SUKHOTHAI AND THE RUINED TEMPLES AND NATIONAL PARKS NEAR IT

SUKHOTHAI

SUKHOTHAI (450 kilometers north of Bangkok) was the capital of Thailand's first important kingdom and the birthplace of the Thai alphabet and many elements of Thai culture. Founded in 1238, it existed for only 100 years before it was superseded by Ayutthaya in the late 14th century. Sukhothai, which literally means “Dawn of Happiness,” enjoyed a golden age under King Ramkhamhaeng, who is credited with creating the Thai alphabet. Sukhothai is particularly nice in the evening when the graceful Buddha images are illuminated by lights, and during the Loy Krathong festival, when hundreds of candle-powered, floating lanterns are released into the sky.

Today, the modern town of Sukhothai is not great shakes but the large historical park of Sukhothai is one of Thailand's most impressive set of ruins. Restored by the Fine Arts Department and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, it features the remains of a royal palace, several major Buddhist temples, ruined walls and a complex system of canals and ponds used to supply water to the city scattered over an area of roughly 45 square kilometers .

The Sukhothai Historical Park is open daily from 8.30am to 4.30pm though there are occasional nights the park is open and illuminated by floodlights. The temples and ruins at Sukhotahi receive less tourists than the ones at Ayutthaya. Because they are spread out over a large area, many tourist explore te area on bikes of get around in carts pulled by white oxen. To visit all the ruins centimeters with Sukhothai requires a vehicle, Spreading out from Wat Maha Tha the historicla area embraces more than 20 major monumnets spread over an area of 70 square kilometers.

History of Sukhothai: Sukhothai became an independent kingdom when two princes-Pho Khun Pha Muang and Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao combined their forces and drove the Khmers out of Sukhothai, then a major frontier post of the Angkor Empire. One of Thailand’s finest warriors, King Ramkhamhaeng, second son of Pho Khun Bang Klang Haok, made Sukhothai a powerful and extensive kingdom that even established direct political relations with China. Returning from the funeral of Emperor Kublai Khan, King Ramkhamhaeng brought back Chinese artisans who taught the art of pottery to the Thais. .King Ramkhamhaeng also promoted religion and culture, and through his efforts Buddhism flourished among the population. Inspirational faith gave birth to classic forms of Thai religious arts; images of the Lord Buddha sculptured during the Sukhothai Era are cultural treasures that impart a feeling of peace and serenity.A total of eight kings ruled Sukhothai but the gradual decline of Sukhothai occurred during the reigns of the last two kings. The end of this first Thai kingdom occurred in 1365 when it became a vassal state of Ayutthaya, a rising power to the south.

Sukhothai Architecture is dominated by Lotus-bud-shaped stupas, which feature a conical spire topping a square-structure resting on a three-tiered base. Bell-shaped Sri Lankan style stupas and double-tiered Srivijaya stupas are also featured prominently. Many of the buildings were constructed by artisans using mortared bricks covered in stucco. Five centuries of neglect have caused virtually all the stucco—and the bas reliefs that were carved into it—to wash and decay away. In some places you will see Buddha statues backed by chedis. What has happened at these places is the building hat once housed the statue have crumbled away.

A typical Sukhothai chedi (from top to bottom) features: 1) a lotus bulb finial symbolizing nirvana at the top; 2) a conical spire and circular tiers signifying the heavens; 3) a shaft; 4) the hamika; 5) the relic chamber (the top of the dome portion of the chedi, which sits under the spire part); 6) the platform, usually built in three levels, representing the “Three World”; and 7) the base.

Tourist Office and Website: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Sukhothai Office, 130, Charot Withi Thong Road, Tambon Thani, Amphoe Mueang, Sukhothai, 64000 (Temporary Office), Tel. +66 5561 6228-9, Fax. +66 5561 6366. E-mail Address: tatsukho@tat.or.th, Website: http://www.tourismthailand.org/sukhothai . Accommodation: Sukhothai has a variety of accommodation options, including guesthouses, home stays, luxury resorts, and basic bungalows in the national parks.

Getting Around in Sukhothai : By Songtaew: Songtaews, pickup trucks with seats in the rear, are the most popular form of public transport for getting around in town or between rural destinations. Larger sized songtaews travel to and from the city and the Sukhothai Historical Park between 6.30am and 6:00pm from Jarot Withithong Road near Mae Nam Yom. There is sign on the north side of the street, but the songtaews leave from the south side. Tuk Tuk and Motorbike Taxi: There are numerous tuk-tuks and motorbike-taxis available for short journeys around Sukhothai town.

