Dawn of Happiness

Trip Start Feb 17, 2007
Trip End Apr 13, 2012

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sah wah dee kop,

Thailand is known as "The Land of 10,000 Smiles."  The gracious nature of the Thai people have helped their country become a leading holiday destination for tourists. 

But the ancient Thai civilization from the 14-18th centuries wasn't quite so.  They fought to the end with neighbors Burma, Laos and Cambodia.  In each case, the victor sacked the capital and burned it to the ground.  Take no prisoners meant rape and pillage too.

The largest competing empire was the Khmer, to the east.  Their apex was reached in the early 16th century.  The Khmer empire included most of present-day Thailand, Laos and south Vietnam.  The northwest border reached as far as Sukhothai, in the upper Chao Phraya River Valley.

A Thai ascendency necessitated a Khmer descendency.  The first city to regain its independence was Sukhothai.  The Dawn of Happiness.

The Thais soon sacked the entire Khmer empire, burning its capital, Siem Reap, to the ground.  Artists, dancers and intellectuals from the royal court, however, were spared and taken to Ayutthaya.  A lot of Thai culture today originated from the Khmer empire.

The Thais also stole a famous icon of Southeast Asia - the Emerald Buddha.  It's known here as "the palladium of Thailand" which watches over its people.  The original is kept in safe-keeping, while a jade replica is displayed in Bangkok's royal palace. 

The Emerald Buddha is well-traveled, having also been to Vientiane, Laos and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) among other places.  But it was originally designed and crafted in Ayutthaya according to the Thais (and many historians).  So, in this case, the Thais were just reclaiming one of their own artifacts.

Remains of the Khmer Empire can still be found near Sukhothai.  Phra Phang Sam Yot is a well-preserved Khmer temple from the 13th century in Lopburi.

One way to distinguish Khmer from Thai is architectural.  Khmer construction utilizes primarily laterite and sandstone.  And its design features numerous stupas.  The similarity to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, the largest and most famous Khmer temple of all, is quickly obvious.

Another clue is the large number of primate inhabitants.  Visitors to Sam Yot are greeted by curious monkeys well before stepping onto the monument.  Approximately 50-70 live there permanently.

Be careful taking pictures around these cheeky animals.  The monkeys here, just like their cousins at Angkor Wat, are quick to take advantage of distracted tourists.  In Siem Reap, I lost a bag of rambutan before I realized what had happened. 

Here, I was lucky to leave with only dirty handprints and footprints on my back side.  One passenger departed with only one gold earring.  She initially lost both, but was able to bribe one monkey to return it.  The ticket attendants actually carry sticks to help swat the animals away.

For architecture enthusiasts, Sukhothai is a goldmine.  The city boasts two large outdoor historical parks featuring restored wats, chedis, shrines and kilns.  Sukhothai HP is over three square kilometers and Si Satchanalai HP is 45 square kilometers.  As much as I like walking, both sites are better visited by bicycle or motorized vehicle.

Sukhothai is a symbol of Thai today - the beginning of happiness, smiles and their own independent kingdom.

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