One of my main interests when deciding to study abroad was to learn and experience a history and culture very distinct and foreign to me. Thailand, as well as other Asian countries, was rarely mentioned in my college curriculum, apart from war history. That is why when coming here and enrolling in the Thai Studies Program, I made it a goal to try to learn about the history of this country.
The history of Thailand is very complicated and extensive, even if it’s relatively new compared to other Asian countries. From what I understand, people inhabited this area more than 40,000 years ago but it wasn’t until the 13th century that what is consider the Kingdom of Siam was established (Siam was the name of the country before they decided to change it to Thailand in 1939). The first capital and what is considered the beginning of the nation is the Kingdom of Sukhothai. This Kingdom existed from 1238 until 1583 and it’s a very important part of Thailand’s history. Sukhothai literally means “Dawn of Happiness,” and it was here that many significant contributions were made, like the Thai alphabet and the foundations of modern politics, the monarchy, and religion. That is why this city has been mentioned so much in all of my classes here, and I definitely wanted to check it out!
After a very long and exhausting week of midterms I decided to book a trip to Sukhothai. I had my last midterm on Friday and it was the most difficult one: Thai Language. Still in a haze with my brain partly fried, I went and bought an overnight train ticket. No beds were available so I bought a seat. After I realized I was going to spend my first night’s sleep after a midterm sleeping on a seat I wanted to kick myself. Even so, the ride wasn’t that bad and I managed to sleep. After 8 hours we arrived at Phitsanulok around 5:30 am. The kindest old Thai man then took us from the train to the bus station. We had to take another hour long bus ride to the Old City of Sukhothai, where the ruins are located, since it doesn’t have a train station.
The old capital has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage historical park, making the area very clean and maintained. Even from outside, the park looks magical. We arrived very early and there were people already going inside. The area is very big. It’s divided into three zones that cover 72 sq km and around 193 ruins. You can rent a bike, which I did, or go in a guided tour, or rent a tuk tuk to take you around.
The Central Zone is the most popular one, where Wat Mahathat is located. This temple is extremely stunning and it’s amazing to walk around and admire the beauty of the place. I also visited the Northern Zone, the Wat Si Chum temple, where a giant seated Buddha resides. And also the West Zone, which is very far from the others (almost 15 minutes of biking). Here you climb up some stairs to reach Wat Si Sawai. Pictures don’t do it justice, and I learned so much by visiting this place. Now I feel I got a better understanding of the importance of this historical landmark, and I have a mental image of it that I will never forget.
I also visited Lopburi, another one of the Ancient Cities of Thailand. Lopburi is one of the oldest cities and also a former capital. This place has many ruins around the city but it is more popular for the macaques (monkeys) that took over some of its ruins.