Sukhothai / ThaukKaTae

Sukhothai Historical Park entrance

Although not well known as Ayutthia, as Thailand’s first capital, Sukhothai (rising of happiness) flourished from the mid 13th century to the late 14th century. I planned to visit it on the way to Bangkok from Chiang Mai because Sukhothai / ThaukKaTae is closely related to Myanmar during the wars we had with the Thais.

Sukhothai was the first kingdom of Siam established some 800 years ago. The exact year is unknown but according to the Fine Arts Office it was between 1238 and 1257.

Established in around 1238 to 1257, Sukhothai literally means “Dawn of Happiness.” Phokhun Si Intharathit was the founder of the Phra Ruang Dynasty, Sukhothai’s first Dynasty. For 120 years as the capital of Siam, Sukhothai was ruled by many kings. In this connection, the most dynamic monarch being King Ramkhamhaeng the Great, who created the Thai alphabet, laid the foundation for politics, monarchy, and religion, as well as, expanded its boundary of influence.

I planned to stay the night in modern Sukhothai and then visit the old city the next morning as mentioned in the tour articles I got from the internet. However, the bus did not reach Sukhothai at sunset and soon darkness fell. After some time, the lights were switched on and I knew some stop is near. I went to the front of the bus and asked the contuctress whether it was Sukothai. The reply was Old Sukothai. I told her I will get off at Old Sukothai near some guest house. After we got all our luggage and the bus had driven off we found out we were right in front of the VITOON guest house. It was of good quality, clean and new and we checked in. There weren’t any other guests seen but we find several the next morning.

After having a bath we went around the corner to have dinner. There were several shops and we had dinner at The Coffee Cup. It was a nice one with an atmosphere! The shop is styled for Westerners and apart from us the other patrons were French. It has been in business since 2001 and there were 3 photos of the early 2001 – 2003, mid 2003 – 2007 and later 2007 to present years with different styles of the shop.

The Coffee Cup in the years 2001 2003 2007

The Coffee Cup of Old Sukothai where we had dinner and lunch

The girls can speak good English which seems to be a criteria for employment.

The Coffee Cup

The next morning, we hired a motorcycle from the place we stayed and we intended to have breakfast at the same place. However, we got into another shop by error and realized it only when we sat down. We did not go over to The Coffee Cup and had the Sukhothai noodle recommended by the tour article. It is different from the usual Kwai Ti Oh, and more like our Shan “AhSee” / bundle rice noodles in “AhYay Phyaw” / “in soup” style. This shop, the “Kacha Restaurant”, also has a Western atmosphere. The majority of tourists being Whites!

Sukothai noodles for breakfast at the "Kacha Restaurant”

Traditional massage is offered at all places. I wonder whether the Whites really like it.

There is a Sukhothai Museum nearby and the entrance to the Sukhothai old city is just in front of the museum.

Sukhothai Historical Park entrance

The Sukhothai Old City is not populated any more and only the chedis / stupas and temples / Wats remain among the well kept gardens. This is different from the Chiang Mai, Lamphun, Phitsanulok and Ayutthia cities where continuous habitation is still present. Therefore, apart from the style, Sukhothai is similar to Bagan (the local population of Bagan were moved to the Thiripyitsayar village in 1989).

The Sukhothai Historical Park is open daily from 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. though there are occasional nights the park is open and illuminated by floodlights.

Wat Chana Songkhram

Once inside the Old Sukhothai, our first stop was the Wat Chana Songkhram. Although this was of Sukhothai era, the subordinate chedi in the east was built in the Ayutthia period at a later date than when Sukhothai was the capital of the Thai Lanna kingdom. Earlier periods were the Mon Dravawadi era prior to the Tai migration into present Thailand. I only noticed just now and wonder whether the “Songkhram” of the Wat’s name is the same as the Songkran = Thingyan. It is too late as I cannot ask this of anyone.  The stupa / chedi has a rectangular “DatTaw Taik” near the top, on the bell, similar to the Sri Lanka style “HsatPaDa” stupa at Nyaung Oo.

One strange feature of the Sukhothai stupas and wats is the presence of assembly halls / Vihara that are built with laterite pillars. The roofs have long since gone but the pillars are still there (unlike brick walled assembly halls of the Ayutthia era). The old Thai cities in movies showing Buddha statutes with these stone pillars have been shot in Sukhothai!

Monument of king Ramkhamhaeng the Great

Next we visited the nearby modern Monument of king Ramkhamhaeng the Great. I have read of the adjective “the Great” being conferred to many Western kings: Alexander (Greek), Henry (English), Peter (Russian), but king Ramkhamhaeng is the only Eastern or African king being mentioned thus.  Maybe there are others I have not heard about as there are a great many warrior kings who established nations and dynasties: Anawratha (Myanmar), Jayavarman (Khmer), Genghis Khan (Mongol)

Wat Mahathat

When you enter the Historic Park, the first complex you will notice is that of Wat Mahathat, the main Wat of Historic Sukhothai.

