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Thailand’s first capital... Sukhothai

Posted on 02 Aug 11

By WorldTravelJoy

Thailand is one of the countries in Southeast Asia that has a great depth of history over 700 years ago.  With the dating period, the country had 3 capital cities – Sukhothai, Ayuthya and Bangkok.  Among these cities, Sukhothai was the first capital of Siam, found by King Ramkamhaeng who created Thai alphabets, formed political foundations, administration, and religion.  In the present day, Sukhothai is a province located in the valley of Yom River on the lower edge of the northern region, 440 kilometres north of Bangkok.  The name of Sukhothai derives from two words “Suk” and “Uthai” which mean “Dawn of Happiness”.   The ex-capital Sukhothai’s only claim to fame is the ancient remains.  The city was prosperous during the reign of King Ramkamhaeng, many sacred temples and chedis were built along the city wall.  When visit Sukhothai do as the local do, make your way first visit to “Phra Mae Ya Shrine” located in front of the city hall.  This important shrine is highly respected by Sukhothai residents even local visitors pay homage to the shrine upon arrival at the city.  It is a carved stone statue of Queen Saeung, King Ramkamhaeng’s mother which was built to dedicate her motherhood.   Behind the square-shaped city wall, bordered by two moats and bridged by four gateways are the partially restored ruins of 70 ancient monuments, those were purposely established in a support of Buddhist and Brahma religions. This site is known as “Si Satchanalai Historical Park” which was declared as the World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994.  Ancient temples and artefacts were found as many as 215 pieces.  Wat Mahathat is the largest temple set in the heart of the city, built by King Indraditya of Phra Ruang dynasty in the early Sukhothai Empire.  About 200 chedis were built including the main chedi.  It has a lotus-shaped apex surrounded by eight other small chedis at the same elevation, four of which are pointed out in a direction of north, east, south and west.  To the east side of the main chedi is a huge laterite assembly hall where Thailand’s leading bronze Buddha image was placed.  Later, the Buddha image was moved to Wat Suthat Thep Wararam in Bangkok.  In the direction to north and south, there are two standing Buddha images inside chedis.  Similarly, in the west of Wat Mahathat, the ancient temple without a boundary wall, Wat Traphang Ngoen comprises of the main chedi that was built in a shape of lotus bud with four niches to enshrine standing and walking Buddha images placed in four directions; and the constructed ordination hall on a small island in the middle of Traphang which means “lagoon” is encircled by the beautiful blooms of lotus.   Outside the city wall facing north, the renowned historical site Wat Sri Chum contains a large sitting Buddha image inside the assembly hall.  The building structure is in a shape of a square hall with a pyramidal roof.  Today, the four thick brick walls remain along with inscriptions on the walls, these show a great evidence of Sukhothai Empire.  Further on the ceiling of the stairway, there are 50 drawings depicting a story of reincarnations of Lord Buddha with a caption in the Sukhothai alphabets on each picture.   Wat Chang Lom is in a compound of the city wall.  In Thai “Chang” means “Elephant”.  The temple has one of the most distinctive aspects of Sri Lankan style, with a characteristic chedi and 39 laterite elephant buttresses.  The elephant features are uniquely different from those found in other temples –  the standing elephants are taller than the life-size ones and are ornately carved on the neck, thigh, and ankle.  The stairway in front of the chedi entrance leads to prataksina, above which have niches to enshrine Buddha images.   A stunning temple in the front of Wat Chang Lom is Chedi Jet Taew, it is said to be the most gorgeous temple in Sukhothai era as it represents various styles of chedi, displays the genuine Sukhothai art, and a combined artwork of Srivichai and Sukhothai.  The lotus bud shape monument behind the assembly hall is the main chedi, surrounded by a mixture of small chedis in a variety of styles, a total of 33 chedis with a boundary wall which left the pond and Buddhist chapel outside the wall.  The work of Sri Lanka and Phukham art had an influence on the chedi structure – a square-shaped foundation, rounded apex, niches inside the chedi to enshrine standing Buddha images, mural paintings depicting stories of the Lord Buddha, goddesses, angels, and kings.   Adding to your holiday in Sukhothai, Sangkhalok Museum is worth visiting.   This small museum displays an impressive collection of Sukhothai’s ceramics and pottery, the city has a reputation for its ancient products.  To further your interest in Sangkhalok, Suthep Sangkhalok factory is an option to see procedures of moulding, carving the ceramic, porcelain, dinnerware, and home decor.  Though , goods can be bought in a reasonable price.   If you are looking for a real local scene, feel the authenticity; why not spend a night at Baan Na Ton Jan Homestay, is a tiny village in Sri Satchanalai district.  The name of “Ton Jan” came from Ton Jan tree, commonly grown in the area with inflorescences of purplish flowers usually bloom in the month of March.  This homestay can accommodate up to 70 people.  Meals and activities are arranged per stay, starting from a traditional dinner greeting from the house owner, experience the food offering to the Buddhist monks at dawn, and interesting tour around local communities – a self-created wooden toy by an elderly person, a weaving method in a space under a typical Thai house, a handcraft wooden furnishers, a demonstration on how to dye fabric with mud which produces a softness to the material and numerous souvenirs can bebought i.e. shawl, clothing, sarong, accessories, etc.  During the excursion, a mouth-watering lunch break at a local family restaurant whose house location remains unchanged through generations serving “Kao Purp” also known as “Phra Ruang noodles”, the traditional Sukhothai noodles are served on a banana leaf.  This delicious dish cannot be compared by any other restaurants in the city. I guarantee you will love it!!!   Give yourself a little longer time to spend at the airport if you wish to try organic food.  The airport restaurant serves tasty dishes such as Somtam watercress, Organic green salad, Spinach omelette, and Rice glass leaf chlorophyll beverage.  The ingredients are freshly picked from its own fields: premium grade rice, vegetables, and fruits, for example. Travel memo   How to get there: By car - from Bangkok drive through highway no. 1 about 50 km exit to highway no. 32 heading to Nakornsawan province then take the exit to highway no 117 to Phisanulok province.  Pass through the province and take highway no. 12 to Sukhothai. By bus - an ordinary or air-conditioned daily bus departs from Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal on Khampaengphet 2 Road to Sukhothai, approximately 7 hours. By train – an ordinary or express daily train departs from Hua Lumpong Station to Phisanulok with an additional travel 59 km by bus to Sukhothai. By plane – Thai Airways International offers a daily flight from Bangkok to Phisanulok, then travel further by car or bus to Sukhothai.  There is also a direct daily flight from Bangkok to Sukhothai by Bangkok Airways.   What you should know: The temples of Sukhothai Historical Park are opened at night from 7pm – 9pm.  Lit by beautifully placed spotlights, feel the ancient structures in the dark and an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. If time permits, Phisanulok is a province that shouldn’t miss out as a day trip from Sukhothai.  A former Siamese capital for 25 years in the mid 14th century.  Nowadays, Phisanulok is the only city in Thailand where locals can live on a houseboat.  

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