The journey north - Part 1........The Kanchanapisek outer ring road in the northern direction heads towards a major intersection at Bang Pa In but the motorway is congested most of the way. However I’ve seen enough to know that once on the open road this 2.5l turbocharged diesel has plenty of grunt. I guess there won’t be much hanging about! Heading out on Highway 35 the traffic thins as expected and speed picks up to the legal limit of 120km/hour. At this speed our initial destination should be reached around 4pm. Our initial aiming point is Nakhon Sawan which takes us through Nakhon Si Ayutthaya Province and the minor provinces of An Thong, Singburi, Chainat and Uthai Thani. When a lunch break is taken in Singburi Province it’s clear that central Thailand is experiencing cooler conditions as air from China permeates down through the delta, an area notable for searing heat in summer. Nevertheless I’m up for a break as I put my head down. I’m awake as we near Nakhon Sawan, a major transport intersection where we head along Higway 117 towards Pitsanulok at 2pm. When I checked the fuel gauge earlier I thought we might make our initial destination without refueling but before Pitsanulok we fill the tank completely. I’m soon in shock. It seems I’ve been spoilt on recent trip with the cost of fuel. The tank is full consuming 1730 baht of diesel. I can’t remember filling a tank recently for much more than 1000. Time will tell how consumption from the Triton motor will pan out but I certainly need to keep an eye on it. I take over the driving again and waste no time in clearing Pitsanulok heading for Sukhothai. We’re on the outskirts well before 4pm.
Dinner at the night market in Sukothai and Sukhothai Historic Park
Festival of Light at Sukhothai Historic Park
Ancient monument........Clearly it’s obvious now I never intended to use Sukhothai just as a stopover. The meer presence of the Sukhothai Historical Park nearby means I have to record it for this site even though I’ve been here before in the distant past. It seems now that it will occupy a full day tomorrow but today has not ended and I’m in for a big surprise. Katoon mentions a temple she wishes to visit insisting that it’s best viewed after dark when it will be lit up. I’m not enthusiastic but it’s not far away. Well there are times when despite a lot of communication in Thai and English something slips through the net. When we head back past the resort I pick up signs to the historical park but the penny still hasn’t dropped. The temple she refers to is only the magnificent ancient monuments of the park itself. I hadn’t figured on visiting it quite so early and under such conditions of grandeur. I really hadn’t prepared myself for it. The lighting of the monument is in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the granting of UNESCO status and lasts for 3 months. I dropped in at precisely the right time and moreover entry fees have been waived for the celebrations. Clearly this sets up perfectly my visit tomorrow.
Inevitably visiting the museum takes time with a recommendation of at least an hour. When we move into the park proper we head for its most iconic site, Wat Mahathat which we visited last evening. This temple complex also requires time to make a decent photographic record and the time moves inexorably towards midday. The only consolation at this stage is that the hardest sites to record have been dealt with first. It’s important to produce a record of the sites within the park proper before moving to the outer monuments. The day’s site list as it develops is provided in sequence of visits.
The Inner Monuments
Wat Trapang Thong........Wat Trapang Thong is an important temple in the Sukhothai Historical Park located on an island in the middle of a pond or swamp. All that remains today is a ruined laterite Singhalese-style round-shaped chedi. In front is a small square structure built of brick with the Lord Buddhas footprint on a slab removed from Phra Bat Yai Hill.
Ramkhamhaeng National Museum........The Ramkhamhaeng National Museum is a branch of the National Museum of Thailand in the Sukhothai Historical Park opened in 1964 by Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit. More than 2,000 artifacts were donated from Phra Ratchaprasitthikhun, the abbot of Ratchathani Temple. Locals also contributed to the collection by donating many historical objects. Most of the objects on display in the main museum building, come from Sukhothai, others were found in Si Satchanalai, Kamphaeng Phet, Phichit and Phetchabun. The collection includes prehistoric objects, Buddha images and Hindu god sculptures from Wat Phra Phai Luang and Wat Mahathat, sculptures from the pre-Sukhothai period (about 13th century), Sukhothai artifacts from the 14th and 15th centuries, early Ayutthaya artifacts from about 1351 to 1488, porcelain from the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties all found during the excavations in Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai.
Ramkhamhaeng National Museum
Wat Kamphaeng Laeng........Wat Kamphaeng Laeng is a small temple with a brick foundation for a viharn (hall) with twenty bases of aligned stupas in different shapes. The base of the walls are in laterite. Many Sangalok lion's heads, a decorative feature of the eastern side, were found in excavations in 1968.
Wat Mahathat........Situated in the heart of the city, Wat Mahathat (Royal temple) is the most important and principal temple in Sukhothai. The temple comprises the main chedi (stupa), assembly halls (viharn), ordination hall, (ubosot) and 200 subordinate chedis.
