And Now for Something Completely Different
Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
79Trip End Nov 21, 2006
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A few days in Bangkok was only a warmup, but I first started really noticing the differences as I waited in the bus terminal. For one thing I was stuck there for eight hours after being told in the city that the bus to Sukhothai (Sook-HO-ty, huge emphasis on the O) ran hourly, showed up at 2 and, after stopping at seven wrong ticket stands, found out the next and last bus was at 10 (meaning I'd be arriving at 5 am)
My purpose for being in Sukhothai (my only real stop in Thailand aside from Bangkok and the beaches in about a month's time) was to see the former Thai capital and its impressive collection of ruins. The old walled city, about 12 km from where the modern city stands, houses a huge array of wats (temples) that were built between 1257 and 1379
When you enter the Central Zone -- the main zone, situated in the heart of the wall -- you have a monument to your left and to your right is Sri Sra Sri. Sra Sri is on an island in the middle of a large lotus lake with mountains as a backdrop. Not too difficult to feel serene. Stroll for a few minutes and you get to Wat Mahathat, one of the most spectacular things I've ever seen. Wat Mahathat is not just one temple, rather a whole collection of ruins that you can meander through, discovering new impressive things at every turn. In the middle is a large chedi, a tower with a bell-shaped top. All around it are platforms leading to statues of Buddha, where people still go to pray. There are large sitting Buddhas and one standing Buddha that is 9 meters high. You walk through it and you can just feel the history. The other impressive temple in the Central Zone is Wat Si Sawai, with three large prang, which are best described as phallic
From there, I wandered out of the Central Zone and beyond the northern wall to Wat Phra Pai Luang, which really grasps onto the definition of ruin. You cross a footbridge that looks but doesn't feel stable to get there and walk amongst statues of Buddha that have just the folded legs remaining. I only walked past there to get to Wat Sri Chum, a recommendation of my guest house. The Wat itself is nothing impressive, just a large square, but crammed with in its walls is an absolutely massive Buddha. I don't know how big it is, but its middle finger was bigger than me.
After being properly impressed I had to walk about 2 kms back to the Central Zone in what was becoming an almost unbearable heat. And here's an example of how the Thais -- the ones who aren't trying to get something out of you -- are some of the loveliest people you can ever hope to meet. The road back to the Central Zone is nothing special, just asphalt road that isn't very scenic, so the walk is rather dull. Just as I start my walk, a woman in her 50s or 60s drives by on her motorbike drives by, stops, beckons me to get on and as I hop on says "Very hot, I take you to wall." While on the road back I spotted the last temple I wanted to see
Properly knackered by 2, I got lunch at a stall outside the temples (75 cents for a delicious papaya salad) and spent the rest of the day relaxing in my bungalow and its University of Michigan bed sheets to gear up for the next day. The next day (as in yesterday for me) I was heading to Nong Khai, the border crossing into Laos. I knew it would be a long day, but wasn't prepared for how big an ordeal it would be. I woke up at six and took a tuk-tuk to the bus terminal to catch an hour-long bus to Phitsanaluk (and this the ridiculous thing about the tuk-tuks -- I spent more money on tuk-tuks than I did on three of my buses). From there it was a four hour ride to Leoi, which took five hours after the bus broke down shortly after departure and we had to wait for a new one. Being the only farang (foreigner) on the bus, and really the only one who spoke English -- and this would be a theme for the day -- it was a while before I knew what was going on. Needless to say, I was the last one off the bus. Had Lonely Planet given better advice, I would have taken that bus straight to Udon Thani, but instead I got off at Leoi and got on a bus that I thought was going straight to Nong Khai. The bus was going to Udon, and what the friendly ticket taker was trying to tell me was that I had to get off at Udon to go to Nong Khai