One thing typical for the Sukhothai era are the Buddha Images and Monk-images, in walking position. Almost everywhere in Thailand, whenever you see a Buddha Image, you will see it sitting down or standing. Hardly anywhere -except in Sukhothai- you will see walking Buddha Images.

On several places in the area that was formerly Wat Mahathat other remains of the buildings that belonged to the “Wat” can be seen, like the pillars.

The Buddha Image is a very high one, as can clearly be seen. This is one of the two Phra Attharot Buddha Images belonging to Wat Mahathat. The name refers to their height.

The temple’s main ‘chedi’ is intact showing the traditional ‘Lotus’ style which demonstrates the Khmer influence particular to this area. The chedi sports Buddha images on its pedestal and images of a number of Buddhist disciples in adoration at its foot. Inside the temple’s ‘viharn’ is an 8-metre-high Bronze Buddha image. The site also features figures of demons and animals with angels riding on their backs.

Wat Mahathat main chedi

The central part is a brick tower standing on top of a stacked set of pedestals, plinths, throne, and base ments, which are all made from laterite. The upper part is set apart from the lower part by its five re-entrant angles on each corner which stop short of the lotus bud and tapering spire but include the capital of the shaft, the shaft of the tower, and a pair of asym met ri cal oc tag o nal lotus pedestals made of laterite. Around the base of the lotus bud tower, there are individual niches housing standing Buddha images.

Wat Mahathat Sukhothai [ Inside the City Walls ]

http://www.thailandsworld.com/index.cfm?p=348

  • Wat Mahathat translates as “great relic”, and it is one of the oldest and most important Buddhist temples in Thailand.
  • Historians believe that Wat Mahathat was established in the 13 th century, and rebuilt in the first half of the 14 th century. Its structures are a main vihara, a single ubosot, 10 other viharas and 200 secondary chedi. The wealth of monuments indicates the significance of this wat as being the religious centre of the town of Sukhothai. The stucco frieze work on the monuments has been restored.
  • Wat Mahathat is built of laterite and surrounded by brick walls and a moat. The main chedi is in the characteristic Sukhothai shape of a lotus bud. It is believed to contain relics of Buddha. Two huge Buddhas reside at the entrance. Of the eight smaller surrounding chedi, the four brick ones at the cardinal points reflect Khmer style, and the four on the sides indicate Lan Na art. The niches of these smaller chedi contain 28 Buddha images and stucco reliefs which illustrate the life of Buddha. The artwork here reflects that of the Singhalese and Burmese.
  • At the base of the main chedi Buddhist disciples in adoration are depicted in stucco relief.
  • In front of this chedi are columns, the only remains of the main vihara which was believed to have contained a remarkable seated bronze Buddha image of the Sukhothai style, cast and installed by King Lithai of Sukhothai in 1362.
  • At the end of the 18th century, the image was removed to the Wat Suthat in Bangkok by the order of King Rama I and has since been named Phra Si Sakaya Muni.
  • Further on are the remains of another smaller vihara which was probably built during the Ayutthaya period. Its eight metre high Buddha image was installed inside a separate building.
  • The whole area is filled with minor chedi, most of which were probably funerary monuments.
  • On the south stands a pedestal of a large built up chedi, the base of which is adorned with beautiful stucco figures of devils, elephants, lions and three headed elephants.

The Royal Palace / Wat Mahathat in Sukhothai

http://www.discoverythailand.com/Sukhothai_The_Royal_Palace_Wat_Mahathat.asp

The Royal Palace / Wat Mahathat
Sukhothai

The Royal Palace is in the centre of old Sukothai. This is a large site covering around 160,000 square meters containing two main compounds and completely surrounded by a water moat.

The Royal Palace is in the centre of old Sukothai and is completely surrounded by a water moat.

The first of the main compounds is Noen Phrasat (the Royal Building), a site containing a stone inscribed by King Ramhamhaeng. The second is Wat Mahathat, Sukhothai’s largest temple. The temple’s main ‘chedi’ is intact showing the traditional ‘Lotus’ style which demonstrates the Khmer influence particular to this area. The chedi sports Buddha images on its pedestal and images of a number of Buddhist disciples in adoration at its foot. Inside the temple’s ‘viharn’ is an 8-metre-high Bronze Buddha image. The site also features figures of demons and animals with angels riding on their backs. The temple offers authentic Sukothai art and its crypt has a number of excellent murals. Wat Mahathat is a very important temple, supposedly the spiritual centre of the old Sukhothai. There are around 200 chedis within the temple compound and so there’s plenty to see and wander around. Well worth a visit.

Details: Sukhothai Historical Park is open daily from 08.30 to 16.30. The Royal Palace / Wat Mahathat are in the central zone and admission is 40 Baht.

The Main Chedi of Wat Maha That, Sukhothai

In front of the main chedi of Wat Maha That stands the base of Phra Sri Sakya Muni. The main chedi or the relic tower is made of brick and laterite. Each side of the square base, which is about 20 meters long, is ornamented with stucco motifs of walking Buddha images with palms pressed together. A staircase leads from the terrace to the upper part of the central tower and the throne. Above the throne are decorations in the form of lotuses which are made of laterite. The central part is a brick tower standing on top of a stacked set of pedestals, plinths, throne, and base ments, which are all made from laterite. The upper part is set apart from the lower part by its five re-entrant angles on each corner which stop short of the lotus bud and tapering spire but include the capital of the shaft, the shaft of the tower, and a pair of asym met ri cal oc tag o nal lotus pedestals made of laterite. Around the base of the lotus bud tower, there are in di vid u al niches housing standing Buddha images.

