If you haven’t already noticed a theme in my blog posts, I am very intrigued by the contrast between the old and the new of Thailand, especially made evident when looking at the temples around here.
We took a weekend excursion to Sukhotai which is located a few hours south of Chiangmai (I can only give a rough estimate: it’s hard to be exact with time when you’re packed into a van for periods of time longer than 3 hours).
On the way there we got to take some breaks to stop at some more temples. One thing that I’ve started to realize as I’ve visited more Buddhist temples is that though they may be dated back to a certain time, there are “layers” of the temples as things are gradually added on and updated over the years. So when people talk about how old a temple is, they are usually referring to the age of the stupa in the middle which is the key aspect of the temple. There are usually many other buildings within the lot where there are other Buddha statues and places to worship and meditate, but the stupa seems to be central to everything else and typically has some sort of relic from Buddha within it. Pictured below is a stupa from Wat Prathat, one of the temples that we visited on our way down south.
Most stupas will have this same basic form to them and are also typically plated or painted in gold.
Another temple that we visited on our way is called Lampang Luang, dating back to the 13th century. You can see in the picture below that it is built in a similar style to the one at Watprathat, though there are also some differences between them in terms of decoration.
After hopping back into the van for a few more hours and probably eating more cookies than is healthy for a single person to consume in a day we finally made it to Sukhothai! The next day we got up early and rented some bikes to bike around the lot that Sukhothai is located at. Back in the 1200s Sukhothai used to be the capital of Siam (the original name of Thailand for most of its history).
The importance of Sukhothai was evident by the massiveness of the ruins and ornate style of carving that you could still see on some of the ruins. It was an interesting feeling to be walking through the area, thinking about what it might have been like had I been walking in the same area hundreds of years prior.
These temples throughout various regions of Thailand tell a story that helps relate the difficulty of uniting the Thai people. As with many civilizations, there were many kingdoms in what is current-day Thailand that have all waxed and waned and carry with them their own unique aspects of culture. In the 1930s, the leader of the country officially changed its name from Siam to Thailand in an effort to better unify the country and create a distinctive Thai identity that they could be proud of and associate themselves with. He also did it to marginalize some of the ethnic minorities that were living there at the time, so yeah also some not so great things associated with the reasoning behind this change. Being in Thailand today you still see people pride themselves in their regional Thai history and there are some other dialects that are still spoken in more rural regions, but being in big cities such as Chiangmai you don’t really seem to pick up on these nuances quite as much.
Also, on a sidenote, something that I learned in my Thai class this week is that the number 5 is pronounced “haa” in Thai. So when people text they sometimes type “555” for “hahaha.” This blew my mind. Don’t be surprised if you see my typing this in future posts– hopefully I can get this to spread more to other parts of the world 😉