By Bike: There are bicycles for touring the Sukhothai Historical Park available from bike tour operators, many guesthouses, and vendors just outside the park itself. By Samlor: Samlors, three wheeled, pedal powered cabs, are available for short rides around Sukhothai town. Fares are negotiable. By Rental Motorbike: Motorbikes can be rented at many guesthouses in Sukhothai town, which will often require you to leave your passport as a deposit. Be sure to inspect bikes prior to rental and drive with extreme caution as rental motorbikes are not normally insured and accidents are frequent. Helmets are required by Thai law. By Tram: Within the historical park there are small shuttle buses that take visitors around attractions within the park grounds.

SUKHOTHAI HISTORICAL PARK

SUKHOTHAI HISTORICAL PARK (25 minute local bus ride, 12 kilometers from the town of Sukhothai on the Tak Highway) is located off the main Sukhothai-Phitsanulok highway. Also known as Old Sukhothai City or the local name of “Muang Kao”, this 70-square-kilometer is full of the scattered remains of the Sukhothai civilization that include the ruins of royal palaces, Buddhist temples, Buddha sculptures, city gates, moats, canals, dams, ponds, dykes and walls.

Ancient Sukhothai was surrounded by three concentric ramparts and two moats bridged by four gateways. Today the remains of 21 historical sites and four large artificial lakes can be seen within the old walls with an additional 70 sites within a five kilometer radius. Up until the 1980s Communist guerillas were active in the mountains on the fringes of the site and places like Wat Sapphaan were deemed too dangerous to visit. But that was a long time ago now and there is problem visiting them now without a guide.

The old city occupies rectangular area measuring 1,400 x 1,810 meters with four city gates and surrounded by three walls, separated by 20 meters of canal. Even though the Sukothai Historical Park is very big, the most interesting spots have many ruins clustered together.An inscription records that King Ramkhamhaeng set up a bell at one of the gates. If his subjects needed help they could ring the bell and the king would come and settles disputes and dispense justice.

The ancient remains in Sukothai Historical Park are divided into two groups; the remains in the inner city and those in the outer city. There are 126 sites in Sukothai some of them still in good condition and others are in complete ruins. Therefore, before going to Sukothai, visitors should study the site in order not to miss any important places and waste time at less interesting places.

The ruins in the historical park are divided into five zones—inner, northern, southern, eastern and western—each with ts own admission fee. The inner city (Muang Chan Nai) contains the royal palace of the king and some fine temples. It is the heart of the city and visited by the largest number of tourists. In the northern part of the inner city are many interesting places that are not as crowded as the inner city. Among its attractions are Pra Ajana, Srichoom temple. Among the interesting places in the southern outer zone area are Chaetupon temple and Chedi See Hong temple. The two temples face each other and both have have beautiful sculptures that are worth a look. The main attraction in the western outer zone is Sapan Hin temple. The eastern outer zone is on the way to the historical park from Amphur Muangbut. If you are traveling by bus you will arrive at this area before the inner city but many people is not worth checking out.

Hours, Fees and Contact Info: The historical park is open everyday from 8.30am to 5.00pm. There is 10 baht entrance fee for Thai people and 30 baht entrance fee for foreigners. These costs exclude the entrance fee for each place inside. However, there are also package tickets, 30 baht for Thai people and 150 baht for foreigners. Tourist information of Sukothai Historical Park, Tambol Muang Kao, Amphur Muang, Sukothai 64220 Tel: 0-5569-7627, 0-5569-7310. Bicycles are provided for rent at 30 Baht a day, and elephant rides around the park are available at 100 Baht per person per 30 minutes. Tram service is also available in the historical park.

Sights in Sukhothai Historical Park : A good place to start a visit to Sukotahi is the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum near the entrance to the park. Across a foot bridge over a lotus-filled pond from the museum is Wat Trapang, which is still in use. The largest and most significant group of ruins, at Wat Mahathat, contains the remains of 198 chedis, numerous stone Buddhas, columns, and lotus-bud towers, many of which are still standing. A pond in front of this Wat provides a nice reflection of the site.

The open three-sided Wat Sri Chum contains a massive sitting Buddha that measures 15 feet from knee to knee. Here, children with candles will show you how to get to a secret tunnel. Wat Sra Sri, situated on an island in the middle of a pond, features several elaborately inscribed stone prangs. One kilometer to the east is Wat Chang Lom, with a chedi surrounded by 36 stone elephants. A mile to the west standing on a hillside is a large Buddha which looks down on the city.

Also worth checking out are the four major stone gates to Sukhotahi, with inscriptions written in Thai, Chinese and Burmese; Wat Sau, with a famous seated Buddha; Si Sawai, with three Lopburi-style stupas; Si Awai, containing a Hindu shrine; and the Noi Thurin Kilns, a group of 500 kilns scattered over a square mile area. King Ramkhamhaeng, Visitors can also visit villages still engaged in the production of Sangkhalok Pottery as well as Hat Siao cloth, a hand-woven named for the village in Si Satchanalai district, just north of Sukhothai town. The fish museum displays a variety of fresh water fish mentioned in Thai literature.

