She was collecting snails
"Hello! Sawasdee kap! Hello!"
It was midnight on Friday and there I was at the spiked steel gates of the Orchid Hibiscus Guesthouse just outside the ancient city. Next to me was my slightly inebriated "taxi" driver. Can you call a beaten up old Toyota pick up truck a taxi? This man, Non, told me he loved me but I think this was just because I had bought him a can of "Chang" beer when we stopped at the 7/11 store.
"No, you don't love me! You love her!" I said, pointing at his slightly inebriated missus leaning from the passenger seat in her straw coolie hat.
Non was yelling with me. It was a midnight serenade. So much for Booking.com's promise that this little hotel had "24 hr reception" and so much for the customer note I had added to my booking - "...arriving around midnight."
I was beginning to have awful visions of sleeping in toothless Non's pick up truck down some Buddha-forsaken dirt track in the middle of Thailand when glory be, the awakened receptionist sauntered to the gate with a key. Saved.
Lord Pudding's chamber
In the morning, after a breakfast that included wild honey, delicious fat little bananas and coconut rice cakes, I rented a red bicycle and began pedalling around the ancient mini-kingdom I had come to see.
How glorious it must have been - a veritable Garden of Eden in the heart of South East Asia, long before there were named countries like Thailand, Cambodia or Burma. It seems that King Ramkamhaeng was a benevolent monarch, ahead of his time. He encouraged trade and allegedly created the first written form of Thai but I doubt that he laboured in the sun with rocks or bricks to build the temples and meeting halls that grew up in great preponderance in and around the moated city with its huge earthen walls.
Sukhothai bloomed for two hundred years - from 1238 to 1438 before rule and influence shifted south to the city of Ayutthaya which was the Siamese capital for a further three hundred years.
Ramkamhaeng's representatives visited China, India and Sri Lanka. Trading links were established but perhaps the most significant import of all was the Buddhist faith, coloured with flecks and traces of Hinduism that came from the Indian subcontinent, transforming itself as it travelled into a Siamese version of the faith which to this day continuously reinvents itself.
In the early evening, a security guard allowed me back into the central area of the "historical park" to take photos of Wat Mahathat, eerily illuminated in the black darkness but I couldn't get close because of a pack of gnashing curs who appeared to be ganging up on me like wolves of yore.
Wat Mahathat at night
And then as I pedalled homewards to the Orchid Hibiscu,s down a long dark tarmac road, another slavering hound ran out of the darkness at me barking as if it had emerged from The Baskervilles. "Yaa!!" I yelled, pedalling faster than Sir Chris Hoy on amphetamines. The vicious mutt began to tire at the very moment that the pressure of my muscular energy caused my bike chain to come off. I free-wheeled another hundred metres. The Lord Buddha himself knows what might have transpired if the chain had come off further back down the road. I would have been dog meat.
At 6.30 on Sunday morning I was up swimming in the little hotel's twenty five metre pool before another forray into Sukhothai's open-air archaeological treasure house, a fascinating visit to the Ramkamhaeng National Museum and a seven hour bus journey back to Bangkok. Glad I went, in spite of those damnable dogs!
Wat Si Chum