Sukhothai

The ancient capital of Thailand, Sukhothai is the historical and cultural center of the same name period (from the middle of XIII century to the mid XV century), which is located in the north central plains (almost 400 kilometers from Bangkok). This region is surrounded by hills and the river Mannam Yom. This well-developed historical center is located 12 km from the modern city of Sukhothai, which you can reach by taxi or by bus.

For almost 149 years Sukhothai was the capital of a vast empire. According to legend the city was founded in about 500, and one of its rulers is the King of Chao Aluna Kmara (also known as Phra Ruang, “Son of twilight”), the son of a man and a mystical princess Nighy. Phra Ruang dynasty took the name of 8 kings, who ruled the empire. The first regent was Si Indratitja (1235 -1279), who managed to break the Khmer rule in 1238.

Sukhothai became an independent kingdom when two princesPho Khun Pha Muang and Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao combined their forces and drove the Khmers out of Sukhothai, then a major frontier post of the Angkor Empire.

In fact, his empire itself consisted of only two cities of Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai. If the King Si Indratitja contributed to the formation of an independent Thai culture, his grandson Ramkhamhaeng (1279-1299) has moved much further. His empire stretches to Vientiane (the north-east) and Pegu in the west (modern Myanmar) and Nakhon Si Thammarat in the south (almost 2 / 3 of the modern state). The events of this period (such as the first diplomatic contact with the ruler of neighboring Thailand, China) do not escape from the rest of the world. The inscription, carved in stone, which is stored in the National Museum in Bangkok, perhaps, is a kind of inaugural speech. King invented the Thai alphabet, has launched the production of porcelain and earthenware according to the Chinese sample.

During the reign of the heir of Ramkhamhaeng, Loe Thai (1299-1347) most of the conquered territories were lost, and his son Liu Thai (1347-1368), who took the name Mahadharmaraya was unable to restore its former power. King of Ayutthaya Boromaradja I won Sukhothai in 1378, and the city has finally become part of Ayutthaya Empire in 1438.

When the Burmese destroyed Ayutthaya in 1767, residents of Sukkoth, too, left their city. But 11 years later, Rama I, the first king of the Chakri Dynasty, who ruled Bangkok, founded a new town on the left bank of the river Menam Yom. The city was badly damaged by fire in 1968, all houses in the city center had to be rebuilt.

North city wall near the San Luang Gate.

North of Ancient Sukhothai the City Walls

North of the Sukhothai city walls the main monuments are:

  • Wat Phra Phai Luang
  • Wat Si Chum
  • The Turiang Kilns
  • Wat Sangkhawat

[ 1 ] Wat Phra Phai Luang
This large temple is situated about 1000 metres  north of the city walls, and is surrounded by a moat. It’s original structure of three laterite and stucco prang indicates that it dates from the late 12th century when Sukhothai was part of the Kymer empire. As the present city walls date from the 13th century, it is thought that this wat was the centre of the original city, before the town centre was moved south.

Of the three prangs, the southern and central ones have crumbled. The northern one is decorated with stucco figures of Buddha and his devotees. In front of these prangs are a viharn and a crumbled chedi with a pedestal decorated with stucco Buddha images. Originally it was a pyramid with Buddhas in niches on each level however the heads of the Buddhas were stolen between 1953 and 1960. Southeast of this chedi stands a brick mondop depicting the remains of stucco images of  Buddha walking, standing, sitting and reclining. There is a small viharn north of the prang. The bot would have stood west of the prang.

Wat Si Chum

DSC05142 2

Wat Si Chum, north of Old Sukhothai

The view of the Buddha image in Wat Si Chum is unique. As one approaches from the far side of the hall, one sees a relatively narrow high opening through which one sees a glimpse of the Buddha.  DSC05142 2  As one gets nearer, beyond the hall, more of the image can be seen and the entrance is not really narrow, but seems to be due to its height. DSC05151 2

Wat Si Chum reminds me of the Manuha pagoda in Myingabar, Bagan. The huge Buddha statute lies within a closed structure with little room inside. DSC05146 2

The huge Buddha statute lies within a closed structure with little room inside.

DSC05143 2 hall of Wat Si Chum

DSC05154 2 Wat Si Chum structure which enclose the Buddha

DSC05128 2   DSC05137 2   DSC05166 2  stalls at Wat Si Chum

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One Response to “Sukhothai / ThaukKaTae”

  1. jacklourens Says:

    Set up my wordpress account today I found your blog. I have written three books on Siam. King Naresuan the Great, The Kings of Ayutthaya due for release next year published by silkworm book and Luang Sorasak 1st draft just finished. I was thinking of doing one on Sukhothai but as I am falang the further back you go the more difficult it is to research.

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