Ramkhamhaeng National Museum (near the main gate ane entrance to Sukhothai Historical park) has a large collection of Buddha images, ceramics and art objects discovered at Sukhothai and nearby provinces as well as a model of the old city, which will give you a sense of what the ancient city is like as whole. The walking Buddha of Sukhothai at the museum is one of Thailand's most famous works of art. is a place that tourists should not miss. There are also striking Sukothai sculpture, chinaware and statues. Most of the artifacts were discovered during the restoration of Sukothai. Others were recovered from nearby cities such as Srisatchanalai, Kampaengpetch, Petchaboon and Pijit.

Royal Palace (in the center of the city) is surrounded by a moat and contains two main compounds and embraces the royal residence and the royal sanctuary. Here, the famous stone inscription of King Ramkhamhaeng the Great was found by King Mongkut (Rama IV) in the 19 th century together with part of the stone throne called Manangkhasila-at. King Ramkhamhaeng the Great set up a throne in the midst of a sugar-palm grove where, at his request, a monk preached on Buddhist holy days and the king conducted the affairs of state on other days. This throne was later installed in Bangkok’s Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

Wat Mahathat (about 100 meters from Ramkhamhaeng National Museum) is one of the oldest and most important Buddhist temples in Thailand. Historians believe that it was established in the 13th century, and rebuilt in the first half of the 14th century. Its structures include a main vihara, a single ubosot, 10 other viharas and 198 chedi. Lotus-bud motifs are featured pri=ominently and some of Buddhas nestled among the columns iin the old wihaans are originals. The wealth of monuments indicates the significance of this wat as being the religious centre of the town of Sukhothai. The stucco frieze work on the monuments has been restored.

Wat Mahathat means “great relic. And may regard it as the heart and soul of ancient ukhothai. The temple is built of laterite and surrounded by brick walls (206 meters long and 200 meters wide) and a moat, representating the wall of the universe and cosmic ocean beyond it. The main chedi is in the characteristic Sukhothai shape of a lotus bud. It is believed to contain relics of Buddha. Two huge Buddhas reside at the entrance. Of the eight smaller surrounding chedi, the four brick ones at the cardinal points reflect Khmer style, and the four on the sides indicate Lan Na art. The niches of these smaller chedi contain 28 Buddha images and stucco reliefs which illustrate the life of Buddha. The artwork here reflects that of the Singhalese and Burmese.

At the base of the main chedi Buddhist disciples in adoration are depicted in stucco relief. In front of this chedi are columns, the only remains of the main vihara which was believed to have contained a remarkable seated bronze Buddha image of the Sukhothai style, cast and installed by King Lithai of Sukhothai in 1362. At the end of the 18th century, the image was removed to the Wat Suthat in Bangkok by the order of King Rama I and has since been named Phra Si Sakaya Muni.

Further on are the remains of another smaller vihara which was probably built during the Ayutthaya period. Its eight meter high Buddha image was installed inside a separate building. The whole area is filled with minor chedi, most of which were probably funerary monuments. On the south stands a pedestal of a large built up chedi, the base of which is adorned with beautiful stucco figures of devils, elephants, lions and three headed elephants.

Wat Traphang Ngoen ( west of Wat Mahathat) has a square pedestal, main sanctuary, and stucco standing Buddha image in four niches. There is a viharn in front and, in the east of the pond, an island with an ubosot. This edifice has already crumble and only its pedestal and laterite columns still remain. Many monuments and magnificent scenery are visible from this location.

Wat Chanasongkhram (north of Wat Mahathat) features a main sanctuary in the round Singhalese-style chedi. In front of the chedi exists the base of a viharn and behind the former stands an ubosot. Bases of twelve small chedis are also visible. Near the Charot Withi Thong Road is a strange chedi having three bases, one on top of the other.

Wat Si Sawai (just south of Wat Mahathat) dates ti the 12th and 13 centuries and features three corncob-like prangs surrounded by a laterite wall and moat. The main prang is a Khymer-style pagoda. The temple was originally a Khmer-style Hindu shrine, Later it was converted to a Buddhist monastery. Inside the wall, the Vihara in the west, built of laterite, is separate from the main Prang which was constructed in Lopburi or Hindu-style but the others also constructed beside the Prangs, are Buddhist Viharas. The Crown Prince (King Rama IV), found a trace of Hindu sculpture Sayomphu, the greatest Hindu God in this sanctuary

Wat Sa Si (near the King Ramkhamhaeng Monument in the middle of the walled old city) sits on a island in the middle of Traphang Trakuan pond. Its name means “Sacred Pond Monastery.” Its is a simple classic, Sukhothai-style wat with one large Buddha, one chedi and the columns of a ruined wihaan. The main sanctuary is round Singhalese-style. A large Vihara contains a stucco Buddha image. To the south, stands nine Chedis of different sizes.

