December 29: We left our Bangkok hotel at 5 AM for a 7 AM flight to Sukhothai, the ancient first capitol of Thailand.
As we disembarked our Bangkok Airways turbojet and were waiting for our luggage, we saw this beautiful chedi (otherwise called stupa or pagoda) in the middle of a pond in back of the terminal. Then as we drove out, we saw fenced enclosures with zebras and giraffes - a zoo! It turns out that this is a private terminal, owned by Bangkok Airways, so it doesn't have to adhere to the sterile designs of most airports. A good start to our day.
Our guide first took us to the Si Suchanalai Historical Park near the airport. This is one of three UNESCO World Heritage Sites near Sukhothai, all of them containing ruins of ancient Khmer (Hindu) monuments that were converted to Buddhist uses when the Khmer empire was overthrown. The mixture of the two civilizations, coupled with the decay with age, makes these sites very striking and often beautiful.
We refreshed ourselves with a hot-off-the-fire rice cake.
Climbing steep steps to the top of a hill, we found this large Buddha statue, robed by the local people.
We drove about an hour to Sukhothai through some very attractive farm country. By now it was the middle of the day and quite hot, so we decided to have lunch and rest for a couple of hours, and visit the Sukhothai Historical Park (another UNESCO site) in the late afternoon when it was cooler and the light was better. There were many interesting images to be made of Buddha statues.
The late afternoon sun gave great color and definition to the individual structures and clusters.
This great bho tree was a sacred object in its own right.
The reflections in the still water of the monuments, lit by warm late afternoon light, were magical.