April 29, 2013

Sukhothai UNESCO World Heritage Site | Sangkhalok pottery and other shopping | vegan Thai food

I enjoyed everything about our recent trip to Thailand, but perhaps the highlight was our visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sukhothai. Sukhothai, was the original capital of the Kingdom of Siam, or modern-day Thailand. It dates from the 13th and 14th centuries. Rather than write about it here, I'll direct those interested in more detail to visit the UNESCO Web site for more information.

I was very excited to see the excavated architecture and Buddhas, and a little frustrated that we were on a tram tour to visit each of the main areas instead of having unlimited access to everything that caught my eye. On the other hand, it was 105˚F and realistically, if we'd attempted to walk or bike the entire site, I think we might have expired before seeing a fraction of it.

Our guide is at bottom, left.

Having a guide meant that not only did we have an ongoing commentary about what we were seeing, but we had someone to answer our questions. I wish I could remember the things we "learned" as we observed the ruins, but obviously I didn't learn them well enough.

The site covers a little less than 27 sq. miles, with some areas more restored than others.

I think I read somewhere that you could walk around the central and northern zones of ancient Sukhothai in about six hours, that is, if you didn't faint from the heat.

I think we only saw the central zone, which is the most restored area.

I found the ancient ruins mesmerizing and could easily have spent the whole day wandering from building to building.

As we passed the reservoir, Ken pointed out to me a woman bathing — you can't see her in the photo. I was practically ready to jump in there myself.

Our esteemed host.

Wherever we went on our travels, we were likely to come across a street dog. If I ever travel in Thailand again, I'll carry dog food with me at all times.

We hadn't done much shopping yet for souvenirs or gifts, so after we left the UNESCO site, our hosts took us to several places where they like to shop. We visited a jewelry store and a large clothing and textile store, but I wasn't having any luck finding suitable items.

Then we went to a nearby historical town where Sangkhalok pottery is made in ancient kilns. We could see local artisans throwing and hand-painting dishes and other objects. Sangkhalok was the name given to ceramic ware produced by a number of kilns in Sukhothai Province during the early 14th to late 16th centuries.

It was overwhelming, really, and I was having a hard time imagining how we would get any of the large, fantastic  pieces I was ogling home.

Everywhere I turned were beautiful items but I was convinced that pottery was not the most sensible thing to buy and carry on the plane.

The proprietor kept giving us little gifts of tiny celadon elephants and small bowls, and, well, that's a good tactic for convincing someone they should buy something.

What I really wanted to buy was a beautiful ceramic garden bench, but I managed to avoid doing that and started zeroing in on a plate, instead. Our hosts were buying plates and it seemed to be contagious.

This is the 14" plate we bought, along with the free stand it came with. It was wrapped really well and we safely carried it on the plane in a bag. Security is far more casual in Thailand than it is here, and no one asked us what it was or asked that it be unwrapped. It's lead-free and usable as a serving platter, and now sits happily on display  in our dining room reminding us of our trip.

We made one additional stop at a large textile shop selling traditional clothing and fabrics, where I found a couple of woven cotton throws with an elephant theme for gifts, and a cotton shirt for me.

There was just enough time left to stop for a light supper before we headed to the airport for our flight back to Bangkok. I photographed the restaurant sign in case any of you want to eat there. :)

It was a fairly typical roadside restaurant with outdoor tables. By this time it was probably only about 85-90˚ so perfectly comfortable for outdoor dining.

As usual, Ken and I had vegan food while everyone else had meat.

Also as usual, our food was delicious. (The round pieces on the plate are fabulous tofu, somehow made into a tube shape.)

This had to be the weirdest and least favorite of the Thai desserts I tried. For some reason, I found the dessert really unpleasant, though the Thai diners seemed to love it. The white part is coconut milk but it's got a gelatinous lumpy texture that really creeped me out. There are also pieces of ice. Not to mention the green things which looked like either worms or string beans — neither of which should be in dessert. The green things weren't really green beans, they  were made from rice flour and pandan, a sweet leaf that appears often as a flavoring agent in sweets. Pandan actually has a very nice taste, but the appearance and texture of the green part of the dessert was a little too much for me. It's true I'm not a big dessert person, but holy cow. Here's a link to a recipe.

If you're really curious as to how the green things are made, as I was, here's a video that demonstrates how it's done. The dessert is called lod chong. (The video is produced by a company that sells cooking supplies to which I have no affiliationbut it illustrates the process very well which is why I'm embedding it here, and you can just ignore the sales pitch, unless of course you decide you must make the lod chong at home!)

One last quick stop at a food stand to procure dried bananas and salted tamarind, then we had to say goodbye to two of our friends who live in Phitsanulok, and head to the airport for our flight back to Bangkok to collapse in our bed.

In case you are interested in more about Thailand:
Thailand post #1
Thailand post #2
Thailand post #3

Thailand post #4


  1. Ok, Andrea; I AM a huge dessert person and the Thai desserts you've showcased have not been appealing....in the least. Let's just say: it's not you, it's them! That tofu, however, looked delightful.

