We arrived in Sukhothai mid-afternoon and found our guest house relatively quickly. Traveling in Thailand at this time of the year is pretty nice, because it’s considered the “low season” due to the rain and extreme heat. But if you can handle rain and humidity, you can visit many sites without hordes of tourists.
(New) Sukhothai is located about 10km from the ruins of the ancient city of Sukhothai, which was the Thai capital during the 13th Century A.D. Our plan was to rent bicycles and bike out to the ruins, and on a second day, we would take a bus to Si Satchanalai, a just as nice, but less touristy area with ruins. However, when we arrived at the guest house we met a nice man, Wonchai, who suggested that we do the trip in one day by renting a motorbike. We decided to follow his advice, and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening talking to our new friend. Wonchai is a 53 year old Pharmacist who likes hanging out at the guest house (run by his nieces/nephews) so he can practice his English. He spends a lot of money traveling to Hong Kong for fun, and was in the process of trying to plan a visit to Holland. Adam and I helped him correct his English in the emails he wrote to travelers he had previously met at the guest house. He even took us out for dinner that night at an authentic Thai restaurant.
For dinner, Wonchai took us to an open air restaurant just outside the small city. He told us that Thai people in this area generally like to eat fish, and that he would order some authentic food for us to try. We ended up with a great meal consisting of four plates: two appetizers, a fish dish, and some fried rice. Before we started, Wonchai told us that Thai’s don’t generally eat more than one dish at a time, although they order more than they can eat. The first appetizer was fried fish cakes with a chili spice sauce. It actually tasted pretty good, although the texture of the fish cake was slightly jelly/tofu-y which took some getting used to. The second appetizer was 1,000 year old egg cooked with some julienned veggies. The 1,000 year old egg isn’t that old, it’s actually a duck egg preserved in a different style. It’s used a lot in Chinese cooking, and tastes VERY strongly of rotten egg. In this dish however, the veggies were very spicy and sour, which made the egg taste delicious. The fish that we had was grilled and served with another chili type sauce on it, as well as an assortment of raw veggies that are eaten with the meat. Wonchai made sure that we tried the fish cheeks, which are apparently the best part of the fish. Adam was very impressed with this dish even though he usually doesn’t like fish at all, and really enjoyed this one. Lastly was the fried rice, which was just as you would have expected: fried rice. After our dinner, we were stuffed and tired from the busy day, so we were off to an early sleep.
We woke up the next day, rented our motorcycle, and off we went to the ruins. We arrived mid-morning, and were first of all surprised and impressed at the cleanliness of the areas around the wats. There are many wats around Sukhothai, however there are only a few of them worth seeing. The rest are just simply ruins, where you can see a few bricks still outlining the building, but other than that, there’s not much to see. The park is also being restored, probably to try and get more tourists there. Due to the beauty of the grass and trees around the ruins, it really was a spectacular site to see. As we moto-ed through the park, we finally reached a stretch of road with not many wats illustrated on the map, but it seemed that wherever we turned, there were more wats! Closer to the north end of the park, we found Wat Sri Chum to be one of the most impressive wats which has a seated Buddha figure at least five stories high, which appears to be staring at you from the parking lot as you walk up to the ruins.
It was early afternoon by this time, so we grabbed some lunch, and headed 55km North to Si Satchanalai. We were using a map that Wonchai drew for us, and got a little lost. But we eventually found the entrance, and proceeded to bike through this park as well. There’s a reason that not as many tourists visit this park: there’s not as many nice ruins to see. Unfortunately, the one ruin that we did want to see was being restored while we were there. We still got to see it, but it’s not the same with bamboo scaffolds and Thai construction workers sitting on or around it. Outside one of the wats was an old elephant that you could ride or feed. We saw one tourist feeding it, but you could tell that the elephant didn’t want to be there.
After touring around Si Satchanalai, we headed back to Sukhothai and stopped off at Wat Tawet, a wat that was built by a monk. This monk had visions in his dreams of building concrete statues showing people receiving the karma back from what they did in their lives. One man who was an alcoholic had boiling liquid fed down his throat, while another man who hit and abused people had really large hands. It was something we didn’t expect to see at a wat. It was about to rain, so we headed back to our guest house, and had some of the “best traditional style pad thai in Thailand” from a roadside vendor, according to Wonchai. We would have to agree – it was probably some of the best pad thai we’ve had yet.
The next morning, just before we were about to leave, Wonchai told us that he’d bring us some authentic Thai breakfast food. First, we were treated to sticky rice with sour pork and beef which was served in a banana leaf. We ate this by rolling the rice in a ball in our hands and combining it with a portion of beef or pork. The beef wasn’t so good, but the pork was great. Then, Wonchai took us past his Pharmacy to a noodle stand where we had “the best noodles in Sukhothai.” The noodles that we had were egg noodles, not the regular rice noodles that we were used to. After breakfast, we said goodbye to Wonchai, and headed to a bus station for the bus to Chiang Mai. Our tuk-tuk driver actually pulled in front of an oncoming bus for us to jump on!
Chiang Mai is a big, little city. When we arrived, we experienced another taxi mafia. In Chiang Mai, the sawngthaews run the show. The city actually tried to incorporate a full city bus service, but the sawngthaew drivers forced the plan down the tubes. The government was only able to establish 4 city bus routes. Without many options, we had to take a red sawngthaew, which in this city is more like a private taxi than a local bus. After finding a guest house, we collapsed in our room while watching a western movie.
