“Mai Pen Rai, We’re Off to Sukhothai!”

With our bags packed and guidebooks in hand, we arrived at the Lampang bus station on Friday afternoon, eager to depart for a fun-filled weekend with friends in Chiang Rai. A twist of fate, however, landed us on a bus headed four hours in the opposite direction and prompted a spontaneous trip to Sukhothai!

Baby Buddhas

“Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure.”

“Mai pen rai” is a common Thai phrase that translates loosely as don’t worry about it, nevermind, no problem, etc. However, its meaning is really more akin to qué será será or hakuna matata. It is a way of life here, consistent with the Thai customs of saving face and minimizing conflict, and rooted in the Buddhist idea that everything is impermanent, so nothing is really substantial.

Thai people integrate this mentality into literally every aspect of their daily life. Someone accidentally bumped into you at the crowded night market? Mai pen rai. Your students are 15 minutes late for class? Mai pen rai. Oh, you wanted to go to Chiang Rai? Well that bus isn’t coming today. Mai pen rai.

When we got to the bus station, we were informed that the schedule changes daily and we had missed the last available bus headed north. Rather than thinking our trip was ruined before it even started, we quickly sought out a Plan B. Thankfully, one of our Thai friends was there to help translate, so we asked the clerk where the next bus was headed and paid 200 Baht (less than $6) each for tickets to the ancient capital of Sukhothai instead.

The Sukhothai Kingdom flourished from the mid-13th to late 14th century, advancing Thai civilization and developing its classic styles of religious art and architecture. After a great night’s sleep at the quaint Sukhothai Guesthouse, we got up bright and early, rented bicycles and headed to the Sukhothai Historical Park to explore some of the ancient ruins.

There isn’t really too much else to see in Sukhothai, so we decided after lunch to head on to the nearby city of Phitsanulok, where we met up with another American teacher we knew from our orientation. After walking around the night bazaar, we hit up a couple of her favorite bars. Early 2000s pop hits, Japanese imported beer, tattooed bartenders and microwave popcorn sure added up to one heck of a night.

On Sunday, we checked out a few of Phitsanulok’s famous temples, one of which, Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat, houses the Phra Phuttha Chinnarat, one of Thailand’s most revered Buddha images. Second in importance to the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok, this image is unique because of the flame-like halo that traces its head and torso and turns into two dragon heads on either side of the statue. We also visited Wat Ratburana, which contains a 700-year-old gold Buddha and beautiful 19th-century murals in the chapel.

With a long trip ahead of us, we headed back to the bus station and caught a ride back to Lampang after lunch. On the five-hour trip home, I thought about how far I’ve come over the last year and a half. My uptight, anxious, OCD self would NEVER have been able to get on a bus to a random city in Thailand with no plans and no place to stay, but new and improved Hannah had a blast. It is so freeing to feel like I have the whole world at my fingertips. If I want to go somewhere, all I have to do is buy the ticket, get on the bus and go. And if I don’t get where I thought I was going, that’s okay too. Thailand is teaching me to be open minded and make the most of the journey, wherever it may take me.

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