Wat Phra Phai Luang (outside the city walls about 500 meters north of the walls) features three Khmer-style prangs, similar to those at Si Sawai, but bigger and dating from the 12th century. Some believe this was the center of Sukhothai when it was ruled by the Khmers of Angor prior to the 13th century. Situated about 500 meters north of San Luang Gate, this sanctuary was formerly a Khmer-Hindu shrine but later converted into a Buddhist monastery, Surrounded by a moat, it is second in importance to Wat Mahathat. Inside, there are three prangs like Wat Si-Sawai, but the southern and the central ones have crumbled leaving only the northern one decorated with stucco figures. In front of these prangs are a viham and a crumbled chedi; the later has a pedestal decorated with stucco seated Buddha images. A mondop contains Buddha images in four postures; sitting, reclining, standing, and walking. They are now all in ruins. A Sivalinga (Phallic emblem of Hindu gods) was unearthed in the compound of this sanctuary.

Wat Si Chum (1.5 kilometers northwest of Wat Mahathat and 800 meters west of Wat Phra Phai ) is a 13th century temple was originally surrounded by a moat. The Buddha image is covered in stucco and is seated inside a square brick Mandala building with a tapering wall structure which opens in the center of the top. Wat Si Chum means “theTemple of the BodhiTree.” Although there are only the ruins of a small viharn and mondop remain this wat was an important one. The roof of the mondop has disintegrated, exposing an enormous seated stucco Buddha over 11 meters in width called Phra Achana. The mondop is 32 meters square, 15 meters high and the walls are 3 meters thick. A a moat served as a boundary.

The square Mondop is the main sanctuary. The monumental stucco-over-brick Buddha image is in the medition posture of Subduing Mara, called “Phra Achana.” This Buddha measures 11.30 meters from knee to knee. The Mondop is 32 meters square and 15 meters high, and the walls are 3 meters thick.A passageway in the inner left wall leads to a stairway to the roof. On the ceiling of the passageway are more than fifty engraved slate slabs, dating back to the mid 14th century, illustrating scenes from the Jataka tales, stories of the Buddha’s previous lives. It is believed that the ritual of climbing of the stairs was a symbolic ascent to Buddhahood.

Wat Chetuphon contains a mondop that enshrines four Buddha images in different postures: sitting, standing, walking, and reclining. The outer walls of the mondop still retains a section in the form of a slate pillar-balustrade window. There is an entrance to the mondop to the north. Just behind the mondop is a small sanctuary which contains a Buddha image known locally as Phra Si Ariya (Maitreya), the Lord Buddha of the Future.

Wat Chang Lom (located to the north of Chotwithithong Road) has a bell-shaped chedi of Ceylonese influence standing as the center. The chedi is situated on a 3-tiered square base with a platform decorated with a row of elephants seen by their front halves supporting the round chedi. This type of elephant-decorated chedi is to be seen in many ancient towns of the Sukhothai period; for example, Kamphaeng Phet and Si Satchanalai.

Thuriang Kiln is a site where Sukhothai celadons were made. Kilns exist in an area measuring 100 by 700 meters. Each kiln is divided into three sections; the fire area, the pottery baking oven, and the flue. The pottery found here is usually decorated by three different painted designs on their bottom: a dish, a fish, and a flower. Forty-nine kilns and small edifices are visible. To the north, a pond has been dug into the stone.

Wat Saphaan Hin (a few kilometers to the west of the old city walls) lies on the crest of a hill about 200 meters above the plain. The name of the wat means “stone bridge,” a reference to path and staircase that leads to the wat. Much of the staircase is intact. From the wat there are fine view of the walled old city of Sukhothai to the southeast and mountains to the north and south. Al that remains of the original wat are a few chedi, and some laterite columns and a 12-meter-high standing Buddha in the ruined wihaan. On another hill west of the city, south of Wat Saphaan Hin, is Wat Chang Rop, which features an elephant-base stupa, similar to one at Wat Chang Lom.

Getting to Sukhothai: As Sukhothai is such a popular tourist destination and is located along the way from Bangkok to Chiang Mai it can be reached via car, bus, or airplane. It is also possible to take a train to nearby Phitsanulok and then travel via bus to Sukhothai. Once there, it may be easier to get around the province with a car, but there are standard forms of local transport available for visitors staying in town: i.e. local bus, songtaew, motorbike taxi, tuk tuk, and samlor. There are also motorbike rentals in Sukhothai town and bike rentals available just outside Sukhothai Historical Park.