    I often wonder if we, as citizens of such a young country, appreciate sites and ruins more than the average world citizen who is used to such visual history at their disposal.

    1. Personally I'd chose well-prepared tofu over dessert any day. In my next post I'll highlight a Thai sweet that was amazing, so not all is lost in the dessert arena.

  2. Thanks for including that link to the Unesco site - the aerial view helped me get some semblance of bearings as I enjoyed the more macro views from your camera! What a photogenic place - I'd have wanted to explore it more, too! I was also interested in reading about the traditional Thai Buddha on the Unesco page, especially this bit: "often represented upright (walking), his clothing clinging to his body..." Well I imagine, walking around in those temps in the days before trams! Buddha or not, that's going to make a guy break a sweat.

    Speaking of clothes, that shirt you bought is going to be really pretty on you! And it sounds like ceramics are the thing to buy when visiting that area, practical or not. You made a lovely choice! Me, I'd have had to take one of those street dogs home as my "souvenir," customs and practicality be damned. Poor pooches - on top of everything else they endure, can you imagine being in that heat wearing a fur coat that you can never take off?

    At last, tofu! I knew they had to be hiding some somewhere. :-) It looks really good - all your vegan food does, except that green bean dessert. I know it should be considered "strange" only because it's unfamiliar, but I'm sorry - my cosmopolitan open-mindedness goes right out the window with that dessert. That's just weird, that is!

    1. The posts tend to get so long that including links seems like the most efficient way to keep my writing reasonable. I've read as much as I could find on all the places we visited and found it really interesting — glad you did too.

      My heart was aching for the street dogs and I wanted to take one home, too. Here's a story about them: http://huff.to/pS0PqL Here's another: http://bit.ly/wt4J72 The situation is very sad.

      Most people have cultural reactions to food, and one person's delight is another person's horror. I freely admit that my biases made dessert-eating just about impossible. Whew.

  3. Some gorgeous photos. The plate is really beautiful, and I love all the architecture! I'm with you - no string beans in dessert, thank you. Was there no fruit?

    1. Maybe I have food issues, but I couldn't appreciate the dessert, and I'm sure many of our desserts would be equally unappealing to people from Thailand. But, seriously?

      There was sometimes fruit but I often didn't like it. I'm not a big fan of papaya or guava, but do like watermelon, pineapple, pomelo. Mango was just about to come into season and wasn't available. Same for some of the more exotic fruits.

  4. I would have been mesmerized by those ruins, too. It's all so pretty! The statues alone would have me ogling for a long time.

    I adore the plate and shirt that you bought. They're both so gorgeous!

    The food does look good, but that's too bad that the dessert wasn't that great. I love how they cut the tofu!

    1. The ruins were wonderful, no question. I wanted to spend much more time than I was allowed.

      The more I look at the plate the more I like it — buyers regret has certainly not set in with any of the things I brought back. If anything, I like them more!

      The tofu must have been made in tube shapes and then cut into circles. It had a wonderful texture and flavor.

  5. Wow, you really upped the ante with this post - that looks like such a breathtaking place. I could imagine that it's the sort of place you could keep going back to and discovering more and more amazing things to see.

    I definitely think that that buying the bowl was the right thing!

    1. As much as I'd love to go back to the same places, there are so many other parts of the country I want to see — it would be a hard choice.

  6. All of the posts in this series have been fabulous!

    1. Thank you Claire. I think you should make the green worm dessert — I believe it's gluten-free. My next post, if I ever get to it, will highlight a private school we visited — not exactly like Wingra, but similar.

  7. Gobsmacked. My jaw literally dropped at all this beauty.

    Each post is better than the last. I have got to get to Thailand soon.

    I also see so many strays in my travels. It was stifflingly hot and humid in India and Nepal and the doggies were just so grateful to have a sip of water when I poured it into a crevice on the ground. Poor babies.

    1. There's a lot to see — especially if you like temples and Buddhas.

      The dogs were a sad sight. If only we could rescue them all.

  8. I can't wait until we are free to travel again! I was just thinking about a train trip we took to get from Nice, France to Rome, Italy on our honeymoon. Those were the days! Lots of stray cats in Rome, and we visited a cat sanctuary when we were there (long before my vegan food days!). Anyhoo, wonderful post!

    1. Thanks! Traveling is wonderful when you have the time. I can remember some excellent trips from my past. I've been many places around the world, but never to France, and I hope to remedy that some day.

  9. Wow, the sightseeing is amazing but I would have totally melted in the hot weather. Love the plate, glad you found something that you could carry back home. I've never care much for Chinese desserts either which I imagine is similar to Thai desserts.

    1. One interesting thing about the heat is that people don't dress like it's hot — styles for women are pretty conservative and you don't see many bare arms. I wasn't extremely bothered by the heat but by the end of the day I'd feel exhausted.

      Reading your comment made me realize I don't really know much about Chinese desserts. When growing up, Chinese restaurant desserts were either pineapple chunks or ice cream. I've got to investigate and find out more.


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