The last time we rented bikes, in 2007 in China's Yunnan province, I ran into a parked car.
However, we decided to risk skinning my knees again, and ponied up 50 baht to get some old-fashioned girls' bikes and rode them into the Old City of Sukhothai--a park-like area preserving the central ruins of the former Thai royal capital.
The Sukhothai kingdom was dominant in the area for a few hundred years, before the time of Europe's Renaissance . It was during this time that the Thai script was invented. When Sukhothai fell, the important Thai capital changed to Ayutthaya and then later to Bangkok.
Having just come from the modern capital, we were interested to see the historical one.
The ruins of Sukhothai are now a scattering of bell-shaped chedis and enigmatic Buddha statues in a vast park of lotus-dotted ponds and shady trees. Several of the ruined temples are on man-made islands accessed by bridges. Many of the temples have been partially restored by the Thai government, while others lie in intriguing disrepair--the bones of their magnificence.
Our first stop was at the biggest of the temples, the Wat Mahathat. This wat is a cluster of chedis which sit among the shade trees and palms like giant brick bells. Large Buddha statues sit cross-legged at the base of the main chedi while small relief carvings dance between them. We liked it enough to cycle by twice, once again when the sun was setting and the golden light lit up the carvings against the blue sky. Sukhothai didn't need the gold and mirrors of Bangkok's royal structures to luminesce.
Dan and I have visited Roman ruins, European colonial ruins, Greek ruins, Egyptian ruins, Chinese and Central Asian ruins. This, though, was the first time we'd seen anything in these shapes and we enjoyed it enough to give it a second day's visit.
I felt confident enough on the bike by our second day of cycling to brave riding along the road (even harder for me because Thailand's traffic ride on the left!) and managed to resist running into any of the parked cars or even the moving ones.
The second day we checked out a temple supported by elephant statues, a monastery whose inhabitants had taken a vow of silence, Buddha's footprint, and a herd of white Brahmin cows grazing in the ruins.
We also spent two glorious days in Sukhothai doing basically nothing at all. The weather was great, we lucked into a huge discount on our hotel room and managed to steal a wireless internet connection from somewhere, and best of all, we discovered Thai street food. I don't mean the ants and fried noodles we tasted in Bangkok, either. We found a whole little street that, between 5 and 6 p.m. sold a huge assortment of extremely cheap eats.
Some of the things sold on the street were instantly recognizable--fried chicken, banana pancakes, sliced fruit. But other things we just had to try to understand what they were.
The little alien-shaped fried things? Sweet potato. The blue dumplings? Candied pork in rice dough. Our tip-top favorite, though were the banana-leaf packets. At 10 Baht per packet (about 30-35 cents US), a woman with a knowing smile (knowing we wouldn't just eat one, that is) spread sticky rice from a cheesecloth onto a sheet of banana leaf about the size of printer paper then grabbed whatever meat you pointed to with her hands and spread a little of that on top, wrapped it up and secured it with a rubber band. No forks, knives, spoons or chopsticks are given out, so Dan and I just sat on the curb watching the other food stalls and ate it with our hands. And quickly went back for more.
Finally, after we'd tried all the banana-leaf flavor combinations and spent four days in Sukhothai relaxing, seeing history and tasting Thailand; we set off for the Cambodian border.
**Click here to see our photos of Sukhothai**
**Click here to see photos of Thai food**