Saturday, January 28, 2006

Tuesday 24th Jan, Ancient Sukhothai

It's amazing. I sat writing this in my journal in the ruins of a thirteenth century Wat, the rough pockmarked laterite columns glowing red in teh evening sun, a 12m high Buddha standing behind me warding off fear, and a 1 and a half metre high gold-flecked buddha sitting cross legged beside me holding a tangerine on his lap. This was up on a hillside a few miles from the main area of ruins, which were visible pushing up through the distant trees.

I set off at 6am this morning to cycle to the old city. I'd intended to set off at 5 to catch the sunrise, but couldn't get out of bed. But there wasn't much of a sunrise. I stopped at a very surprising market in the grounds of a modern wat beside the road and got a grilled corn on the cob and some deep fried dough for breakfast.

Despite arriving before 7am there were two tour buses there already, but it was such a big place that it didn't matter. I spent a couple of hours exploring the main ruins, and to be honest I was a bit dissapointed. It was just a big flat area with lots of nice moats and ponds, and ruined brick buildings and columns and lots of brick stupas.

At 9 I stopped for a really delicious coffee - Thai Arabica beans - and watched the tour buses roll into town.

I then spent a few hours cycling around teh outlying ruins, and as the day progressed the place really grew on me. The ruins are so charming in their tumbled-down-ness and overgrown-ness. Mostly I was alone, except for a few cows and the occasional farmer. The tour groups don't seem to venture away from the main area of ruins. The highlights have to be the place that I wrote my diary (Wat Saphan Hin) and Wat Si Chum - which had a beautiful 15m Buddha squeezed into a tall square building.

I had to get the minibus back because I was cycling around all the rundown, over-grown Wats with a little too much disregard for the thorns, and I did not have my pump or puncture repair kit with me, and despite there being a million bikes for hire in the village next to the ruins, they'd never come across a Presta valve before. So I hired a beat up single speed tiny mountain bike for 20 Baht, and used it for the rest of the day. I spent a while in the moderately good museum too. But sunset on the wat on the hillside was very special.

Getting the Sawngthaew (pickup converted into a minibus) was fine - that was the first time I'd used one. They just put the bike in the back beside me and charged me 30 Baht.

As I pushed my crippled bike into the guesthouse a middle aged couple smiled and asked if I was cycle touring. They were too. They'd just spent four weeks or so cycling in Burma! It sounded pretty unenjoyable - bad roads, and regular hassle from police and immigration because there's strict limits on where you're allowed to stay. They are Peter and Sally Blommer -

After a good chat about plans (basically we've got the same route, though they've got 60 days; I've got 20) we went to the guesthouse where they're staying and had a chat to the Belgian owner who is a local cycle tour guide. He was very friendly and basically confirmed that my planned route was a good one. He gave me a longer, quieter alternative route for tomorrow, and said that if I'm ever stuck for a place to stay, just to go to the police box in town and string up my mozzie net and lay out my bivvy bag.

I got a plate of something unrelated to what I ordered on the tatty English-language menu at a stall on the night market, then spent half an hour or so fixing the two thorn punctures in my front tyre with the enthusiastic help of two Thai guys from the guesthouse. One repair leaks a bit, but seems to be holding out. Had a big bowl of Masaman curry (a Muslim dish from S. Thailand), which they kindly put Tofu in, as did the woman who made me an amazingly delicious noodle soup at lunchtime - but actually I hate tofu. Am I the only vegetarian that feels this way?

Had a big chat with the lovely guy at the guesthouse. He used to be a pharmacist. I then got chatting to a friendly drunk Slovakian. One thing I've noticed is that there's loads of French people here - there's not been many in other places.

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