Worried about how my travel would be affected by upcoming Songkran celebrations, I left Chiang Mai a few days earlier than originally planned. I headed down to the bus station, where I’d been informed, much to my frustration a few days before, that one can’t book a bus in advance. Luckily, I was able to get a seat on the spot, leaving right away. I met a couple of American girls who are studying development for a few months in Thailand; they told me a little bit about rural communities trying to stop dam building, and homestays with protective Thai families.

A few hours later we found ourselves in Sukhothai, a small town on the River Yom, situated a dozen kilometers from historic old Sukhothai, capital of the Sukhothai kingdom centuries ago. The old town is now a historical park, a roughly three-kilometer-square rectangle, whose old city walls are overgrown. The many wats in this and adjacent parks are spread out over groomed parkland, and the best way to see them all is by bicycle. Spending several hours there, an inner child within me found glee in pedaling about, amongst old temple ruins, some with grand moats along their perimeters. Riding around, it is hard not to imagine what the city looked like inhabited, bustling with newfound independence from the Khmer empire. With images such as these I am reminded of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, in which Marco Polo describes, in exacting detail, the many varied cities within Genghis Khan’s kingdom, and the emotions they each evoke.

There is little more to see in this town, and its manageable size provided a welcome respite for my wallet. [I do have to second Lonely Planet’s recommendation of the Thai restaurant in town, where, seated among antiquities, you can sample various Thai herbal liquor remedies with your meal.] After a day here, it is time for me to catch an afternoon bus down to Ayutthaya, another important capital city in Thailand’s history.

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