It was just shy of a million degrees when we woke up on our first morning in Sukhothai, and we quickly canned our big idea of cycling around the ruins at the Historical Park. We reverted to Plan B and picked up a scooter instead. It’s a bit of a hike to the Park from Sukhothai itself, but it’s well worth the trip. The Park covers a total of 70 square kilometres, broken up into 4 distinct zones and is home to 193 different ruins. We were expecting the Park to be hot, dusty and barren (I think we had in mind some of the historical sites we visited in Europe), but it was beautiful and leafy with wide roads, lots of shelter and beautiful lakes. There was a touch of regret that we’d bailed on the bikes, but it was still bloody hot and the scooter meant we could see more things in what was already a pretty full-on day.
We made our way around all of the major Wats (the name for this blog became unavoidable pretty quickly – “what Wat are we going to next? what Wat is this? what Wat did you like the most?”) and then struck out on the bike to see some of the less-visited, but equally interesting ruins. We’d read stories about the Park being over-run with tourists all scrambling for a great photo, but we saw the same 30 or so people over the course of the day and there were times when it felt like we had the place to ourselves. This was even more surprising since admission to the Park (and a number of other national attractions) is free at the moment, because of the King’s death. We’d highly recommend a visit – it’s an enjoyable way to spend the day, and you don’t need to be a history buff or have any background knowledge to be seriously impressed by the ruins on display.
We tackled another Sukhothai “must see” in the evening when we paid a visit to Poo Restaurant. I’ll be the first to admit that the food was a bit of flop (we had some awesome Sukhothai noodles during our stay, but not from here), but you don’t come all this way and then not go to a restaurant called “Poo”. We sniggered our way through the meal and threatened to make a real spectacle of ourselves when Campbell declared that he couldn’t understand why the restaurant was ranked number one on Tripadvisor, when number two was clearly more appropriate. It just goes to show that my Grandad was right, you are never too old for a bit of good old-fashioned toilet humour (even if it did get him into trouble with Nana from time to time).
Saturday saw us back on the bus on our way to Ayutthaya, another serious player on the Thai history scene. We arrived far too late in the day to do any serious sightseeing, so took a stroll down to the night market for some dinner. The night market turned out to be a real winner – there was no shopping as such, but a seriously impressive array of food and a nice set-up that meant you could actually park up and eat in peace, rather than having to shove spring rolls in your face while getting manhandled by the crowd around you. We hit the jackpot with the BBQ pork and mussel omelette frittery thing we ordered, but were not so keen on our chicken kebabs, which turned out to be comprised entirely of chicken necks. We spent the rest of the night at a small jazz bar next to our guesthouse, where we joined an awesome group of fellow travellers and made our way through a fair few Changs while listening to Mr Miyagi sings the blues.
We decided to make a start on some sight-seeing on Sunday, and signed up for a late afternoon long-tail boat trip to see some of the outlying temples – Wat Phutthaisawan, Wat Chaiwatthanaram and Wat Phanan Choeng. It was a great two hour trip and a nice way to see the city from a different perspective. The temples themselves were beautiful and ranged from the super blingy – everything must be covered in gold – variety, to a very kitsch set-up complete with garden ornaments and the Thai equivalent of little Hawaiian hula dancing figurines, to crumbling stones ruins more similar to what we had seen in Sukhothai.
I confess that, by the end of the tour, there was a little bit of temple fatigue creeping in and we found ourselves getting a bit distracted by other things, like this dog with drawn on eyebrows. We’d seen a dog like this in Luang Prabang and I was devastated that I never got to take its photo, so there was no way I was missing out this time around. We also spent a good amount of time watching the locals feed the enormous catfish who live in the river. They were absolutely massive, and people were throwing entire loaves of bread into the water, which made them writhe about and flop all over the place and poke their disgusting whiskery faces out of the water asking for more. It reminded me a little bit of the Christmas Campbell and I spent in Samoa, where we spent an embarrassing amount of time throwing cheeseballs into the water from our balcony, so that we could watch the fish fight it out.
Today was our last day in Ayutthaya, and we finally got our act together and hired some bikes to ride around the temples. The temples here are mainly scattered in amongst the city itself, so a lot of the riding is on busy roads rather than through any kind of park. Ayutthaya lived up to its reputation and, by the time we hit the road, the key sites were crawling with tourists and busloads of day-trippers from Bangkok. Overall, we didn’t love the experience. If you only had a day and wanted to get your fix of history, then by all means a day trip to Ayutthaya from Bangkok makes sense, but if you have a bit more time up your sleeve and want to explore independently in a much more peaceful setting, then the Wilsilands seal of approval goes to Sukhothai.
Tomorrow we’re off to the big lights of Bangkok for a week. We’re not entirely sure what to expect (my memories of Bangkok are fuzzy given I visited a long time ago, and post-full moon party), but are looking forward to a bit of city time and staying put for a while.
* This blog is named after the viral video “What what (in the butt)”. It is a truly horrendous song with a disturbing video and it will haunt you from this point on. Might pay to check it out at home or, if you really can’t wait, put some headphones on for the sake of your colleagues/your professional reputation.