Sukhothai - Si Satchanalai: "Motorbike with Aun"
June 25, 2003
I flew north to Sukhothai, checked into The River View Hotel (crummy view of a muddy river) and hired a driver and his tuk-tuk - a small cart with a roof and benches powered by a motorcycle in the rear.
The local museum has a colorful display of antique local porcelain. The items are very well marked in English with clear explanations and fascinating stories of The Buddha. There are arrows on the floor that direct visitors around the exhibits.
The Sukhothai Historical Park contains a large number of temple ruins and palaces. Ornamental lotus ponds and irrigation systems and a statute of the King Ramkhamheang who invented the Thai alphabet in 1283. The highlight is Wat Sri Chum, a temple housing a massive seated Buddha that measures 11 meters from knee to knee and 15 meters high. As I enter the small and intimate temple with this imposing Buddha, I feel I am entering the "holy of holies." Imagine sitting at the foot of Buddha more than 45 feet high.
The next day I took the bus to Si Satchanalai Historical Park - an 800 acre World Heritage Site. The bus dropped me off at the entrance to the park.
Basically there are two ways to see the sights. Rent a bicycle - too much work. Rent a motorbike -- forgetaboutit. So I took the third option. I hired Aun, the charming and delightful young woman who was renting the bikes.
Aun and I are soul mates for the day. Aun has a dash of adventure mixed with enthusiasm, energy and patience. With her motorbike, Aun took me everywhere in the park and to the ruins of ancient kilns.
One outstanding site was a hilltop temple overlooking the river valley below. Yes, we climbed to the top. My other favorite stop was the elephant pavilion temple with two dozen brick elephants used as buttresses for the temple walls.
After some souvenir porcelain shopping we relaxed at a friend's garden restaurant for sautéd vegetables, rice and coffee.
It was a beautiful day. I felt sad as I said goodbye to Aun as she flagged down my bus.
The next day I took an intercity bus to Phitsanulok. I made a pilgrimage to the second most visited active temple in Thailand.
The Temple and the golden Buddha are astonishing. The temple has ornate carved golden doors. The walls and columns are decorated with frescoes and inlaid mother of pearl. The roof is low and the Buddha's face is wide, which gives Him an imposing presence inside the temple. Thai pilgrims are praying, burning incense and making offerings. A moving experience.
That night I had a spicy fish dinner outdoors on a floating restaurant on the shores of the wide Mae Nam Nan. After dinner I walked along the riverbank. The city and the temple were well lit in the distance.
The next morning I traveled to the countryside; I went by bus to a lovely waterfall park. As many of the other attractions in Thailand, the park was immaculate. As usual, I had the place almost to myself. I hiked-climbed along the riverbank, got a little muddy, and finally sat down and watched the high waterfalls. I met a lovely family; we conversed as well as we could. After lunch, on my own, I flagged down the bus to return to the city.
Yes, I am on my own. I am Alone. Usually at the hotels or the parks or the temples or on the bus, I am the only foreigner. I cannot speak or read Thai. Yet I never feel alone. I am comfortable, safe and happy.
I am learning and adapting. I feel I am part of a large welcoming extended family. I feel at home.