Thailand is blessed with some beautiful well preserved ruins that regale stories of its rich cultural heritage. Amongst these majestic witnesses of the past are the ruins of Sukhothai and Si Satchanarai, which recount the glory of the Sukhothai era, called the Golden Age of Thai Empire.
Sukhothai, or ‘Dawn of Happiness’, 13th centwas the beg – it gained independence in theory from the Angkor-based Khmer empire, and it became the first capital of the first united and independent Thai state. The kingdom’s third ruler, King Ramkhamhaen, exinning of the first Thai Nationtended Sukhothai’s domination North into what is now Laos, West to the Andaman Sea, and South onto the Malay Peninsula. It was under his rule that the ancient thriving town of 80,000 inhabitants reached its architectural peak. After 1351, when Ayutthaya was founded as the capital of a powerful rival Thai dynasty, Sukhothai’s imperial influence began to wane, and in 1438 the town was conquered and incorporated into the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Sukhothai was abandoned in the late 15th or early 16th century.
Obscured by dense jungle the ruins were undiscovered until recently. Following the completion in 1988 of a decade-long UNESCO restoration project and subsequent designation as a World Heritage Site, Sukhothai now beckons fortunate travellers to relive its fascinating history.
Visitors can enjoy the park-like setting of Sukhothai where green lawns and lotus-filled ponds are interspersed with ancient structures made of laterite, the stone mostly used in building, and with beautiful Buddha images. The various styles of the temples were a result of Khmer, Sri Lankan and Burmese influences. This is also the period when the art of bronze-cast Buddha images, with an almost boneless, weightless elegance, reached its perfection. The abstract ideals based on correlation with natural forms reminiscent of the Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhism is evident – shoulders like an elephant’s trunk, a torso like a lion, and a nose like a parrot’s beak. Buddha’s face and features are elongated, and the brows, eyes, nose, and mouth are a series of strongly marked curves. The head typically bears a flame-like protuberance above a cranial bump, which is believed by the faithful to contain an extra brain cavity. The most impressive Buddha is the gigantic reconstructed image at Wat Si Chum, which sits at about 12 meters high located within its own vihara, or dwelling.
A 55km drive north of Sukhothai leads to the ruins at Si Satchanarai, which is an equally fascinating, yet less-visited site. Also a World Heritage Site, Si Satchanarai encompasses just over 7sq km and is surrounded by a 12m-wide moat. Most of these beautiful ruins are located on the banks of the YomRiver, which eventually merges further south with several other rivers to become the Chao PhrayaRiver.
Sadly, the full former glory of Sukhothai Empire is beyond retrieval, but these ruins that remain mark the cultural core of Thailand and offer a superb insight into the early flowering of Thai civilization.