By Air: Bangkok Airways flies from Bangkok to Sukhothai daily, a 1-hour journey. Sukhothai Airport is about 40 kilometers north of the town. For more information, call 0 2265 5678, 0 2265 5555 or 0 5564 7224-5 or visit www.bangkokair.com . By Train: There are no trains going directly to Sukhothai. One may travel by train to Phitsanulok and then take a local bus to Sukhothai, about 59 kilometers away. Contact Bangkok Railway Station Tel. 1690, 02223 7010, 0 2223 7020 or visit www.railway.co.th for more information.

By Car: Those with cars will find it enjoyable to drive from Bangkok through rural Thailand, including the provinces of Ayutthaya, the capital of Thailand after Sukhotha; Saraburi, with its temple containing Lord Buddha's Footprint; Lopburi, which features ancient Khmer temples and a monkey festival; Chai Nat, which contains a huge irrigation dam; Nakhon Sawan, where major rivers converge to form Maenam Chao Phraya; Phitsanulok, with its various historical attractions; and even Kamphaeng Phet and Tak, which have beautiful hills and rivers.

By Bus: Air-conditioned buses depart from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2) to Sukhothai daily between 9.45am and 10.20 p.m, departing with greater frequency in the morning. The journey takes 7 hours. Call 0 2936 2852-66 or visit www.transport.co.th for more information. Private bus companies which operate daily bus services to Sukhothai include Win Tour (Tel: 0 2936 3753 or 0 5561 1039) and Phitsanulok Yan Yon (Tel: 0 2936 2924-5, 0 5525 8647).

From Chiang Mai there are ordinary/2nd class and air-conditioned buses that travel through Tak, a 5 ½ our journey; buses depart frequently between 7pm and 2am. From Chiang Rai there are ordinary/2nd class and air-conditioned buses making the nine hour voyage throughout the day. Sukhothai is also easily reached from Phitsanulok, Tak, and Kamphaeng Phet. Buses to/from Phitsanulok (ordinary/2nd class air-con/1st class 30/42/54B, one hour) leave every half hour or so. Buses to/from Tak (ordinary/2nd class air-con/1st class 40/56/72B, 1½ hours) and Kamphaeng (ordinary/2nd class air-con/1st class 39/55/70B, 1½ hours) leave every 40 minutes.

There are also buses from Khon Kaen (ordinary/2nd class air-con/1st class 179/251/322B, 6½ hours), Phrae (ordinary/2nd class air-con 83/116B, three hours, four times daily), Lampang (2nd class air-con 162B, four hours) and Nan (ordinary/2nd class air-con/1st class 132/185/238B, four hours). Finally, there are eight 12-seat minivans to/from Mae Sot (125B, three hours) that depart between 8.30am and 5.30 pm.

SI SATCHANALAI HISTORICAL PARK

SI SATCHANALAI HISTORICAL PARK (50 kilometers north of Sukhothai) was a satellite city during the Sukhothai period. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and located on the banks of the Yom River, this group of ancient temples is regarded as more impressive and beautifully situated than those at Sukhothai. The architecture found here is basically the same as that found in the old city of Sukhothai but the sites are a little bigger.

The ancient town, formerly call "Muang Chaliang", was named "Si Satchanalai" during the Phra Ruang Dynasty when a new administrative centre was established to replace Chaliang. This ancient town occupied more than 320 hectares (800 acres) of land. Of this, the 91-hectare (288 acres) area within the old laterite ramparts and the city moat is the focus of sightseeing in the historical park and can be covered on a day trip from Sukhothai.

The 13th to 15h century ruins are surrounded by a 12-meter-wide moat. Chaliang, a kilometer to the southeast, is an older site (dating to the 11th century) while the temples visible today date to the 14th century. The ruins are not as well-restored as those at Sukhothai historical park but many visitors prefer as they do the smaller crowds and hilly surroundings. According to early stone inscriptions, local legends, and historic chronicles, Si Satchanalai was exclusively governed by the crown prince of the Sukhothai Kingdom. Phaya Li Thai (1347-1369 AD), known as a great ruler and scholar, was also the crown prince ruling Si Satchanalai before ascending the throne at Sukhothai.

Among the most interesting ruins are Wat Chedi Jet Thae, featuring a group of intricately-carved stupas; nearby Wat Chang Lom (the wat closest to the park entrance) , with bell-shaped chedi surrounded by Buddha statues and 39 elephant buttresses; Wat Khao Phanom Phloeng (on a hill overlooking Wat Chang Lom), features alrge seated Buddha, a chedi and nice views of the entire Si Satchanalai city; Wat Nang Phraya, with a large 11th -century Sri-lnkan style chedi and still visible Ayutthaya-period stucco reliefs; and Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat, which has a well-preserved prang surrounded by seated and standing Buddhas. Nearby Golden Mountain provides a good view of the ancient city and river which flows through it.

