It is time to leave the city and head north. The problem is we do not know where we want to go. We arrive at the bus station armed with nothing more than a direction to head in. After consulting the guide book, Scotty and I narrow down our northern destinations to 3: ranging from 90 minutes to 12 hours away. I set off to look at ticket windows for the next available bus, but all have service leaving soon. With all of our choices sounding equally interesting, we do what any responsible traveler would do in such an instance, we rolled the dice. Literally! Assigning a number to each location, I tossed the red die clear across the bus station floor, chasing after it to discover our fate.
Our bus pulling out of the station; we jump on, headed for Ayuttaya, the closest of the 3 destinations. The local bus is crowded but we are there in a flash.
Our first night there is spent finding accommodations. We settle on the highly affordable Thong Chai Guesthouse, notable for its hobbit-sized doors. Scotty’s orc-sized head paid the ultimate price as he knocked his noggin a few times forgetting to duck before entering. We also visited the bustling night market that was impressive in its size for such a quaint looking town. The food offerings were abundant and though my Tom Yum Soup was an interesting grey hue, the taste made up for its lack of visual appeal.
Back in Bangkok, it was Locke’s day off so we talked him into the short bus ride to join us for a day of bicycling and ruin gazing. After he arrived we hopped on our rickety, rusty beach-cruisers and head out to explore.
Ayutthaya was a Siamese kingdom from 1351 to 1767. Much of the city’s grandeur was ruined as it was thoroughly decimated by the Burmese in the mid-1700’s. The ruins are scattered about a central complex is on an island of sorts, surrounded by rivers and canals. As we peddled around we took in the still present beauty of the old pagodas and wats. And of course, we had to visit the most famous, uber- photographed Buddha head in Ratburana that is embedded in tree roots.
Scotty and Locke even got to pet an elephant, though I decided to maintain my distance. Look but don’t touch. That’s my policy when it comes to anything weighing in at a ton or more.
We bid Locke farewell and head out the next day to Sukhothai. Our failure to check bus schedules once again, amazingly, works out as we only have to wait about an hour before we are on our way. We pass the time chatting with a nice couple from Argentina, German and Daniella, who have just arrived in Thailand and seem grateful to be able to revert to their native tongues, even if our Spanish is really rusty.
We arrive in Sukhothai rather late, but I immediately feel a sense of disappointment. The town and corresponding night market is small, dirty and unimpressive. But not to worry, this is New Sukhothai, known only to be a holding tank for visitors heading to Old Sukhothai where all the spectacular ruins are purported to be.
In the afternoon, we hop on public transportation and soon find ourselves in Old Sukhothai which instantly rejuvenates the loss of enthusiasm I suffered when we arrived. We quickly rent bikes, and are on our way to explore. There is a large central ruin area that is surrounded by a wall and covers some beautifully manicured grounds. But there also exists many farther off ruin sites that are harder to access and less maintained overall. The lack of vigor in the restoration process heightens our sense of exploration, like we are true pioneers stumbling upon lost civilizations.
The most impressive part of this ruin experience, for me, was the giant Buddhas that dominated the area. There were sitting Buddhas, standing Buddhas, and jumping Buddhas (on no, wait that was us).
We stopped at an eye-catching road side shrine and decided to wonder inside the small building. Looking around we noticed various ways one could choose to donate and support local monasteries and monks.
We decided we would like to make a donation when a monk approached us with a candle, incense, flower, and gold leaf and silently lead us through the process of praying to Buddha– 1) Light the candle, place it on an alter. 2) Light incense. 3) Pray with incense and flowers in hand. 4) Place incense and flowers in their places near the alter. 5) Down on your knees to pray again, this time bowing 3 times. 6) Affix gold foil to the Buddha statue. (This part proved to be a bit of a challenge as both Scotty and I ended up later finding gold flecks on our bodies as well.)
While both places had similarities, both had there distinct charms as well. Overall, Thailand in general has been so good us. We are quickly becoming believers and see why so many millions of people chose to visit this dynamic place each and every year.