheap local bus that makes the journey stopping on the way……at every school now the school day has finished. We end up crammed in the back of a bus full of school children who are desperately trying to avoid the awkward tourists crammed in their school bus!
We get to the Historical Park and it’s beautiful, or at least the bits we can see from outside the fence while we loiter waiting for 5pm to come and the entrance fee to stop.
Once free we get into the park itself and find a small food market, which has some amazing food and little mats where we could sit down and eat with a beautiful view across the lake. Dinner consisted of some little ball things in a banana leaf, a little pancake thing with seafood in it and a few other pieces randomly selected from the stalls. We watched the sun go down and waited for the fireworks we had been promised.
So, when the locals tell you the food market is the best place to see the fireworks – it’s because their mates with the stall holders.
We very quickly jog onto the temple island itself (the main temple is in the middle of a lake) and we find dancers in traditional dress telling a story (we assume about Sukhotai, which was one of the few historic capitals of Thailand, but we couldn’t understand the voiceover) with full on traditional dance, and a firework display – not big enough to see from the market.
The dancers are a local dance school and we stick around afterwards to see parents taking photographs with their children which is really nice, you can feel the pride and elation.
We get back to the market and someone has kicked off a little dance off with a speaker and we watch that then head home.
The Bike Ride
Just down the road from our guesthouse there is a bike tour place, Cycling Sukhotai who are fantastic. We started our trip cycling through rice fields on our way to a local market, where we were shown around some local produce. The colors and smells were, as most south east Asian markets, incredible. Jo speant most of the market switching between taking a tonne of photos and running to catch back up with the (small) group, but the guide took it all in jest and waited.
Off we cycled again through villages to stop at a house where they made things out of bamboo (wicker basket kind of things) and then a wood shop where they made fantastic furniture out of teak. All the while our guide, Mem, is stopping and showing us plants, wildlife, people and tellng us stories of life in the area.
We then got to the Historical Park again and she showed us around a few of the minor temples before weaving our way into the main section and then on to the main ones.
The temples were lovely and we got some great pictures – cycling was a great way to get around as it’s just big enough for the bikes and you can hop on and off as you want and our guide was fantastic. We learnt a lot about Buddhism and the statues of Buddha, including some of the poses you see him in (reclining, sitting, the cool one with the snakes etc.)
Finally we got a nice dinner then were bundled into the back of a truck to get home.
Not content with cycling for a day, (Jo) we went to a local night market where we watched a band (small contingent of screaming fan-girls included) checked out a pet shop with some funkey looking fish, and I got a massage while a crazy lady fed Jo full of tamarind.
We only spent a couple of days in Sukhotai, but it was well worth it, it’s a lovely place with some fantastic culture.