Ancient Sukhothai Thailand

skthThere are some marvellous ancient cities found right across the Indochina region. Generally located in an arc which starts in Burma, or Myanmar as it is now known, and flowing through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, there is evidence of once great empires and the remains of cities that are both complex and beautiful.

One of these is the ancient city of Sukhothai, which is located in lower Northern Thailand, about 430 kilometres north of Bangkok. Today it is referred to as the Sukhothai Historical Park, and it is regarded as the first Thai Kingdom, which first gained prominence in the year 1238.

The site is quite large, as the city walls form a rectangle that is two kilometres in length heading east-west and 1600 metres north-south to fill a grid which occupies 70 square kilometres of land. Within this zone are 193 buildings in varying degrees of decay and ruin. A characteristic feature of Sukhothai temple architecture is the lotus-bud chedi, a type of Buddhist stupa. It features a conical spire finial on a square-sided structure on top of a three-tiered base.

The literal translation of the word Sukhothai is `dawn of happiness’. Although nine kings ruled over Sukhothai during its time as a powerful city, the most famous of these was King Ramkhamhaeng, under whose rule the Thai alphabet was developed, and the city’s influence extended well beyond its borders to encompass an area that was greater than present day Thailand.

There are many intricate carvings on the various buildings, which are called wats. These carvings show both Buddhist and Hindu influences. It appears that the complex started out as a Hindu city, but gradually transformed into following various forms of Buddhism during the relatively short time that Sukhothai was an influential city.

I was fortunate to visit Sukhothai for the annual Loy Krathong Festival, in which floating tributes are released onto ponds, lakes and rivers. Some of these objects, which resemble floating plants, also have a burning substance attached so you can enjoy the glorious sight of thousands of floating lights on the water. Some people even make sky lanterns out of rice paper, so that the hot air produced by the flame getting trapped in the rice paper canopy rises aloft, and the lights, literally, float in the air.

As Loy Krathong is a major Thai festival, many thousands of people gathered at Sukhothai Historical Park to either participate in, or witness, a huge parade, complete with extravagant floats. The problem was that the length of the parade far exceeded the distance of the circular road around Sukhothai, so that when those at the beginning of the parade reached the starting point their created a gridlock which meant the parade couldn’t continue. A lousy example of organisation, but a brilliant piece of entertainment.

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