A few days ago I was in Sukhothai, once the capital of a kingdom in Thailand – some would say the first Thai kingdom, though that is not technically correct – a city whose name means “rising of happiness.” Two Thai rulers founded a new kingdom there in 1238, and the dynasty lasted for two hundred years before being absorbed by Ayuthaya, a kingdom to the south. Now the old ruins lie ten miles west of the town where people live today, a collection of dirty white buildings between two rivers.
The new market town was a blip on the map, and we were there to see the ruins of the old, so we caught a truck to the historical park. The land to the west dipped down, forcing the houses up on stilts to send their walkways out to the road, and in their crevices I could see dark figures sitting and watching, watching us as we watched them. The truck we rode in had wooden planks for seats, a bed of wood like an oxcart, and it smelled like a bark, but sweeter.
The park was quiet, full of only birdsong until a group of schoolchildren rode past, pedaling their bikes from site to site, shrieking hello as they passed the falangs. Brown leaves drifted from rustling trees, filling the air with the smell of autumn. People stayed on the paths here. Most of them biked, in a hurry to get somewhere, pausing only for a moment before rushing on to the next site. Some of them gunned along on motorbikes, in even more of a hurry.
We walked, and stayed on the path until we saw everything there was to see in the center, and went out by the main gate to walk north where the ruins cost nothing to see, and men bathed in the deep green moats around them. Here no one stayed on the path. They lounged under trees or wandered the dirt paths that wound through the dry grass, which crumpled underfoot. And the dead leaves crumpled too.
The chedis (the pointed mounds in many of the temples) are supposed to look like lotus blossoms. Maybe if you squint from the side…
North of the mounds where the old city walls stood, wat Phra Phai Luang sat in the field at the center of a moat, a collapsed monument to an ancient age, or something like that. It was hot and beautiful, with the red-gold bricks casting shadows on the empty walkways and making sundials out of pillars. So we stepped on history a bit, trampling it underfoot. I’m sure it should have been a solemn occasion. But having had bicycles ride around me all day, I had “Daisy Bell” stuck in my head, and couldn’t stop singing “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do, I’m half crazy all for the love of you…” History is ruined by the present – or perhaps it’s the other way around.
(Update: I’ve also been informed that Sukhothai was used for parts of the Mortal Kombat movie, though the opening and closing scenes took place in Ayuthaya, south of Sukhothai. Thanks Matt.)