Some 70 kms north of Bangkok, at the junction of two large rivers lies Ayutthaya; the once veritable ‘Venice of the East’ as had been told in folklore. Whether rightly or wrongly, the once sleepy, dusty city of potholed roads lists as one of the most ‘endangered’ of historical sites in Asia, nothing more than the rich trove of historical treasures it holds for the hordes of Indiana Jones’es in the world.
How to go there?
As could be expected of a city left to fall into ruin, public transportation is often creaky, irregular in frequency – unreliable at times – and where nothing else fails; left sorely to chance! Fares typically vary from 15baht for a train ride. For a bus ride it is 50 baht, 60 baht if the commute is by van and perhaps a whopping 1,200 baht when taken on a cruise boat. Taxis can also be hired for an entire day and fares depend on one’s bargaining skills.
Amongst the strewn ruins of temples and palaces in Ayutthaya, the most picture perfect is the Wat Maha That. The colour of the remaining scattered burgundy bricks harmonizes with the emerald trees against the sun and cobalt blue sky. With impressive towering prang, the monastery was built 600 years ago as centre of Ayutthaya’s Faith, it is constructed according to the ancient values that there should be a great temple around the palace. Thus it was completely burnt down by the Burmese invaders during their final assault of the capital.
With striking 37 meters long and 8 meter high reclining Buddha known as Phra Buddhasaiyart which is the biggest Buddha in Ayutthaya is the Wat Lokayasutharam. The image is dressed with a piece of gold cloth, head resting on lotus while legs overlap squarely to show the equalized toes. The position symbolizes the passing of Buddha to the Nirvana state. This huge Buddha is the only thing you can see ere as the remains of the temples are almost completely gone.
A gallant illustration of Ayutthaya-style temple with vertical pillars and false windows is the Wat Na Phra Meru. It is being introduced to the tourist as the monastery with overgrown tree which is named as The Buddha Tree by the locals. However, the highlight of this temple is the crowned Buddha in the ordination hall and the Dvaravati-style Buddha in the adjacent vihara, which beforehand stood at Wat Maha. The temple is still in use in the present as this is the only temple that was not destroyed during the Burmese invasion.
Another must-visit sanctuary in Ayutthaya is the Wat Wat Yai Chaimongkon. This temple’s splendour acquired a disposition of its own, emanating an atmosphere of being in ‘tomb raider’ movie location. The temple is alive with Phra Buddha Chaimongkol’s smile which is the most sacred Buddha image. The images not only speak of time of prosperity of Ayutthaya and freedom but it also gives a warm welcome to visitors. Outside are lodging for monks and the temple is still functioning as meditation site for monks.
Hopping around the monasteries and palaces in Ayutthaya is a soul-satisfying experience nevertheless it could be bold to explore by a ride on the royal vehicle of the kings which are the elephants. Aside from sight-seeing by an elephant ride, travellers can also have a feel of these amiable animals by posing with them for a photo. The Elephant stay also provides daily show on feeding these magnanimous beasts. Would the show and a ride is not enough, a program on Pachyderm is being offered for those who want to get up-close with these mammals.