A Step Back in Time

Asian Geographic - - On Assignment - Text and Pho­tos

Alex Camp­bell

thailand

top left Cre­atively in­clined vis­i­tors can also pay a visit to Prasert An­tique, a craft shop that spe­cialises in sangkhalok – a type of ce­ramic ware

top right A sa­cred Bodhi tree in the Sukhothai His­tor­i­cal Park

bot­tom right The best way to ex­plore Sukhothai is by bicycle. Many lo­cals still use them as their means of trans­porta­tion var­i­ous wa­ter­birds, which are of­ten seen stalk­ing fish among the lu­mi­nous pink lotus flow­ers – a Bud­dhist sym­bol for en­light­en­ment.

The Sukhothai His­tor­i­cal Park cov­ers a vast area of around 45 square kilo­me­tres, home to ru­ins from the era that his­to­ri­ans con­sider as “the golden age” of Thailand. The Sukhothai pe­riod was sem­i­nal in the es­tab­lish­ment of Bud­dhism in the coun­try, in­tro­duc­ing Hi­nayana Bud­dhism from Cey­lon (what is to­day Sri Lanka). The World Her­itage Site, recog­nised by UNESCO in 1991, is a show­case of clas­sic Thai-style ar­chi­tec­ture, with strong in­flu­ence from Sin­halese de­sign and Kh­mer art. The im­pact of In­dian the­ol­ogy is also ev­i­dent in many of the mon­u­ments: Be­sides the an­tic­i­pated Bud­dha images, carv­ings of Hindu gods are abun­dant, ow­ing to ex­ten­sive in­flu­ence from Brah­manic deities at the time. The king­dom also bor­rowed much of its art and sculp­ture from the Gupta pe­riod.

That be­ing said, Sukhothai re­mains quintessen­tially Bud­dhist, and its con­struc­tion ush­ered in de­signs that would be­come the pro­to­types of Thai ar­chi­tec­ture: the wat, or monastery; vi­ha­ras, or tem­ples; the stupa; and stone imag­in­ings of the Bud­dha – sit­ting, walk­ing and re­clin­ing.

The best way to ex­plore the his­tor­i­cal park is by bicycle. The land­scape is, some­what sur­pris­ingly, a far cry from your typ­i­cal South­east Asian jun­gle veg­e­ta­tion: Cov­ered in

Sukhothai’s most fa­mous ex­port – which vis­i­tors can de­sign them­selves; a steady hand is re­quired.

Of­ten as not, when the time comes to leave, there’s an air of an­ti­cli­mac­tic de­spon­dency at the prospect of see­ing out the last cou­ple of hours of a place stuck in an overly air-con­di­tioned air­port with an over­priced drink. But Sukothai Air­port – pri­vately owned by Bangkok Air­ways – has been shrewdly in­tu­itive in es­tab­lish­ing its Or­ganic Agri­cul­tural Project a mere five min­utes from the run­way. Putting com­mu­nity work into prac­tice, you can don a set of farmer’s kit in a royal shade of pur­ple, hop aboard the ru­ral ve­hi­cle of choice – an ee đăan – and gather duck eggs, plant rice seedlings, and cap it off with a fan­tas­tic meal sourced di­rectly from the gar­den in the Krua Sukho or­ganic restau­rant (the col­lected duck eggs make their way in there, too).

The com­bi­na­tion of cen­turiesold his­tory, warm hos­pi­tal­ity, and com­mu­nity-sup­ported ini­tia­tives has put Sukhothai on the trav­eller’s map – but the drop pin is still just far enough off the beaten ba­nana pan­cake trail to al­low its quiet, bu­colic char­ac­ter to re­main au­then­tic, and un­spoiled. ag The best time to go is in the dry sea­son be­tween Novem­ber and Fe­bru­ary Sukhothai

THAILAND

Bangkok

The com­bi­na­tion of cen­turies-old his­tory, warm hos­pi­tal­ity, and com­mu­ni­ty­sup­ported ini­tia­tives has put Sukhothai on the trav­eller’s map WHEN WHERE

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