Hours, Fees, Transport and Contact Info: Open everyday from 8:00am -5:00pm. Si Satchanalai Historical Park is located on the bank of the Yom River. Admission is 40 baht. How to get there: The park is located at Tambon Mueang Kao, a.k.a. Kaeng Luang, which is 11 kilometers off Amphoe Si Satchanalai towards Amphoe Sawankhalok or some 550 kilometers from Bangkok.

Wat Chang Lom (right of the entrance of Si Satchanalai Historical Park) is a distinctly Sri-Langkan-style temple, with a characteristic stupa and 39 laterite elephant buttresses. The elephants at Wat Chang Lom are quite different from those found at other temples. They represent standing elephants and are taller than life-size ones. Some scholars believe it was the temple mentioned in the Stone Inscription No. 1 as the place where Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng had Buddha relics unearthed in order to pay homage to them before reburying them and building a chedi with a boundary wall over the relics in the middle of Si Satchanalai town.

Wat Chedi Jet Taew

(opposite Wat Chang Lom) means the temple with “seven rows of Chedis” because there are many subordinate chedis here. The subordinate chedis and the mondop, with a 15-meter-high brock-and-stucco Buddha are quite famous. The chedis bear various styles of art such as Lankan, Pagan, and Srivijaya. The late Prince Damrongjanuphap suggested that this might be the temple where the remains of the Sukhothai royal family were kept. The main Chedi with lotus shape top, a Viharn building and 33 subordinate Chedis. A wall once surrounded all the building and around it was a moat.

Wat Nang Phaya (southeast to Wat Chedi Chet Thaew) is known for the exterior of the vihara made of laterite blocks, which was decorated with highly elaborate stucco, in the art style of the early Ayutthaya period. The main chedi in the Sri Langkan style, another focus of this temple, is supported by a high base, once decorated with sculptures of elephants similar to those at Wat Chang Lom.

Wat Pha Si Ratana Maha That (two kilometers west of Wat Chang Lom) is called "Wat Prang" by the locals. It dates from the early 13th century, making it one of the oldest temples in the Si Satchanalai area. The large corn-cob prang is a strong clue that the temple was started by the Khmers, but it was expanded and modified all through the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya periods. This is perhaps the best place to start a tour of Si Satchanalai. The temple is arranged in a linear plan running from east to west. At the eastern end is the ordination hall, a modern building built on the foundations of a much older structure. You can see the old foundations stones at the rear of the building, opposite the gate to the central complex dominated by the soaring prang.

Si Satchanalai Kilns produced of glazed ceramics called Sangkhalok wares which were exported throughout Asian countries. Si Satchanalai's riverside site was crucial to the development of its ceramic industry. Located at Ban Ko Noi, about 5 km. north of the historical park is the Celadon Kiln Site Study and Conservation Centre which contains a display of kilns, artifacts and excavated ceramics. Over 500 kilns have been excavated so far in the area of Sawankhalok town and there is evidence of the ceramics being shipped to as far as China, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. The Centre is open daily during 09.00-12.00 and 13.00-16.00 hours.

Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat Chaliang (southeast of Si Satchanalai town) is a large historic temple complex and one of the most impressive sites in the area. The decorative stucco bearing the Bayon art style of ancient Khmer found at the main entrance of the temple as well as archeological evidence excavated here points out clearly that this temple was originally founded before the Sukhothai period. Its main shrine was built from blocks of laterites which were later covered with lime plaster and red paint. Its architectural characteristics as seen in the present indicate that it could date back to the Ayutthaya period though some evidence suggests that the shrine might have been built to cover an earlier structure.

Sawankhaworanayok National Museum (38 kilometers from Sukhothai and 1.6 kilometers further on a road on the left) opened in 1984, and features sculptural art from various periods; the most interesting being Sangkhalok crockery from the Sukhothai era and Sangkhlalok items retrieved from sunken vessels in the Gulf of Thailand. The museum is open daily except Mondays, Tuesdays, and public holidays, from 8.30am to 4:00pm Admission is 30 baht per person. For more information, call 0 5564 1571, 0 5564 3166. It is approximately 38 kilometers from the provincial city of Sukhothai.

Ramkhamhaeng National Park (36 kilometers from Sukhothai) is a national park with places of natural and historical interest. Covering an area of 341 square kilometers, and declared a national park in 1980, it features mountains and steep cliffs some over 1,200 meters above sea level, waterfalls, different species to plants and animals. In addition there are some archaeological and historical sites with ancient ruins. The park is open everyday from 8:30am to 5:00pm. Visitors have to start trekking early in the morning and bring food and essential equipment with them. Bungalows and tents are available. Admission is 200 baht per person. For accommodation, reservations for bungalows and tents can be made through the National Park Section, the Royal Forest Department by Tel: 0 2562 0760 or P.O.Box 1 Amphoe Khiri Mat, Sukhothai 64160 www.dnp.go.th How to get there: By Bus: From Amphoe Khiri Mat, hire a local mini-bus or songthaew at the Khiri Mat junction. The prices range between 350 – 400 baht. By car: From Bangkok, take Highway No. 32, via Nakhon Sawan, and turn left onto Highway No. 1 to Kamphaeng Phet. About 20 kilometers before arriving in Sukhothai, at km. 414, turn on to Highway No. 101 for Amphoe Khiri Mat. Travel on this laterite road for 16 kilometers till arriving at the park office.

