By Jade Johnston
Overview of Thai Ruins
Its funny how the border of a country can change the landscape. Some borders are nothing more than imaginary lines drawn on a map. You can walk across the Netherlands and Belgium border and not even realize what has happened. In fact, many European borders have nothing more than a Welcome sign to indicate their presence. Not the same for the border between Thailand and Cambodia.
We boarded the bus in Siem Riep, and were lucky that there were exactly two seats left. Backpacks were stuffed dangerously into every free crevice of space, as were people as well. It was going to be a long ride. The state of Cambodia’s roads are bone rattling to say the least as we bounced and rattled along. The day was HOT, and the bus had no air conditioning. The only way to fight off melting into a puddle on the seat was to keep all the windows open. Now lets add two more factors to this equation: Windows open + dirt roads + middle of dry season = the dirtiest, dustiest journey you can imagine.
At one point I wrapped some cloth around my face in an effort to filter out the dust. All I could think about were those incredibly effective anti-smoking campaigns which show pictures of tar coated lungs. But due to the heat, putting up the windows was not an option.
After crossing the border, things could not have been more different! We transferred to a comfortable, brand new, air conditioned, well suspensioned double decker bus and were greeted by reclining seats and English language movies.
Thailand (formally known as Siam) has a long history, and like many other countries with long histories, has relocated its capital several times. Since my partner and I were not interested in having too much of a beach holiday, we decided to visit three of the capitals of Thailand; Bangkok, Ayutthaya, and Sukhothai.
Bangkok is a bustling and incredibly modern city, and was a definite attack on the senses after spending time in slower paced Cambodia. A high tech sky train links the city, and every modern convenience can be found. One of the most visited sites in Bangkok is the Grand Palace. Within the palace grounds, which used to be the residence of the King, is one of Thailand’s most sacred temples. And of course the most sacred temple, houses the most sacred Buddha image – the emerald Buddha.
After spending a few days in Thailand’s current capital, we hopped on a train and headed north to Ayutthaya, Thailand’s second capital. In 1700, Ayutthaya was the world’s largest and finest city and was a hub for international trade. Unfortunately, war with the Burmese led to the city being invaded and completely destroyed. The only things left of its former grandeur are various temple ruins which have been declared a UNESCO world heritage site.
We only spent a day visiting the ruins of Ayutthaya before we were off again. A combination of train and bus took us further north into Thailand, and to the site of Siam’s very first capital – Sukhothai. The modern city of Sukhothai is located 12 km east of the historic city of Sukhothai, and you can easily catch a large blue songthaew (truck) which will take you between the two cities with ease.
Unlike the ruins in Ayutthaya, the old city of Sukhothai has been vigorously and lovingly restored to some of its former glory. The whole site covers about 70 square kilometres, with the central zones being the best up kept. The manicured lawns and pretty gardens make for a very relaxing and tranquil atmosphere. Also the fact that there are not many touts present, make it a nice place to take some time to be at ease.
Unfortunately, in Ayutthaya I had developed an eye infection, so we ended up staying in Sukhothai a bit longer than anticipated so that I could visit the local hospital. I don’t usually buy travel insurance, so it was very lucky for me that the public hospital in Sukhothai was very very clean. I experienced very fast and courteous service. Although, much faster than everyone else and my preferential treatment definitely made me feel a little awkward. Why shouldn’t I have to wait as long as everyone else? I am Eurasian as well, but I take after my Scottish mother, which leaves me with an ethical dilemma – should I get better treatment just because my skin is light?
All I needed were some eye drops which were not expensive at all, so not having travel insurance did not turn out to be an issue at all. The only trouble was – during my visit to beautiful old Sukhothai, I couldn’t see a thing! The solution? Take pictures and then take in the view from the image on my screen – held very close to my face.
Our journey from Thailand’s present day capital, all the way back to the first city of Siam was completed, and all three sites offered very different things. The Grand Palace was surrounded by wide paved roads, busy with traffic, and full of well dressed tourists and clean shaven monks. The palace is just as much a working site as a place of tourist interest, as even though the king no longer lives there, many ceremonies are held there each year. Ayutthaya’s temples sat in ruins while busy town life went on around them. At some of the sites, my partner and I were the only people there other than the lone women in the ticket booth. And Old Sukhothai, feeling refreshed after her makeover seemed almost more of a botanical garden or park than the birth place of Siam.
As much as it would have been nice to laze about on some of Thailand’s many famous beaches – I am glad I chose instead to journey back into Thailand’s past.