Wat Mahathat. The last picture is thr City Shrine located near the boundary wall
Wat Noen Prasat........Wat Noen Prasat lies to the east and adjacent to Wat Mahathat. It consists of a base 27.5 m. wide x 51.5 m. long and 2.5 m. high adorned with overturned and upturned lotus moulding. It has both front and back stairs. In 1833 during a visit by King Rama IV he found the stone inscritpion No. 1 which is inscribed with the story of Sukhothai.
Wat Mai........Wat Mai is located to the northeast of Wat Mahathat. There is a huge assemply hall (viharn) with a two-tiered base. The decorative items found on the base show Ayutthaya influence. Around the viharn are five small chedis while 100 metres to the north there is a chedi with a base of nine spires. The main chedi is in the middle surrounded by eight subordinate chedis.
Wat Sra Si........Wat Sra Si, located northwest of Wat Mahathat, is a beautiful ancient momument in the middle of a large reservior know as Traphang Trakuan. Its important buildings include a round bell-shaped chedi, an assembly hall (viharn) and an ordination hall (ubosot). The round stupa serves as historical evidence of the prevalence of Senghalese Buddhism in Sukhothai.
Wat Trapang Ngoen........Located 300 m. west of Wat Mahathat, Wat Trapang Ngoen is an ancient temple without a boundary wall. It is composed of the main chedi, an assemby hall (viharn) and an ordination hall (ubosot) in the middle of the reservior. The main chedi was built in the shape of a lotus bud with four niches to enshrine standing and walking Buddha images.
Wat Si Sawai........Wat Si Sawai is located to the south of Wat Mahathat. Its three prangs (imitating Hindu Shikhara Vimanas) are regarded as ancient monuments of considerable significance. Demarcated by a wall the three prangs were build in Lopburi style with evidence of Hindu images including the god Vishnu reclining on a naga seat. Decorated stuccos have also been found of type found on Chinese wares.
Wat Tra Kuan........Wat Tra Kuan (right) has been known by this name since 1907. Its name was mentioned in the stone inscription of Wat Sorasak in the early 15th century. It is said that the Venerable Mahathera Dharmatrailok from Dao Kho came to see his nephew, a ruler of Sukhothai, and resided at Wat Tra Kuan during his visit.
The Outer Monuments
Wat Aranyik........Wat Aranyik is situated outside the city wall some 2.3 kilometres west of the Or (western) Gate at the foot of a hill in the Aranyik forest temple area. On this site is a rectangular well made from laterite that supplied water all year round. The temple has bases for small buildings including the assembly hall (viharn) and ordination hall (ubosot) with paved walkways connecting them.
Wat Khao Phra Bat Noi........Wat Khao Phra Bat Noi (right) is situated outside the city wall some 2.7 kilometres west of the Or (western) Gate in the Aranyik forest temple area. Important ancient monuments were built on the mound including a main chedi with niches to enshrine Buddha images on four sides with a bell-shaped body covered in thin lines like a fishing net, the only one in Sukhothai with such a destinctive feature. In front of the main chedi there is an assembly hall (viharn) enshrining four footprints of the Buddha in the same place, currently exhibited at the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum.
Thuriang Kilns........Thuriang Kilns refer to a group of kilns found to the north of the city wall especially around the ramparts of Wat Phra Phai Luang. Sangkhalok is a type of earthenware and stoneware made in both Si Sanchanalai and Sukhothai during the Sukhothai period. The pottery was glazed in colours such as pale blue or brown with a tranparant coating over decorative designs. Sangkhalok was exported far and wide to places such as Ayutthaya, the Malay peninsular, the Philippines, India, Japan, etc.
Wat Phra Phai Luang........Wat Phra Phai Luang is located in the area of the Sangkhalok kilns. The temple is presumed to have been built after the production of glazed earthenware in the area came to an end. This ancient temple surrounded by a lake consists of an assembly hall (viharn) and three small chedis. It was excavated and restored in 1965. Originally there were stucco reliefs of the Lord Buddha in a posture of subduing Mara surrounded by a group of gods. Today these reliefs are in ruins.
Winding down........To excuse the pun as the time turns towards late afternoon I’ve made a monumental effort to record such an impressive list as appears above. Clearly I don’t intend at this stage to provide here anything more than a brief description but it will be work-in-progress to provide photographs and reviews at a later stage. During a brief respite we change rooms to one with a fridge paying an extra 100 baht before heading out for dinner at 6pm back into the city noting that the resort has parking issues delaying departure. We end up eating street food on the pavement: Cheap and filling. As I write up some notes in late evening I’m aware that despite such an impressive list of site visits today there’s still a lot to do tomorrow but the plan at present is to move north to another district sometime in the afternoon tomorrow.