Sukhothai literally means the “dawn of happiness” and maybe that is why you get to see a happy smiling walking Buddha here unlike any other place in South East Asia. In the old town of Sukhothai lies the UNESCO protected world heritage site of Sukhothai Historical Park. I was touring Thailand extensively and when I came to know about this charming town, I decided to visit this place. The morning was gloomy and rainy clouds were overcast as I set out to explore this historical park. But before that, the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum beckoned on the way. Museums are the doors to the history of the place and they preserve artifacts that are tough to find elsewhere. As you enter the museum, a smiling Buddha who appears to be in walking posture welcomes you. It is quite common to see Buddha in standing, reclining or sitting posture. But this was the first time I got to see a Buddha in walking posture. Curious, I started to read about the significance of the same.
Creation of Buddha walking among the people is a representation that is unique to the Sukhothai era. It is the walk of happiness after Buddha attains enlightenment. Ever since Buddha gives up his princely life and is on the path to renouncing worldly pleasures, he is found to be in meditation under the Bodhi tree. When he attains enlightenment, he sits for the first two weeks experiencing the calmness, happiness, filled with gratitude. And then on the third week to show that he has attained enlightenment, he creates a golden bridge in the air and walks up and down it for an entire week. The significance of this event is represented by the walking Buddha.
He is seen with a radiant face filled with a happy smile. His lose robe is like that of flying in the air as he walks. One hand raised in Abhaya mudra which symbolizes to protect his disciples and followers. One of his legs is raised to denote he is walking towards his followers to preach them, what he had to learn through hardships. And on his head, his hair is curled up like a flame of fire to denote spiritual energy radiating from him. Having read about his significance, I was eager to see more of it in the Sukhothai Historical Park.
Sukhothai Historical Park
Sukhothai Historical Park is easily the most beautiful, picturesque and well-maintained ruins found in Thailand. The neat green lawns, towering trees, lily ponds and lakes and amidst all this are the magnificent Buddha statues rising to the sky. The whole of this park was once a city and now just the temples and statues remain. The park is divided into multiple sections like north, south, east, west and central. The central zone is the main gated historical park. A bicycle to ride and a map in hand is the best way to explore this place.
The main temple that appears as I walk through the park is Wat Mahathat. The magnificence of this temple can be spotted from a distance itself. A seated Buddha on a raised platform flanked on either side by standing Buddhas which are nearly 12ft in height marks this temple. There are multiple Chedis around the temple. Chedis or the pagodas are the closed towering structures that can be found on Buddhist sites which usually contain the relics of kings, monks or Buddha himself. Here we can notice that the chedis are bordered on the bottom with figurines of disciples of Buddha as though walking towards him, to learn from him.
Just behind Wat Mahathat is a vast lake lined by coconut trees and the landscape reminds of our Southern India. And amongst this greenery are red brick pagodas peppered all around giving it a stunning contrast of colors. Walking across this lake to Wat Traphang Ngoen, one can see the smiling walking Buddha statue right at the entrance. I wish these statues and the entire place can come alive and tell us stories from the past as they are more than 800 years old.
Among these Buddhist ruins, we can spot a Hindu temple too, Wat Si Sawai. This temple has three towering pagodas like a Hindu temple shikhara. The three Shikaras must have housed Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Like many Hindu temples in Thailand, this one was later converted to a Buddhist temple. There are many more ruins around the park.
Step out a little away from the park and the must-visit temple is Wat Si Chum. The structure of the temple is unique. It is square like a box and has no roof. One can see the sitting Buddha through the entrance and the Buddha is of 15 meters in height. The box-like structure has a narrow staircase that leads to the roof but remains closed now. It is said that the walls inside this narrow passage had stories depicting the life of Buddha. Once inside this temple, there is no way you can capture the entire image of the sitting Buddha in one photo frame.
It was dusk and it was time to bid goodbye to Suhkothai. And I did it only after buying a souvenir of the unique Walking Buddha statue.
How to Reach Sukhothai:
Bangkok to Sukhothai is roughly about 430km apart. There are multiple luxury buses available from Bangkok and it is an eight-hour road journey. The other option is to fly into Chiang Mai. From Chiang Mai you can take a bus or van which is a five-hour road trip. Most of the VIP buses in Thailand have AC, toilets, recliner seats and steward present in it.
Where to Stay:
The bus stop of Sukhothai is close to New Sukhothai town. This is a modern town and caters to many hostels and guesthouses. But it is about 20min away from the historical park. Better to stay at Old Sukhothai which is closer to the park
How to Explore:
There are many more temples within the park and within the old Sukhothai city walls. The historical park which is gated and has many ruins inside is best explored by hiring a cycle or getting on the tram which needs a special ticket. Walking around the park exhausted me. The many ruins outside the park are best explored by hiring a motorcycle or a tuk-tuk. Do carry a hat and water bottle.