Heike, a darling German girl I met in Varanasi, sent me an informative email including her advice for Thailand travel. Sukhothai was high on her list for its ancient temple ruins, better than Ayuttaya, so I spent a couple nights there to check out the sites on bike.
Having heard from Scott in Mae Salong about Ban Thai Guesthouse in Sukhothai, I proceeded to this little abode on the river with a welcoming front yard and wooden furniture and checked into a simple two bed/fan/share toilet space. And who do I see in the courtyard but Kristen, my American friend from Mae Salong, reading a book. The travelers network is truly tiny. We both studied Spanish and Latin America in school, and she recently got a great position with the IAD in DC so we talked about all those things I love to discuss but rarely get the opportunity. We had a little walk around New Sukhothai and I tried some new kind of fruit, a pink fleshy item stored in liquid, somewhat similar to a pickled guava or apple I suppose, and it was time for sleep.
Wednesday morning I woke up ready to explore the ruins. After a half hour on the public bus, which is a truck with a huge, wooden floored, covered back and metal benches on either side, I reached Old Sukhothai, a few kilometers outside of the modern city. I rented a bike for the day, costing only 20Baht ($.50) even though I was admittedly nervous, having not been on a bike in years. Many years. Luckily, the saying proved true and I remembered how to ride and thoroughly enjoyed both physical activity and the slight breeze. The sky was overcast, but I am always hot so still a steamy one for me. The grounds of Wat Mahathat were spread out, with discolored chedis and decaying Buddha images among chunks of concrete, good feeling of history here. I managed to see nearly everyone from the guesthouse at some point, and the only Thai I encountered tried to show me around and then attempted to kiss my hand - not many locals checking this place out. I managed to overheat and dehydrate and miss my turn to one of the temples located further outside the main complex, so I had a pleasant rest on a public bench, even though every passing bus tried to pick me up. One temple was on a hilltop overlooking the old city and required that you climb a scenic rock staircase, which a group of about 20 child monks were descending when I arrived. They giggled at my presence, and the contrast of their saffron robes with the surroundings was more than I could have asked for. After getting lost no less than eight times (probably more), at the end of the day, legs aching from the shock of exercise to my system, and thoughts of stones in varying shades of grey, black, pink and white, I took the bus back to New Sukhothai, enjoyed the best pad thai I've yet found on the street and visited the tiny night market before burying myself in First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung, her family's story of life and death under the Khmer Rouge. Heart wrenching book, well written, I cried in public while reading it - and how often does that happen?