Phitsanulok & Sukhothai – Visiting Ancient Thailand

Phitsanulok & Sukhothai – Visiting Ancient Thailand

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Peter and Vincent continued their journey towards Cape Town; we plant to head back to northern Thailand to visit Pitsanulok and Sukothai. These are not on the major tourist routes, and we had to figure out how to get there. We had two basic choices:

Cheap Way:

  1. Take a bus to Bangkok, end up in the southeast part of the city. Cost: B80 — about $2
  2. Take the Skytrain to the end of one line. B60 — buck and a half
  3. Take a taxi from there to the railway station — another B60
  4. Take the train from Bangkok to Pitsanulok; leaves at 10pm arrives at 4am. B890 ($22) each

You can travel around like the locals, and its really cheap. But sometimes, it just ain’t worth it.

Expensive way:

Go to a travel agency. Use their taxi service to Bangkok airport, and fly. Net cost? About $100. Two hour drive to the airport, less than an hour for the flight. We chose comfort over economy.

We’re here, we’re hungry. It is HOT

We got into Pitsanulok fairly late, and without a hotel booked. We had found a likely place on the Internet, but couldn’t find the phone number. We had expected to find a hotel booking kiosk at the airport. There was nothing but a car-rental place, fortunately they had the local tourist guide and we were able to get the number. We called them, they offered a free pickup and we waited outside and talked to a Thai kid maybe 20 years old, spoke good English, had spent 4 months life-guarding in Virginia and had been offered a basketball scholarship to Georgetown University. As we’re talking, the airport staff turned off the lights and locked the door of the airport. We were the last flight in (it was about 8:00pm).
The hotel was a real find – the “Grand Riviewview” was located, as one might expect, on the bank of the Nan River that flows through the center of the town. It was a 1-year-new hotel that wasn’t in any of the guidebooks. It was 3-star plus, plush and luxurious, had free internet service in-room (the only indication of this was a LAN connection jack on the wall labelled, suprisingly enough, “Internet connection”), good food and prime location. $27 per night including full breakfast for two, tax and service. Hard to argue with. Their English-language skills were lacking; we were the only farang in sight (site?). Scott’s Thai language studies proved quite useful. We don’t reckon Pitsanulok gets a lot of foreignersit’d be a good place to become more proficient at speaking Thai.
Pitsanulok is a decent, medium sized city. Beautiful by night. Like any city, it has kind of upscale parts and kind of downscale parts; it’s easy to stereotype a place based just on where you happened to land (and where we landed wasn’t particularly exciting). Pitsanoluk is the most important city in north-central Thailand, a transportation hub between the north and south. It’s also a gateway to the ancient temple ruins in Sukhothai. It is also the highest combination of heat and humidity we think we’ve ever encountered. Daytime temperature was over 100F, with humidity around 60%. This is like taking a sauna with all your clothes on — and exercising at the same time. Yikes.

We spent the first day wandering around P’lok; found the Tourist office which was quite helpful, visited Wat Yai (which is a colloquial name for something much longer — Yai means simply, “big”). As a Buddhist temple is was interesting, but we’ve seen a lot of beautiful temples in our time in southeast Asia. What made this one interesting is the lack of farang at the site. You got to see a “locals” tourist spot without the “pollution” that ultimately comes when a place is decended upon by foreigners. We had walked both to and from the temple, and by noon we were back in our room, overcome by the heat.

Sukothai’s Ancient Ruins

We didn’t come to this region for the food, the involuntary sauna, the Thai-language-skills-building-opportunity… we were here to get “ruined”, and Sukothai is the place in Thailand for that (or to a lesser extend, Ayuthaya, which is smaller but closer to Bangkok). The Sukothai dynasty is thought of as the “Golden Age” of Thai history, and the birthplace of Thai civilization during the 1200s and 1300s. The Sukothai ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s something we’ve always meant to visit.

After the extravagent expense in getting to P’lok, we took the budget route to Sukothai – a bus, for 75 cents each (about 40 km). We found a delightful guesthouse, with elaborate gardens and lotus ponds, in New Sukothai (about 8 miles from the ruins). Scott’s cell phone is a godsend when you want to make travel arrangements at the last minute.

Given the heat in P’lok, we were determined to get an early start to see the ruins — the park opens at 6am. Well, we’d been used to sleeping in, and by the time we got organized and headed off, it was nearly 8am; it was nearly 9am by the time we were viewing the ruins (having taken a circuitous bus to get there). We spent the next several hours tramping in the heat through the ruins in the heart of the Old City. It’s a large site, and a bit of a walk to get between sites. Unfortunately, the signage isn’t very good, and neither was the map we had, so we walked much further than one really had to. We could have rented bikes, but didn’t want the hassle of having of locking them at every stop. We could have taken a tuk-tuk, but the distances didn’t seem that large on the map, and besides we needed the exercise. We were overheated and exhausted by 1pm. But there was one more temple to see, shown on the map as just outside the city walls. Right. It took a while to find the right gate to exit the old city by; we expected to see the temple right there. It wasn’t. We walked a bit, walked some more, finally saw a sign pointing down a side road, followed that, walking quite a bit more, another sign, another turn, walked some more. What had looked on the map like a 500 ft stroll to the temple turned into a deathmarch in the afternoon sun. It was cooler than P’lok fortunately – couldn’t have been more than 96 or 97 degrees. Well, the temple was in fact excellent. But then we had to take the deathmarch in reverse. It was 3:30pm by the time we arrived exhausted and beet red back at our hotel.

Heat exhaustion aside, it was an excellent set of ruins to visit — check out the pics here (also some of P’lok).

Next: Chiang Mai rerun

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