If I thought Sukhothai was ‘off the beaten track’, then Si Satchanalai took that ten steps further.
Dubbed by the Lonely Planet as a ‘suburb’ of the Sukhothai empire, Si Satchanalai is another incredible historical park housing even more incredible ruins from the 13th century Kingdom of Siam. Meaning “The City of Good People” it was built after the city of Sukhothai and became the major second town of the Kingdom in the 13th and 14th centuries.
Although I really enjoyed Sukhothai Historical Park, I loved Si Satchanalai even more, as it is a lot more rustic in its appearance and hasn’t been restored or set up for tourism quite so much as Sukhothai. According to some reports thousands of tourists visit each year, though I found that hard to believe as there was just a handful of others there the day we visited. We barely saw another soul the entire time, how wonderful!
We caught a tuk-tuk from our hotel to the Sukhothai New City Bus Station and purchased our bus tickets for 50 baht (NZ$2) each. Si Satchanalai is about 55 kilometres away and takes about an hour, simply let the driver or bus conductor know you're headed for the Historical Park and they’ll let you know when to jump off.
On unloading from the bus, we were quickly greeted by a friendly man offering full-day bicycle rental at 40 baht (NZ$1.65). We gladly rented off him, as the only other place we saw to rent bikes was right in by the park entrance 3 kilometres away - better to cycle than walk, I say!
We cycled through the modest archway, crossed the, uh - rickety - suspension bridge and first came across Wat Phra Si Ratanamahathat, an ancient Khmer style masterpiece complete with happy temple dog. This guy looked healthy and happy - like he ran the place! - but for many temple dogs this is not the case.
Three kilometres further down the road and you’ll reach the entrance to the main part of the park. See why I was glad we had already rented some bicycles?
After paying our entry fee of 100 baht (NZ$4), we spent the best part of a day cycling around Si Satchanalai and taking in the peaceful, rustic atmosphere. It was very humbling to have the opportunity to explore and absorb he enormity of these 13th century, crumbling temples almost in total solitude.
Consisting of more than forty ruins within and outside the city walls of Si Satchanalai, there is plenty to discover and occupy yourself for hours.
The only thing we wished for was more information. We visited without much prior knowledge, and although each ruin is signposted with its name and a short description of its known history, sometimes we longed for a little more detail to help those of us with poor imaginations build a better picture of what this thriving city would have been like all those 700+ years ago.
Careful not to miss the last bus back to Sukhothai, by mid-afternoon we made our way back to the simple roadside bus stop. As we demolished well-earnt ice creams and awaited the bus, we were reminded that - at least for the day - we had escaped Thailand's well-beaten track. Not another tourist to be seen, locals going about their daily lives without an interest in us, motorbikes sharing the road with tractors, cars, trucks, busses, and chickens. Yep, chickens.
With little of a plan ahead of us, the next morning we once again packed our bags and departed Sukhothai in the direction of nearby Phitsanulok in search of some more off the beaten track activities.
Phitsanulok was a strange place for us. Generally a town only frequented by tourists for transit, we thought it would make a good base for some exploration into the nearby National Parks. Unfortunately, this time it didn't work out for us. We had a hard time finding information - the first two tourist information offices we were directed to in the city were abandoned, and when we finally came across the actual tourist office at 5pm it had already closed for the day.
With the next day being Christmas Eve - and not wanting to be completely off the grid for
Santa to visit essential Christmas Day Skype sessions - we decided to give up on the idea of untouched nature this time around and instead do the polar opposite by heading to bustling Bangkok in time for Christmas.
So while we didn't end up doing much in Phitsanulok, other than spending hours trying to find information to no avail - oh and there was that shifty riverside bar we ended up having an awkward drink at - it was still rather fascinating to have a night in a truly un-touristed, provincial Thai town.
Not to mention - I would go back to Phitsanulok in a heartbeat if only for the hotel we stayed in. For just 545 baht (NZ$22.50), Hip Inn Coffee was a steal. Quirky, modern and with a funky design - and by that I mean the gaping window between the bedroom and the toilet means you're going to want to know that person very well before you share a room with them!
Seriously though, Hip Inn Coffee was a very cool hotel and the puppy complete in Santa outfit was the cherry on top. Cue puppy photo overload...
Do it yourself
It is possible to do an organised day trip to Si Satchanalai from Sukhothai, if you’re staying in the new city I’d recommend booking this through your hotel, as we found tour offices and tourist information centres very hard to come by! We came across the best information at the information centre about two doors down from EZ House Hotel, which has many english brochures, despite the minimal english spoken by the staff - but I can’t complain because my Thai skills are a lot worse! However, if you’re game for public busses it is very easy to take yourself on your very own do-it-yourself day trip.
Stay tuned for the last instalment of our Thai adventures, when we head to Bangkok! Have you visited Si Satchanalai? Do you like getting off the tourist trail?