Today Ally and I took a trip back in time. Back to the ancient city of Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya was the capital of Thailand for 417 years from 1350, when it was founded by King U-Thong, to 1767 when the Burmese invaded and burned the city down.
What wasn’t ancient about the day though was our transportation. Ayutthaya is located about 76 kilometers north of Bangkok which took about an hour and a half to get there by a nice spacious air conditioned bus. We traveled around the city by this bus, visiting 5 different sites.
Many magnificent ancient ruins are found here. The ruins of Ayutthaya have been included in UNESCO’s list of world heritage since 1991. The name Ayutthaya means “the invincible city”, interesting name as the remarkable ruins still stand to this day. It is impossible to see all the ruins in just one day unfortunately, so we view some of the most popular and important ones.
Note: Wat means temple in Thailand
First stop: Wat Phukhao Thong
This Wat was built in 1387 by King Ramesuan, second and fifth king of the city of Ayutthaya. However, the chedi or stupa (the dome part of the Wat) was not constructed at this time. The original Mon style chedi was built by King Hongsawadi (Burma) in 1569 to commemorate a victory against the Thai after their invasion of Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya eventually gained its independence back and Price Naresuan, who became King 1590, tore down this chedi and built a Thai style chedi on the old base in 1584. The chedi was renovated in 1744 and this is the chedi that remains today.
To put this image into perspective, the chedi is about 80 meters high with a 2 kilogram gold ball at the top.
Visitors were able to climb the stairs halfway up the Wat, and without hesitation, due to my love of heights, I started up the Wat. Across from Wat Phukhao Thong lies a contemporary Buddhist Temple, and living quarters for the monks. The view from the top of the stairs of the Wat allows you to see the entire grounds.
Next stop: The Temple of the Reclining Buddha in Wat Lokayasutharam
The largest Reclining Buddha in Ayutthaya is enshrined here. The Buddha is 37m long and 8m high! He is covered in a yellow cloth, his head is resting on a lotus, and his legs and feet overlap squarely. The Reclining Buddha represents Buddha’s serene and composed posture before leaving this world and entering “nirvana”.
There is a table located in front of the Buddha, where people can give offerings, usually flowers or incense.
The Buddha has had to be restored on a number of occasions in modern times, most recently due to the floods that left the historic area underwater for over a month. Ally and I admire the statue and it’s remarkable size, snap some photos, and walk the ruins located just behind the Reclining Buddha before it’s time to head to the next destination.
Next stop: Wat Mahathat
Built in 1374 during the reign of King Borom Rachathirat I, third king of Ayutthaya, this Wat served as the religious center of the kingdom and was the seat of the Supreme Buddhist Patriarch. Many Buddhist statues were seen here, which are all now headless because the Burmese decapitated them during their takeover in 1767.
Wat Mahathat is best known for the iconic image of a Buddha head entwined in the roots of a tree. The story is not completely known how the head got there, however some believe that the head was dropped there by the Burmese as they were decapitating all the Buddhas and destroying the city.
After viewing this Wat we are all starving and exhausted due to the blistering heat today. We head over to a local restaurant for lunch and eat a basic Thai lunch, rice and chicken in sauce. I also try a Thai fruit called longan. You peel off the skin and eat the inside. The fruit is sweet, which I like.
After lunch we journey to our last Wat of the day, which happens to be my favorite.
Next stop: Wat Phra Sri Sanphet
Located within the Royal Palace grounds, this is the largest temple ruin in Ayutthaya. Three chedis still stand here, which are believed to keep the ashes of 3 Kings; King Trailok, King Borom Ratchathirat III, and King Rama Thibod III. The photo of the 3 chedis has also become a symbol of Ayutthaya.
When the Burmese sacked the city in 1767, all was destroyed in this Wat except for the 3 chedis. Wat Phra Sri Sanphet looks to be one of the best preserved in the kingdom. The view is breathtaking and I could sit here all day and imagine the Wat back in 1491.
Some of the group heads home after viewing this last Wat, however we have one more stop, a Palace.
Last stop: The Summer Palace, Bang Pa-In Palace.
Bang Pa-In is a small town about 20km south of Ayutthaya. The Palace was formally used by the Thai Kings. It was constructed in 1632, however remained empty until the Palace was revived by King Mongkut around 1851-1868.
Divine Seat of Personal Freedom is the most beautiful sight at the Palace. It is the pavilion that is located in the center of the complex, right in the middle of the pond. This is the only structure here built with Thai style.
After walking around the Palace for almost an hour and viewing the different buildings, we stop in a little shop in the front for ice cream before the journey back to Bangkok.
Our bodies are completely exhausted from the long day, however our minds are fascinated by the many ruins we have seen today, and by imagining the ancient lives in our journey back in time.