Thailand

Behold, some pictures from our trip to Thailand. We had a great time during our 12 days there, and were fortunate to see several different parts of the country, from lazy southern beach to crazy Bangkok to a more subdued city in the north. We started off by flying into Bangkok and going directly to Hua Hin, a beach town about 3 hours southwest of Bangkok. (The country to the west there is Myanmar, which is pronounced “BUR-ma.”)

There is little doubt that you would like to see a map.

 

We did only a little—a very little—exploring of the town itself since mostly we were there to enjoy this view.

Nothing wrong with that.

Nothing wrong with that.

 

After much relaxing and reading of books, we headed back to Bangkok. Bangkok is a very, very big city, with the efficient public transportation system and traffic problem typical of big cities. And, of course, some fabulous temples and other fun stuff. To wit:

 

We then headed north to Phitsanulok, which is in the southern part of northern Thailand. (Pedantic aside for those who care: this more or less rhymes with “hits a new low.” The “ph” at the start, as in “Phuket,” is like a really aspirated /p/, as far as I can hear. It’s definitely not a /f/ sound, since it’s not a transliteration of Greek phi.)

Anyway. Are you just dying for a map?

 

Apparently this is not a super-popular destination, or at least not among people leaving Bangkok. Naresuan University was hosting a conference at which I was doing a teaching workshop, hence our travel there, but it’s also a good place—maybe the best place—from which to visit the ruins of Sukhothai. But when we were leaving Bangkok, we told the concierge at the hotel that we needed a cab to the domestic airport. He nodded and asked, just to be polite, “Heading to Chiang Mai?” (This is a very popular and, we’re told, beautiful city in the north.)

“No,” we said. “Phitsanulok.” He stared at us hard for a second. “Why?” Our answer, “for work,” seemed even more baffling. Later we had essentially the same conversation with the cab driver, except that the cabbie substituted raucous, sputtering laughter for incredulity and also noted that “the lady will not find very good shopping.”

First, however, a few views of and from the Phitsanulok airport.

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The Phitsanulok airport (PHS). Yeah, finding our driver wasn’t too difficult.

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Nok Air flies from Bangkok to Phitsanulok. Isn’t that just the cutest airplane you’ve ever seen? Evidently people who often fly Nok call it “No OK Air,” but we had no trouble. Our 40-minute flight included meal service: a small cup of water and an Auntie Annie’s pretzel. On United, that would cost $14, exact change only.

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For unclear reasons, there is one of these ancient, rusty behemoths permanently installed at either end of the Phitsanulok runway, kind of like decorative aeronautical bookends. If they are meant to inspire confidence, well, they fail.

 

And here’s what downtown Phitsanulok looks like.

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It’s a very un-touristy town that had some lovely and important things to see and two of the best restaurants we’ve eaten at this year. I actually didn’t get to see many of the sights because I was at the conference, but Cate took these pictures:

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Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahatat Woramahawihan, built in 1357 and home to one of the most revered Buddha images in Thailand.

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Also Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahatat Woramahawihan.

 

On the day before the conference, one of the organizers very kindly took us on a day-long trip to two fantastic sights near Phitsanulok. The first, Si Satchanalai historical park, is about a 2.5-hour drive north of the city. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, and there was practically no one there (apart from a few school field trips). Amazing.

 

One of the most striking things we saw was this dramatic Buddha sculpture. It’s contained within four walls and has only one small access point at the front. That door, though, is really more of an opening all the way up, which means that you can see part of the Buddha from a distance. To see the entirety, though, you have to enter the opening, at which point the Buddha towers over you. Very striking, very moving.

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On approach.

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Finally, we went to Sukhothai, the ruins of the city that was the capital of Thailand in the 13th and 14th centuries (and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site). There are several temples arranged in three big groups. Unlike the Angkor temples in Cambodia, these are quite close together, and renting bikes allows you to very easily cruise from one to another.

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