Monday, November 19 – Monday, November 26
We left Bangkok by bus and drove in relative luxury north through central Thailand to Sukothai.
HUGE thanks to all of our friends who recommended we visit this wonderful city. It was by pure chance that we ended up here during the annual festival Loy Krathong, and it was such a joy to experience the holiday in this special place.
Still working out our ideal type of accommodation in SE Asia, we initially stayed in a guesthouse a short walk from the Sukothai Historical Park in Old Sukothai. There is also New Sukothai, about 12km away, which we saw only briefly as our bus from Bangkok dropped us off there. The guesthouse owner provided breakfast each day, a new experience of fried rice with veggies, hard boiled eggs, bananas, watermelon and sticky rice with coconut pudding all wrapped in a banana tree leaf.
Almost the entire enclosed square of the Historical Park served as Loy Krathong festival grounds for the week. For our first 5 days in town we hit the festival every night after it had cooled, as it was free to enter after 6pm and it was brutally hot and humid during the day. The enormity of the park and number of different sections for food, shopping and entertainmant made for a new experience each night, save for the same ice cream stand we came back to repeatedly.
We were overwhelmed with the food choices from so many booths and vendors, but couldn’t have had a better opportunity to sample all kinds of local cuisine. Wayne and I loved it, Amelia pushed her “spicy” boundaries, and Annabelle ate a lot of plain rice. As I write this we’ve been in SEAsia a month now and the girls have definitely come a long way in food bravery. Since we’re often wandering local streets with mostly portable cart and open air restaurants, ordering anything still involves deciphering a mystery menu, sometimes with pictures, plus working through language barriers, so fried rice is safe and boiled insects still creep us out.
More food choices (and puzzles) at the local daily market.
It was intimidating and humbling to be minorities at a local party, as we saw very few other Westerners among the hundreds of Thai families and couples. Seeing so many families with young children out celebrating in the magical evening light of the Historical Park was one of the reasons we really enjoyed returning to the festival night after night.
During one of the daytimes where we felt the itch to get out I figured a museum would at least have good air conditioning. While Wayne and Amelia braved the heat and ventured out for a bike ride on the trails around the Historical Park, Annabelle and I went to the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum and saw lots of Buddha statues from the different Thai kingdoms and learned the meaning of the many poses Buddha is depicted in.
Thursday the 22nd was Thanksgiving at home, but here it was the actual full moon evening of Loy Krathong in Thailand. The festival was packed. Amelia shares the experience of choosing and launching krathongs in the waters of Old Sukothai here (link to come).
For the last 3 nights of our stay in Old Sukothai we moved a bit further from the Historical Park but to a guesthouse with a pool to help cool our sweltering daytimes. The girls needed less prodding to do schoolwork in the cabanas with swim breaks in between subjects.
For one of the last mornings of Loy Krathong the girls and I woke at 5:45am to witness the monks receiving alms after the Dawn of Happiness (the translation of the word Sukothai) ceremony. For kids who could sleep till noon if left alone most days, this was a feat. The ceremony and celebration did not disappoint, and it was awesome to see it with the girls, who had so many questions I didn’t have answers for as we’re all learning about Buddhism here.
To me it felt similar to Easter morning, with everyone dressed up, taking pictures, and the monks receiving huge baskets of food. My best guess answer was that this holiday week was special; daily alms collections are more modest affairs, and that we’d have the chance to witness those rituals as we continued our journey through SE Asia (yes you’ll have to get up REALLY early again!)
On our last day in Sukothai we did a bike tour that will remain one of my my Top Ten things we did on this entire trip. Local couple Miaow and Jib run Sukothai Bicycle Tour, and they and their family were amazing hosts. Miaow was our guide for the group that included us and a friendly, well-traveled couple from Belgium, and she did an extraordinary job showing and telling us all about Sukothai. I still can’t believe all we learned in a half day tour, and how easy it was to explore both local neighborhoods and some of the most interesting outside sections of the Historical Park that we hadn’t yet seen by bicycle.
We covered the history of the city as the first capital of Siam (now Thailand), the people of Sukothai, local traditions and how families make a living, rice farming, teak furniture building, four different and amazing Wats, Buddha imagery, Buddhism and so many questions we had about monks. She was funny, warm, wonderful with the kids as they soldiered on through the heat, and so gracious in answering our zillions of questions.
The incredibly generous Snack Break, including homemade peanut treats made by Miaow’s aunt.
And finally, with Miaow’s help ordering (and spicing to “medium”…ha!!), I was able to try Sukothai Noodles for lunch at the end of our bike tour. Delicious!
We are on to Chiang Mai next, a much bigger and busier city where we make lots of fun connections with other traveling families, but Sukothai will always be a favorite in our hearts. Thank you Sukothai!