On our first full day in Chiang Mai, we decided to do a walking tour of some of the wats. The first wat we saw, Wat Chiang Man, is the oldest wat in the city and contains two very important Buddhas in the sanctuary: the Phra Sila and Phra Satang Man. The marble Phra Sila is said to have come from Sri Lanka or India 2500 years ago, and Phra Satang Man is a crystal Buddha made about 1800 years ago. What we didn’t expect was the size of these Buddhas. They’re very small, considering how important they are, and only stand about 30 cm tall. The other wat that we liked was Wat Chedi Luang, which is a huge crumbling wat that was either damaged when the Thai army took back the city from the Burmese, or during an earthquake.
We didn’t expect to run into any scams in Chiang Mai, especially at the wats; however, upon entering the first wat, Adam was approached by a nicely dressed Thai guy who was chatting him up. He said he was working in finance for a company in Bangkok, and was in Chiang Mai on vacation. He also told us about a government shop that made great suits for cheap prices. We thanked him for the tip and moved on. At Wat Chedi Luang, we encountered another Thai guy who was slightly younger and had the exact same story to tell almost word for word! This guy kept talking to Adam, but then quickly said good-bye and ran off. When we looked over our shoulder, the tourist police had just driven past.
After our day of walking, we decided to check out the night bazaar. The bazaar had a similar layout as the Chatuchak market in Bangkok with a large grid of stalls and stores. We arrived pretty early, as most of the stalls were just opening up, and only strolled through since we didn’t want to buy any more souvenirs to weigh us down.
The following day, we signed up for a Thai cooking course! We decided to skip breakfast because everything that you make at the course you also get to eat. Our first stop was at a local market with 11 other “students” to receive a tutorial on various ingredients, and how to choose good eggs among many other things. Everyone was then transported to our instructor’s house in the suburbs where he had several cooking stalls set up on his back deck. To keep things short, we learned to cook several soups (tom yum, chicken and coconut), curries (green, red, panang), stir fries, and noodles (pad thai, drunken), as well as three appetizers: spring rolls, sweet mango with sticky rice, and papaya salad. It was a lot of fun learning to cook and having some “adventure” (aka stir frying with some water so that there’s huge flames).
After waddling home on full stomachs, we decided to do something with ourselves, and ended up at a Thai boxing ring on the tourist strip. We were greeted by a very pretty lady boy, and seated ringside. Right away, we had another attractive lady boy serve us our drinks, and visited us every 20 mins to make sure that we weren’t thirsty. This place was swarming with lady boys, and some were even wearing heels so high that Tara would never consider wearing them.
When we were seated, we knew that it wasn’t going to be the best Thai boxing, but that was fine with Tara because she wasn’t into boxing anyway. What we didn’t know was that the matches were authentic, and that some of the fighters were young boys and girls! We saw two fights with 10 year old boy boxers, and one fight with a pair of young teenage boys and girls. It was really intense toward the end of each match, with a lot of yelling from the side of the rings, and betting! As an intermission, several fighters entered the ring blind folded and ran around throwing their arms in every direction and occasionally hitting the “referee,” which was all pretty funny and lightened the tension. After the final fight, we were treated to a “cabaret show”, which was put on by the lady boys lip syncing to Fame. Needless to say, we didn’t stay very long for that portion of the night.
On our last day in Chiang Mai, we rented a motorcycle and headed out to the National Museum to try and get papers for our purchased Buddha so that we can legally take it out of Thailand. This is a lengthy process, and requires a photocopy of our passport which had to be authenticated by the embassy or consulate of Canada as well as pictures of the Buddha. The Buddha itself as well as the paperwork has to be given to the Fine Arts Department so that a curator can agree that the Buddha isn’t stolen and issue the paperwork so that it may be exported. What we didn’t know ahead of time is that we had to go to the Canadian Consulate to get a stamp showing that Adam’s passport is authentic. We motorbiked over to the Consulate and found that it was left in a pretty typical Canadian state: with the door wide open and nobody home. We waited for an hour before Adam finally got through to someone on the phone who told him that they weren’t coming back and we had to wait until the following Monday. By this time it was already 3pm and we had to zoom back to the Chiang Mai National Museum to try to get the paperwork anyway. The woman helping us told us that she would speak to the governor general on our behalf. Hopefully, it all works out.
With the time we had left in the day, we decided to go see Wat PhraThat Doi Suthep, situated at the top of a mountain overlooking the city. The road up there was windy and relatively untraveled when we were on it, but by the time we got to the temple, we found a little tourist camp setup with women selling many of the trinkets we’ve seen before. The wat itself was another 300 step walk up a flight of stairs, but once we were there, we found it to be beautiful. The view from the wat was amazing, and the wat itself was very big, and open to the air. Everything within the wat was gold, and had little bells hung from the rooftops that foreigners had purchased for good luck. While walking through, Adam was blessed by a monk, and had a white string bracelet placed on his wrist. He’s supposed to keep this on for three days of good luck. It was getting late by this time, and we wanted to return the motorcycle before the shop closed, so we headed back into the city, and got ready for our trip north to Pai.
We’re now in Pai, and will be traveling around the Mae Hong Song province for the next few days.