Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Sukhothai Kingdom—Si Satchanalai City

Information plaque for the first temple.

The first wat you will see.
Wat Phra Si Rattana Maha That Chaliang.

As described in my blog post on the Sukhothai Kingdom, this former Kingdom is survived both by the modern Kingdom of Thailand, and by three archaeological sites, which together form a UNESCO World Heritage site. These three sites are the former three, major cities of this ancient Kingdom. The first and largest, the ancient city of Sukhothai, was described previously, here I will describe the second city of the Kingdom, the city of Si Satchanalai ("C-sack-chan-a-lie"). This site is officially termed the "Si Satchanalai Historical Park".

Si Satchanalai is found in the north of the province of Sukhothai. Reaching Si Satchanalai is easy enough. Buses regularly leave from the Sukhothai city bus terminal for the ~50kms, ~70min trip to the site of Si Satchanalai, this is along the route, Bangkok to Chang Rai, with the next major stop being the provincial capital of Uttaradit. If you are unsure of what is happening, just keep repeating "C-sack-chan-a-lie", and the bus attendant will help you out.

I did notice in the Sukhothai bus station, several people in white shirts wandering through the station giving advice to tourists. At first I thought these were touts for tour companies, but I later determined that these people were in the employ of the local government. They will approach, ask where you where you want to go, and then direct you to the appropriate ticket counter or render some other assistance. Not a greatly needed service, it is easy enough to find a ticket agent, but it is a friendly gesture.

Few people visit Si Sat. While Sukhothai is a frequent stop, made by the more adventurist tourists—those who want go get away from the megapolis of Bangkok, Si Sat is a much quieter and less frequented tourist destination. Plan to spend a half day here.

Upon arrival you will be exit your bus outside a arched entranceway, which leads into the southern side of the park. The actual city is ~3kms distant, thus hiring a bike, from one of the vendors (30 baht), at the gate area, is a good idea. Food and drink is also on sale.

Enter the Park, start peddling, down a narrow street, over a suspension bridge, and you will reach a Park entrance. Here 20 baht will buy you admission, and a map of the Park. At this entry there is a sizeable temple, which will give you a taste of what is to come.

Again, I suggest a hat, sunglasses, and lots of water. It gets hot.

From here continue northwards, you will pass a few more smaller temples, continue over a modern road (I found the route not well sign posted, but it is hard to get lost, just keep peddeling, you will get somewhere.). You will next reach a rest and recreation area. A street filled with antique stores, and vendors of food and drink. If you do buy keep in mind, that, as far as I understand, the export of Buddha images, both old and new, from Thailand is illegal.

Along the route is a small museum, the 'Wat Chom Chuen Archaeological Site Museum'. The museum houses an actual archaeolgoical site associated with the Wat (which the museum abuts), you can walk over and through the diggings—which consists largely of deceased bodies. Things also got a little tricky here ticket wise. I was told by a delightful Museum staffer that I needed to pay 100 baht (versus 40 for a Thai person, fair enough) to visit the Museum, which I did. Then also that I would need to pay another 200 bath to visit the rest of the old city, which I also paid. In total 320 baht ($10). Apparently, the original 20 baht gets you into the first gate, but not into the Park proper. Anywho...

In addition to the bones and fees, the museum had a small selection of books for sale. One proved to be an excellent find, a description of the entire World Heritage Site, "World Heritage: Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet". Nine thousand copies were published in 2008 by the Thai 'Fine Arts Department'. For 200 baht ($6) an excellent book. I will read this at the first opportunity and then post it to Australia where it will pass into the safe keeping of my brother, along with all the other material I send home.

Proceeding past the restaurants you will reach the Park proper. This is the old city of Si Satchanalai. It is surrounded by a low, stone wall. The enclosed area is an approximate rectangle running along the Yom River, covering ~1 square kilometre of territory.

In this area there are perhaps a half dozen larger temples, and two dozen or more smaller. Most, but not all have descriptive signs. All of the temples show signs of restoration. What is to be seen at each temple are the foundation stones, some of the roof support pillars, a few levels of the temple walls, plus surviving Buddha images at the centre of the temples. Usually, one or more chedi are to be found at each temple site.  One of the temples, Wat Khao (mountain) Suwankhiri, is on a hill top and requires a climb via steps to reach. A little tiring, as is some of the hilly peddling, but doable. Keep well hydrated.

The temples here resemble those in Sukhothai old city, but, in my judgement, there are not only fewer, but also none that showed a distinctive Cambodian style of architecture. This suggests that these buildings were built towards the middle period of the Sukhothai Kingdom.

During my visit there were perhaps a dozen foreigners in the park, but at one time, as I was exploring Wat Chan Lom, one of the larger in the Park, a bus load of middle-aged Thai women arrived, who immediately starting climbing all over the Wat, completely ignoring the 'do not climb' on the Wat signs. Anyway...

Not related to the Park as such, but something that caught my eye while travelling to the Si Satchanalai was the construction of a City Pillar Shrine in the district of Sawankhalok, to the south of the townsite. A City Pillar Shrine of Thailand is a central government sanctioned, provincial level construction, however, these smaller shrines are created by local organisations, and as I was told, sometimes funded directly by wealthier individuals. I was not able to disembark from the bus to examine this shrine in detail, but from what I could see the shrine was nearing completion. The location is: 17.3032 99.8334. Interestingly, the city of Sukhothai does not have a City Pillar Shrine as such.

The shrine.

Sign in front of the shrine.

If you are in this region for a few days make the time to visit Si Sat, it is worth it just to enjoy the quiet beauty of the Park. Then take a look at the these ancient temples, and even imagine what this now quiet 'ghost' city was like five centuries ago. Filled with busy people, screaming wives, noisy children, the march of history.

Road side entrance.

Keep peddling.

At the first entrance.
As always, things for sale.

Park map.
Your entry is at the far right red marked temple.

Wat Phra Si Rattana Maha That Chaliang.
This is the first temple you will see upon entry.

Bodhisattva at temple entrance.

Approach. Prang at rear of temple.

The Buddha. 
Symbol inside prang.

View to the top.

The Museum.

Model of human remains from the
nearby archaeological site.

Wat Chom Chuen, next to the Museum.

Wat Chom Chuen.
Add caption
Roads in the park. Quiet and empty.

As you can see, the Wat has been restored.

Wat Khao Suwankhiri. It is larger than it looks.
The photograph does not convey the quietness of the setting.
The depth of ruins here, nor the relative size of the chedi.
Impossible to take an unobstructed photo,
showing the surrounds of the chedi.

1 comment:

Slowly Global said...

Thanks for the detailed summary! We are day-tripping to Si Satch tomorrow and we will use this as a general guide. :)