The real ‘Big Buddhas’ – Sukhothai Historical Park


Principal Buddha at Wat Si Chum, Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand (click for large image)

I’ve just spent three days immersing myself in the cultural haven of Sukhothai Historical Park in Thailand’s north-west under the guidance of UNESCO Bangkok’s staff union representatives. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1991.

The title is a reference to the relatively new ‘Big Buddha’ touted at tourists in Bangkok at Wat Intharawian as a ‘must see’.

Sukhothai, as the grandest expression of the new Siamese Kingdom, is big in every respect. Sukhothai literally translated means ‘Dawn of Happiness.’

A five-hour excursion by bus from Bangkok into Sukhothai Province via the historic towns of Kampheng Phet and Si Satchanalai, it’s a welcome escape from the clutches of Bangkok and an insight into the once thriving, first independent capital of Siam founded in the 13th Century.

Restful forest scenery and stunning heritage-listed ruins makes this a three-day exploration if you can afford the time.

The origins of Sukhothai lead to Sri Lanka where the influence manifested in the bell-shaped stupas and bodily characteristics of the Buddhas – oval face, downward gaze and gentle smile – broad shoulders and thin waist – the appearance almost (or intentionally) superhuman – a style unique to Sukhothai – in contrast to Hindu and Khmer influence in other parts of the country.

The oversize Buddhas gaze to the east, some protected within high enclosures, others standing or seated stoically in the open air in one of many postures (Asanas) familiar to Buddhist iconography.

At night floodlit Buddhas cast eerily long shadows amidst the rugged pillars of stone and add another dimension to the viewing experience – it’s especially moving.

Floodlit Sukhothai

Adding the museums of Kampaengphet, Sawankhaworanayok and the Celadon Kiln Site Study and Conservation Centre at Si Satchanalai with a knowledgeable guide will enlighten your Sukhothai experience immensely. It’s a hands-on way of researching what you will encounter throughout the three historical parks visited.

Celadon Kiln Site Study and Conservation Centre at Si Satchanalai.

Celadon ceramic wares are unique to the area at Si Satchanalai. Typically, glazed to an off-white with darker painted decoration on the urns, bowls and tableware, they lacked the higher quality blues and finish of the Chinese ceramic ware we are familiar with today as technological advances in China were far ahead at the time.

Archaeological excavations at Si Satchanalai have revealed deep multi-layered kilns. Across the countryside near Kampaengphet town, grass-covered mounds show sites of abandoned kilns that serviced the kingdom. Heads of demons and celestial beings decorated the base of the Chedis (also known as Stupas).

Well it’s history… An example of a monk’s latrine. Here we’re guessing the function of the ‘second’ hole on the slab…

Sukhothai dancers welcomed us for our evening meal on the Sunday evening, one of the highlights for me. See the video below.

Thai dancers perform the Rabam Sukhothai (click for large image).

You may want to consider a similar itinerary on your next Thailand holiday:

Day one: Bangkok to Kampaengphet National Museum and Historical Park on the river Chae Nam Ping, reaching Sukothai in the late afternoon and checking in at the Le Charme Resort Hotel within the Sukhothai vicinity.

Day two: Visit the Sawankhaworanayok National Museum, the Si Satchanalai Historical Park, Baan Had Siew and the Gold Textiles Museum. Cater your trip to your shopaholic tendencies.

Day Three: Explore the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum and the Sukhothai Historical Park by tram. You may join the Thais and pay respect to the King Ramkhamhaeng Great Monument and then head off to purchase (more) local products.

After a last lunch in the beautiful landscape of Sukothai, head back to Bangkok.

Sukhothai environs (click for large image).

Sukhothai Historical Park (click for large image).

Related links:
Additional Sukhothai Dancers
http://youtu.be/6DQd6jubJmk

Sukhothai UNESCO World Heritage Site
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/574

UNESCO STU Sukhothai on Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.477952508883839.112977.177698522242574&type=1

Le Charme Resort Hotel (in Sukhothai Historical Park vicinity)
http://www.lecharmesukhothai.com/

Warren Field Photography
http://warrenfield.com.au/

Sources:
Sukhothai
http://wikitravel.org/en/Sukhothai

Kampaengphet Province
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamphaeng_Phet_Province

Sukhothai Buddha
http://www.buddha-images.com/sukhothai.asp

Buddha Poses and Postures
http://www.thebuddhagarden.com/blog/buddha-poses/

With thanks to STU UNESCO.

Taken on OLYMPUS E-System Cameras and Zuiko lenses.


© Warren Field 2012

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One thought on “The real ‘Big Buddhas’ – Sukhothai Historical Park

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