Yes, you got it, even more ruins!!!!!
28.01.2010 - 28.01.2010 34 °C
If you think that buying a seat on a nice air conditioned coach in Thailand means you actually get a seat, you would be wrong. Fortunately enough I was one of the first to board and so managed to get a seat by the window. After countless stops along the way to the Si Satchanalai Historical park however, not only were there 3 people squeezed tightly onto each row of two seats, there were an additional 20 or so people standing, sitting, squatting, leaning in the aisle. This would have been fine with me were it not for the fact that my nice comfortable seat happened to be located at the very rear of the coach by the window, whilst the exit door happened to be located at the very front by driver. What ensued was a frantic scramble of arms and legs, shoving, pushing, climbing, groping (although not inappropriate I might add), on the assault course to the door when the ticket inspector finally shouted for me to get off.
Being dropped in the middle of nowhere is not a pleasant experience for a foreign tourist, although a great one for the bike shop owner right by the bus stop. He quickly jumped forward as we approached and insisted on selling us a bike. An elderly couple were sucked in immediately but I had decided to walk to the park instead. The man from the shop looked at me in horror and kept repeating "3 Km" while waving 3 fingers in my face. When I said that 3 Km was not too far for me to walk he quickly dismissed me with a wave of the hand and shuffled off inside. The fact that I had not hired a bike from him meant that I wasn't privileged enough to get a free map or directions to the park. Sneakily I waited for the elderly couple to come out with theirs and copied it in front of his shop, much to his dissatisfaction.
With the elderly couple in tow I headed off in the direction of the park until 200m further down the road we were confronted by a wooden planked old bridge with barriers and signs stating "DANGER! Do not cross! Bridge unsafe! Work in progress! DANGER!!!" As we approached a number of workmen ran forward waving us away. "No, no, you no go!" We stood looking in confusion and quickly consulted the map. Unfortunately the park was the other side of the river and the bridge before us was the only way to reach it. There was no other thing for us so we turned to leave when all of a sudden one of the workmen took pity on us and, when no one else was looking, hissed at us to come forward. "Eh, look, you go." He quietly creaked open the barrier, making sure no other workmen were watching, and pushed us onto the wobbly old bridge. We all looked at him trying to establish if it was ok, and by ok we meant was it safe, not was it allowed. He nodded that it was ok, and by ok he meant that it was allowed, not necessarily that it was safe. We proceeded anyway, not wanting to trek countless miles out of the way to the next river crossing. Whilst crossing I paused to get my camera. I thought if the old couple in front of me break through the wooden planks and plunge to their watery demise, I might as well catch it on film. Unfortunately they didn't, as that would have made for some great photos, but what I did catch was a couple of men on the river shouting frantically at each other. The man in the front was gesturing furiously while the man in the back bailed with an old bucket. The boat was going down and it was pretty obvious there was nothing they could do to save it. In the end all that remained were two floating heads in the murky water. The two men stayed in the same position for a brief moment before turning to each other and howling uncontrollably with laughter. They then caught sight of me on the bridge above holding my camera and howled with laughter some more.
I have to admit that the 3Km walk to the park was a lot more strenuous that I would have thought, especially in the raging sun. This wasn't helped by the fact that the park itself stretches for several kilometers, with killer stairs, hills, ditches, and every other obstacle known to man.
The park itself was pretty much the same as Sukhothai Historical Park, and the ruing were pretty similar too. I'm sure that an official park guide would shake his head in despair and then proceed to tell you all the intricate differences in period, architecture, structure, age and use, however for me, a wat's a wat! What's a wat, I hear you ask. Well according to Lonely Planet's Guide to Southeast Asia, the most reliable source I have due to being too tight to hire a proper guide who knows what they're talking about, 'wat = temple monastery'. Simple explanation, but good enough for me. I did however find a large Cosmos tour and subtly joined the back of their group for a while. That is until a park official came round checking tickets, which was when I made my hasty getaway.
If you want to see the park in silence, with no other tourists or distractions, forget about coming early in the morning or late at night, simply do what I did and walk around at 1 o'clock in the afternoon, under the relentless sun, slowly roasting you internal organs one by one. I'll almost guarantee you won't find another soul in sight. Even the locals and workmen retreated to their cosy little hammocks in the shade.
I'm finally seeing the advantages of being more adventurous with the food though. I went to a little local place selling all types of rice, noodles, and stir-fry, and managed to get a huge meal and a large bottle of water for less than 1 pound. Now if that's not incentive enough to eat local then I don't know what is!
If you ever do visit Si Satchanalai Historical Park do not make the mistake of assuming there will be regular buses heading back to Sukhothai. If like me you annoyingly just miss the twenty past two bus, and more annoyingly see it stop 200m further down the road for the elderly couple who walked in with you who managed to get there 5 minutes earlier, then it's a very long, hot and boring wait for the next and final bus. Not knowing how long a wait it would be I went back to the bike shop where I got dropped off and saw the smug smile and evil glint in his eye, which could only imply one thought, "If only you'd hired my bike you would have got here five minutes earlier and made that last bus". He took great pleasure in telling me the next bus wasn't until four o'clock while waving four fingers in my face.
If you do find yourself in this situation I can suggest attempting to communicate with the elderly locals at the bus stop, using a mixture of sign language, facial expressions, and tourist maps, as a good way to pass the time. Also, I did manage to get my own back on the bike shop owner. As the four o'clock bus approached I saw he had another couple of customers ready to catch it. Little did he know I was still sitting at the "official" bus stop 100m up the road, and so just as he was about to stand up and signal for the bus to pull over I quickly jumped forward, made sure I caught his eye, and then waved the bus to a stop in front of me. He was then forced to tell his now not so happy customers, who had been waiting quite a while with him, to make a desperate sprint up the road, in the scorching sun, before the last bus of the day pulled off and drove away without them. Petty I know, but mighty satisfying.
Bus from Sukhothai to Si Satchanalai (each way, infrequent) - 46 Baht
Si Satchanalai Park ticket - 100 Baht
Local meal at park (plus drink, bargain) - 50 Baht
Here's some more photos of Si Satchanalai