PHITSANULOK

PHITSANULOK (377 kilometers north of Bangkok, 59 kilometers southeast of Sukhothai) is the home of Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat, a monastery which houses one of Thailand's most revered and beautiful Buddhist images, the famous bronze Phra Buddha Chinnarat. Some say it is the second most important object in Thailand after the Emerald Buddha. According to legend it was cast with the help of a mysterious white-robed sage who appeared from nowhere to help guided the casting process and then disappeared after it was completed. Built in 1357 and expanded by Ayutthaya rulers, the temple displays many outstanding examples of classic Thai decorative arts. Near the town’s youth hostel there is a foundry where Buddhas are cast. In addition to its importance in the history of Thailand, Phitsanulok is near national parks, rivers, mountains, and forests.

Phitsanulok has a long history. There is evidence of an ancient community, including ancient stone axes, dating back between 2,000 and 4,000 years ago. The old temple of Wat Chula Mani, situated five kilometers south of the city, was built even before the Sukhothai Kingdom came to power in the 12th century. Phitsanulok prospered under both the Kingdoms of Sukhothai (1238-1378 C.E.) and Ayutthaya (1350-1767 C.E.). In particular, it played a strategic role in the Ayutthaya era when it became the Kingdom’s royal capital for 25 years during the reign of King Borom Trailokanat. Phitsanulok was also the birthplace of King Naresuan the Great (R. 1590-1605) the legendary King who declared Ayutthaya’s independence from Burma in 1584.

Once named Song Khwae, meaning two rivers, Phitsanulok is situated between the Nan and Khwae Noi Rivers, which is also a strategic location between Thailand’s central plains, northern mountains, and northeastern plateau. Phitsanulok is therefore a natural hub and an ideal base for travelers wishing to explore the lower North and western Northeast.

Tourist Office and Website: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Phitsanulok Office, 209/7-8 Surasi Trade Center, Boromtrailokanat Rd., Amphoe Mueang, Phitsanulok 65000, Tel. +66 5525 2742-3, +66 5525 9907, Fax. +66 5523 1063. E-mail Address: tatphlok@tat.or.th, Website: http://www.tourismthailand.org/phitsanulok. Accommodation: Although not a major center for tourism, Phitsanulok has a variety of accommodation options.

Getting to Phitsanulok: As a province located at the heart of the nation, Phitsanulok is easily reached via train, car or public bus. By Train: Trains leave Bangkok’s Hua Lumphong Station for Phitsanulok 14 times a day from 7.05am to 11.30pm There are faster express trains (Sprinters) from Bangkok to Phitsanulok departing 5 times daily between 8.25am and 11.10pm Trains leave Phitsanulok for Bangkok 14 times a day, from 2.05am to 11.29pm The daily express trains (Sprinters) return to Bangkok from Phitsanulok to Bangkok 4 times a day from 2.05am to 11.00pm

By Car: 1: From Bangkok, use Highway No. 1 to Wang Noi, and then proceed to Nakhon Sawan Province along Highway No. 32 via Ayutthaya, Ang Thong and Sing Buri Provinces. After that, take Highway No. 117 to Phitsanulok. The total distance is 337 kilometers. 2: Follow the above itinerary to Sing Buri Province and switch to Highway No. 11 (In Buri-Tak Fa route), then turn onto Highway No. 12 and proceed to Phitsanulok Province via Wang Thong District. The total distance is 450 kilometers. By Bus: Buses depart from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2) to Phitsanulok daily. Contact Transport Co. Ltd. at Tel: 0 2936 2852-66; Phitsanulok Yan Yon Tour at Tel: 0 2936 2924-5; Choet Chai Tour at Tel: 0 2936 0199; or Win Tour at Tel: 0 2936 3753. By Air: Thai Airways International operates daily flights between Bangkok and Phitsanulok. The trip takes 40-45 minutes. For more information, contact the Bangkok Office at tel. 0 2280 0060, 0 2628 2000, Phitsanulok Office at tel. 0 5525 8020, or visit www.thaiairways.com .

