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Saturday, July 11, 2015

Thailand - Going to ruin in Ayuthaya

A brief history lesson, courtesy of Lonely Planet's Discover Thailand guide:

Between 1350 and 1767 Ayuthaya was the capital of Siam. As a major trading port during the time of the trade winds, international merchants visited and were left in awe by the temples and treasure-laden palaces. At one point the empire ruled over an area larger than England and France combined. Ayuthaya had 33 kings who engaged in more than 70 wars during its 417-year period; however, fine diplomatic skills also ensured no Western power ever ruled Siam.

The last of the empire's battles was in 1767, when an invading Burmese army sacked the city, looting most of its treasures. What was left began to crumble until major restoration work began. In 1991 Ayuthaya's ruins were designated a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Many nations have their "golden age" from eras gone by, and in Thailand's case a strong argument could be made for the Ayuthaya Kingdom. It was Monday the 21st of June when we took a taxi from our hotel to Bangkok's retro Hua Lamphong train station to book our tickets for a day trip. Note the prominent portraits of the royal family - at 8:00 a.m. sharp, everyone stood at attention and faced the pictures, as the Thai national anthem played. Everyone, that is, except my wife, who was too absorbed in Line to realize what was going on until the song was halfway through:

Getting ready to board the express. As a day in Ayuthaya meant exploring more temples, I covered myself up again, despite the stifling heat:

Though it was slow going in Bangkok's city limits, the train eventually picked up speed as we entered the countryside, and we rolled into Ayuthaya mid-morning. A quick ferry ride across the river, followed by a short trip in a songthaew, found us at the Elephant Taxi Kraal. My daughter was better prepared for the sun this time than she was the day before:

The elephant ride was bumpy, and I frequently felt as though I were going to slide off our beast. It was also touristy, and the mahouts paused to extort tips from us about halfway through, but you can't go to Thailand without going for an elephant ride, so what can you do? Amber certainly enjoyed the experience:

After dismounting, we walked over to the Wat Phra Mongkhon Bophit Buddhist temple. The 17 meter-high (56 feet) bronze Buddha image housed within the sanctuary hall is one of the largest in Thailand:

Next door to Wat Phra Mongkhon Bophit is Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Ayuthaya's most famous ruin. Dominated by three stupas known as chedi, the temple was built in 15th century and was the largest in the city. It housed a 16 meter-high (52 feet) standing Buddha that was covered with 250 kilograms (551 pounds) of gold; the statue was melted down by the Burmese invaders who sacked the temple:

A model gave an idea of what the temple looked like before the Burmese came to town:

A morning of elephants and ruins worked up our appetites, so stopped for lunch in the market between Wat Phra Mongkhon Bophit and Wat Phra Si Sanphet. The Thai-style milk tea I ordered with my lunch was prepared by a gentleman who had once been a classical Thai dancer, at least judging by his image on the cup. The newspaper clippings at his stall, and the pictures of him being taken by Thai visitors, also gave clues as to his celebrity status:

My daughter was holding up pretty well in the mid-afternoon heat, but the same couldn't be said of my wife. Pamela decided to retreat to the comfort of an air-conditioned cafe while Amber and I explored the striking ruins of Wat Phra Mahathat. The temple dates back to 1374 and the ruins IMHO were hella photogenic:

There were rows of headless Buddha images. Blame it all on the Burmese?:

The most famous sight in Wat Phra Mahathat is this sandstone Buddha head entangled within some tree roots:

My daughter enjoyed poking around the destruction:

Explorations completed, Amber and I retreated to the cafe where Pamela had literally been cooling her heels. Never did a cold Thai milk tea taste so refreshing:

Ayuthaya has a lot more to offer than just the few places we visited and is worth an overnight trip from Bangkok, but as our time in Thailand was limited to a week, we hopped in a songthaew to go back to Ayuthaya station, and then returned by train to Hua Lamphong. I took a few pictures on the ride to Bangkok:

That evening we strolled over to the Khaosan Road area for dinner:

The following morning we checked out of the Lamphu Treehouse, where we had stayed our first three nights in the country. Before doing so, my daughter and I went up to the roof to have a look:

A small Buddhist shrine in the courtyard of the hotel:

While waiting for the taxi to take us to the airport, Amber and I took a walk back over to Khaosan Road for a final look:

A shop selling Thai flags and portraits of the royal family

Tuk-tuks lined up on Khaosan Road

We would return to Bangkok later in the week. But for the next three nights the three of us would be enjoying the comforts of Ko Samui island. Film at 11...

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