Ayutthaya, Thailand’s ancient capital

Yes, the blog design went through a serious makeover, improving not only readability, but also letting images stand out more. As a few readers noted, I am still catching up on older escapes and adding them gradually. This post is about Ayutthaya, Thailand’s ancient capital, which I visited during September 2013.

  • Ayutthaya (or Ayudhya) is perfect for a day trip from Bangkok and easily reachable by train.
  • Tuk tuks are ubiquitous around the city, some originally decorated. However, cycling is convenient and a healthy and cheap alternative to get around.
  • There are several Unesco Heritage temples, palaces, and museums scattered around the city and worth a look.

In 1700, Ayutthaya was the largest city in the world with 1 million inhabitants and served as the trading hub of the world attracting merchants from both East and West. It was Siam’s second capital after Sukhothai and its grandeur abruptly ended when the Burmese army invaded Ayutthaya during the Burmese-Siamese war 1765-67. Although initially the 20,000 Burmese soldiers were outnumbered 3 to 1, a tactic pincer movement allowed them to surround the city forcing the Siamese to retreat within Ayutthaya’s gates and prepare for a long and tiresome battle they’d eventually lose.

The war lasted till March 1767 and included naval battles outside the city walls during the rainy season. Eventually, the Burmese dug tunnels and mined the city walls after which they invaded the city. What followed can only be described as a Quentin Tarrantino-style slaughter during which thousands were killed and the city was burned to the ground.

September is the wettest month in Thailand with an average monthly rainfall of above 300mm. One weekend predicted clear skies and I hopped on a train to Ayutthaya to witness the remains of the ancient capital myself. The city features multiple temples and monasteries, most getting gradually rebuilt. Entry fee to the temples varies, but is generally 50-75 baht.

I first visited Wat Phra Si Sanphet, the largest temple with impressive chedis topping the landscape. Next to it, Viharn Phra Mongkol Bopit hosts one of the largest (~12.5m high) bronze Buddha images in Thailand.

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Inside Viharn Phra Mongkol Bopit, people pray and are shaking containers with fortune sticks. This practice is called kau cim (or kau chim), aka Chinese fortune sticks. The way it works is that you shake until a stick jumps out of a bamboo container. All sticks are numbered and you search for your number on a board covered with post-it-looking messages. Once you find the matching post-it, you can start deciphering the often vague and sometimes negative message. A colleague picked up the following “You are in trouble and unhappy. You face obstacles and interruption. You might have to take the fall for other people’s mistakes. No luck, you have to be patient and see it with wisdom.” Mine was more positive!

thai ice cream

Outside the temple, men are selling ice cream made with a sorbetière, a traditional ice cream maker relying on traditional laws of thermodynamics. Interestingly, you can extract heat from a sugary liquid by melting ice and eventually turn liquid in ice cream.

Image source: Pinterest.

I found Wat Phra Mahathat the most interesting temple and resembling some of the ruins of Angkor Wat which I had visited previously. The image below shows a stone head entangled in roots coiling more like reptiles than plants. Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?

Wat Lokayasutharam or the temple of the reclining Buddha features, well, features a reclining Buddha draped in yellow sheets. Ten toes, check.

In front of Wat Phu Khao Thong, a golden pagoda, a collection of colorful statues of chickens (roosters) keeps guard. The meaning of these statues is not entirely clear. Online research gives a broad range of answers such as:

“Kinda like an advertisement to get the customers’ attention that particular restaurant has the best roasted chicken” (Yahoo! Answers always proves to be extremely useful!).

“The future King Naresuan was heavily into rooster fighting when he was a prisoner in Burma.”

The latter seems most obvious, but I am open to other wild theories, too.

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