Sukothai Historical Park
I come to the Sukothai Historical Park from Kamphaeng Phet. First I catch a regular bus to the modern town of Sukothai. The journey to the historical park is completed on the local bus. It is brightly coloured and resembles a large songthaew. The trip costs 30 baht and terminates at the gate.
There are many places to stay and eat near the historical park. Therefore it is more convenient to stay here, than in Sukothai or even farther away in Phitsanulok.
My day of park exploration begins with hiring a bicycle. It costs 30baht for a full day hire. The return time, 6:30PM, is after dark. I could chose to walk but the park's flat terrain is ideal for pleasant cycling.
The Sukothai Historical Park is the old city of Sukothai, established in 1238 after the Khymer were driven from the area. Regarded as the cradle of Thai civilisation, it remained the capital until 1378 when it was superceded by another Thai city, Ayutthaya. The park today is also a venue for festivals, hosting for example one of the major celebrations of the Loy Krathrong
Entering the park, to the right is the black statue of King Ramkhamhaeng. He is depicted carrying a sword in one hand and a book in the other, a warrior and a scholar. Expanding Sukothai’s influence, he is accredited with creating the Thai alphabet and establishing Theravada Buddhism as the state religion.
Most of the historical park is the remnants of wats, in use when Sukothai was a living thriving city. Most of the places I visit are within the old walled city.
It is the high lotus-bud style chedi that first attracts my eye and leads me to Wat Mahathat. Built between 1293 and 1347 it is the predominant wat in Sukothai. Surrounding the chedi in the four cardinal positions are Khymer styled prangs. Flanking it to the north and south are mondops, each housing a large standing Buddha(Phra Attarot).
The wat has several Buddhas in the seated position. The main one is located in the main assembly hall (wihan), west of the lotus-bud chedi. There is also a bas-relief of walking buddhas on the foundation of one of the chedis. However a better example of this style is at Wat Sa Si.
Wat Si Sawai
Located south-east of Wat Mahathat is Wat Si Sawai, noted for its Khymer-style prangs and the surrounding laterite wall. Intially intended to be a Khymer temple dedicated to Shiva, it was not completed. In the Sukothai period it was converted to a Theravada Buddhist temple and the viharn was built. All that remains of the viharn is the foundation and supporting columns.
The stucco carvings on the prangs are images of mythogical creatures such as naga sepants, guruda and Brahmin.
Leaving Wat Si Sawai I cycle towards Wat Sa Si. Before reaching it I decide to have a bit of a break. It is hot today and I didn't put on any sunscreen. No point in baking myself for the sake of culture. In hot weather it is important to take sufficient fluids to avoid dehydration.
Wat Sa Si
Wat Sa Si is due north of Wat Mahathat. The dominate feature is a bell-shaped Singhelese style chedi east of the viharn. This design of chedi is common in the north of Thailand. Not much is left of the viharn, the sitting Buddha, the foundation and a few supporting pillars.
A little to the south of the sitting Buddha is a statue of a walking Buddha. Most imagines of of Buddha are standing, sitting or lying. The walking Buddha is a distinct feature of Sukothai art. His left is raised in the abhayamudra (reassurance) position. The walking Buddha emphasizes the more earthly aspects of Buddha, a person walking and teaching amongst the people. This aspect is also emphasised by the life-sized, rather than the gigantic, scale of the image.
This wat is located surrounded by a pond. In it are lotus plants.
The lotus plant is a metaphor for Buddhist teaching. It starts in the dark (ignorance), takes in water (knowledge) to make it grow and open in the sunlight (enlightenment).
Wat Traphang Pan
Passsing though the Sanluang Gate (northern gate) and following the road I come across an area surrounded by aold khymer moat. On is is a white seated Buddha, the Buddha of the small Wat Traphang Pan.
Back inside the walled city, Wat Sorasak, a small temple located due north of King's Ramkhamhaeng statue, was built in 1412. Its most noticable feature is the chedi sitting on a square base from which 24 elephants heads and front legs protrude. The artistic effect is to give the impression of a chedi is being carried by the elephants. Elephants and chedi were made from stucco covered bricks. Only the foundation of the viharn remains.
Now back at the statue of King Ramkhamhaeng, my mini tour is at an end. The are many more Wats, in various states of restoration, to be seen. Some are inside of the walled city, however many more are outside.