Getting Around in Phitsanulok: a ride in a three wheeled bicycle taxi called a samlor will cost 30 baht upwards, depending on the number of passengers, the destination, and your negotiation skills. City buses are also available for more reasonable fees; the station is located on Thammabucha Road, near the train station. For visitors interested in touring Phitsanulok independently, both Avis and Budget advertise rental car services. Be aware that only Commercial First Class Insurance provides full coverage on rental cars (as opposed to limited personal or third party only insurance). Most international car rental agencies will offer this insurance (some only for those with a valid international driver’s license) while local companies may or may not. You may wish to request a copy of their insurance policy and ensure that it states "For Commercial Use". Regardless, inspect rental vehicles prior to rental and drive with caution, particularly as traffic in Thailand can be quite confusing, especially the habit of Thai motorcycles drivers to drive on the wrong side of the road.

NATIONAL PARKS NEAR PHITSANULOK

Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park (130 kilometers from Phitsanulok) is a distinctive national park with a unique mixture of scenic attractions and historical sites. It was once occupied by Communist guerillas who battled the government for many years in the Vietnam War and post Vietnam War eras. But that was a long time ago now.

Covering a total area of 191,875 rai of land (76,750 acres), the park area is mainly covered with lush green forests. There are several waterfalls, some plains and mountains with impressive rock formations. The highest point of the park is 1,617 meters above sea level. Here, rock formations are naturally formed into different shapes beyond your wildest imagination.Apart from natural attractions, the park offers opportunities to explore many of its historical sites that tell the story of national political conflicts.

The strategic headquarters of the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) form 1967 to 1982 was Phu Hin Rong Kla in what is now Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park (130 kilometers from Phitsanulok). For nearly two decades the area was a combat zone between the Royal Thai Army and the CPT. Phu Hin Rong Kla was the perfect location for the CPT to fight the military. Its remote, closed mountainous area was superb for an elusive defense. It was not until 1982 that the conflict was overcome when the government granted amnesty to all the students who had joined the CPT. In 1984, Phu Hin Rong Kla was declared a National Park. During the peak of CPT’s power it ran a hospital and a school of political and political tactics. Living quarters, an air-raid shelter and other facilities were set up. Today, visitors to Phu Hin Rong Kla can travel along the parks main road to witness the remains of a rustic meeting hall, the political school, and the administration building.

There is also a trail leading to Lan Hin Pum, an area of jutting rocks that the CPT used as an air-raid shelter. From the spot, it is possible to see the remains of the CPT headquarters with a small museum displaying some CPT weapons and medical instruments. Follow another trail to Pha Chu Thong, the cliff where a red flag was raise when the CPT gained a victory.

Hours, Fees, Transport and Contact Info: Open everyday from 6.00am - 6:00pm. Contact: Amphoe Nakhon Thai, Phitsanulok, Tel. 0 5523 3527, 0 2561 4292. Tourists or visitors wishing to stay overnight are advised to make advance reservations at the National Park Division, Forestry Department tel. 0 5523 3527 or 0 2561 4292, or email: rongkla-00@thaimail.com, Website: www.dnp.go.th. Accommodations and tents are available. The park can be reached by taking Highway No. 12 and turning left at km.68 marker into Highway No. 2013, a road leading to Nakhon Thai District. By Bus: From Phitsanulok, take a public bus 68 kilometers towards Lomsak. At Ban Yang, take a left and travel 29 kilometers to Nakhon Thai District. From Nakhon Thai, take a mini-van (song-taeo) the remaining 31 kilometers to the park.

Phu Soi Dao National Park (154 kilometers north of Phitsanulok) is located in both Chat Trakan district of Phitsanulok Province and Nam Pard District of Uttaradit Province. Occupying a total area of 48,962.5 rai of land (equivalent to 58,750 acres), the park stretches along the Thai-Laos border with the highest peak measured at 2,102 meters above sea level. The climate park is cool throughout the year and visitors are able to see several species of wild flowers.

One of the most distinctive features of the park is a savanna area set amidst dense pine trees. Another attraction worth visiting is the five-tiered Namtok Phu Soi Dao which is located quite near to the park office. Larn Paa Son which can be reached in 4-5 hours via mountainous trails is also a highly recommended place for an overnight stay. In addition, Namtok Sai Tip, the next waterfall on the way, is a place where visitors can marvel at a moss and lichen covered cliff.

Hours, Fees, Transport and Contact Info: Open everyday from 6.00am - 6:00pm. Contact: Tambon Bo Phak, Amphoe Chat Trakan, Phitsanulok, Tel. 0 5543 6001-2 Advanced notice to Park Officers is required and highly recommended. Call 05 541 9234-5 or email reserve@dnp.go.th for more camping and travel information. How to get to Phu Soi Dao From Phitsanulok: By Car: take the Phitsanulok - Wat Bot - Ban Pong Cae - Chat Trakan - Phu Soi Dao route where the total distance is 177 kilometers. Alternatively, take the Phitsanulok - Nakhon Thai - Chat Trakan - Phu Soi Dao route where a total distance of 154 kilometers. By Bus: there are buses departing from the city at 6.00am, 7.20am, 9.30am, 11.30am, 12.50pm and 4.30pm.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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