Where in the world are we?

Where in the World are We?

21 June 2011

Siam's Ancient Capital

Our final World Heritage Site visit was to the city of Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of old Siam. The city has several temple and palace ruins where visitors can take a walk into the past and marvel in the architecture of the ancient Thai rulers. There is one temple with an Angkor-style top, but the most have their own style. Once again, we were fascinated by the beauty and history of this peaceful and astounding ancient world.

We traveled in and out of Ayutthaya by train from Bangkok so we had just over 3.5 hours to explore what we could. We were able to hire a tuk-tuk for the day at a good rate and went straight to the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) office to get a map and plan a route for the day. We had read about the various Wats and the Palace and had a list of those we wanted to see. We visited 4 of the sites and were able to see much of others as we passed. They are quite spread out, so we felt good about what we selected and managed in our time frame.

The first stop took us to the Grand Palace area and a modern Wihan in which Buddhists still come to make merit and honor the Buddha within. We traveled over to Wat Phra Si Sanphet to wander through the crumbling brick structures and observe the temple chedis pointing toward the sky. The ashes of kings are kept in these chedis and they still stand tall and impressive over the grounds of the temple. There are beautiful plumeria trees surrounding the area as well, making it a gorgeous and peaceful place to walk.

One of the areas we wanted to see for months was Wat Mahathat, where a Buddha head is surrounded by tree trunks growing into a temple foundation. Pictures of it are commonly seen in many places and we saw it on a travel show as well as in a featured article in one of the in-flight magazines along our travels. It was a magnificent look at the way in which nature reclaims space. Someone had left offerings of soda cans (Mirinda, in case you were curious) so that left an interesting composition to the scene! The entire Wat itself was actually quite impressive with 100s of seated Buddha statues surrounding the outer walls of the central complex and several large Buddhas within. The seated statues are primarily headless by now, but still made for an impressive sight. We spent the longest amount of time here walking through the maze of the temple structures and imagining how it might have looked before the destruction of wars and time.

Next we selected Wat Na Phra Men because it was said it had beautifully painted ceilings. While we found the Wat and the Buddhas within to be beautiful, the ceiling looked much like several others we have seen in Wats throughout our travels. There were some really detailed paintings in Cambodia, so we expected something along those lines. At any rate, it was a nice stop and gave another style of Wat to explore.

Our final stop was to see a reclining Buddha, so we selected the one at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon. Ginnie read this was one of the largest of the area and most significant, it also happened to be closest to the train station which was a bonus as we only had 30 minutes until we needed to get back for our tickets. This Wat was really impressive, the reclining Buddha brings revelers who come to pray and make merit as well as those interested in seeing the statue up close. We were again astounded with the beautiful site and the peace of the statue and the gardens. Another feature here is a central chedi up which we climbed to see the views of Ayutthaya, as well as the grounds of the Wat. There are numerous Buddha statues clothed in saffron surrounding the walls outside the chedi as well as a beautiful courtyard with several Buddha statues facing one another. We would have loved to spend more time quietly enjoying the Wat, but our train would not wait.

The train ride itself was another adventure. It’s quite simple to do, we hopped on the SkyTrain in Bangkok then transferred to the Metro Subway which went straight to the train station. The train ride cost less than $1 US for both of us (cheaper than each of the SkyTrain and Metro tickets!) and took 2 hours since it stops a lot (we’d call it a “bred kyat” in Belize!). We took the 3rd class train, so that meant a bit of an uncomfortable seat with open windows providing our relief from the heat and humidity of Thailand in June. On the way home, evidently an earlier train was delayed and somehow we ended up on that. We asked station masters before getting on and they said to go on even though it was earlier than our scheduled departure. The conductor definitely looked twice at our tickets, but didn’t say anything. It turns out this was the best mistake we made on our trip. The train we got on was not one that stops at every point along the way, so we were back in just over an hour! After a long day of traveling and exploring through one of the hottest and most humid of days, it was nice to be back to our condo for an early night and time to relax!


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