Ayuthaya Thailand

Ayuthaya was once the majestic and imposing capital of Thailand. Located on a series of islands on the Chao Phraya river upstream from where Bangkok is today, it was at the pinnacle of its influence and wealth in the 17 and 18th Century when foreigners first arrived in Siam. Today its ruins are a popular day trip or overnight river cruise from Bangkok.

The Ayuthaya court at the time was highly regarded even in Europe, with diplomatic relations extending to the French court and Louis XIV. Other countries that courted the Siamese here were England, Portugal, Japan and China. By the 17th Century Ayutthaya, or to give it its full name Phra Nakhon Si Ayuthaya, had become the cultural and financial hub of South East Asia, ruling over an empire that stretched from Malaysia to China and included parts of eastern Burma and almost all of present day Laos and Cambodia.

Known as Thailand’s capital city for 417 years, Ayuthaya is a testament to the ingenuity and decadence of King U-Thong (otherwise known as Ramathibodi I) court. Founded in 1350 the city grew at an amazing rate, largely due to the incredible trade opportunities offered in this fertile basin of the Chao Phraya River.

The rich heritage that remains at Ayuthaya is mostly founds within the Phra Nakhon Si Ayuthaya Historical Park. This city island, formed by an ox-bow and man made canal in the river, is where many of the ruins are concentrated, but the entire original site encompassed a much larger area which is today occupied by the modern city of Ayuthaya and ruins can be found scattered about the suburbs.

Originally Ayuthaya was made up of sixteen districts, reflecting some of Thailand’s more elaborate and magnificent architecture. There was a stunning blend of Khmer (Cambodian) architecture dating from the founding of this capital in the 14th century. It is characteristically comprised of constructions of brick, laterite and sandstone – making the structures incredibly durable. They are mixed seamlessly with the elegant and symmetrical designs of the Sukhothai influence.

There are many temple and palace ruins to visit but the pick of them include; Wat Phra si Sanphet which you will recognised from its three aligned chedis see on many postcards, and sited among the ruins of the largest temple complex and palace, dating from the 14th century. Wat Phra Mahathat was another important structure almost entirely razed by invading Burmese but worth visiting for its Khmer Phrang (tower). Wat Phanan Choeng is southwest of the main ruins precinct and charmingly reached by boat; it predates the main Ayuthaya kingdom and has a much revered Buddha inside. Wat Na Phra Meru is reached by crossing a bridge from the old Royal palace grounds and managed to escape destruction so it remains one of Ayuthaya’s best preserved examples and contains some prestigious Buddhas.

Over the centuries, the city went through an incredible period of prosperity, with more and more palaces and temples being built. Merchants came from across the globe to trade at the principal city of Siam. There were five dynasties of Thai kings that inhabited this city, among them 33 kings ruled Ayuthaya.

The death of King Ramathibodi II in 1529 heralded the start of a turbulent time for the city, when war began with Myanmar. After that conflict there came many more battles, notably in 1569 when the Burmese first invaded the city. In this instance the Thai king managed to repel the invaders and peace reigned in the city for a further 118 years. It was the return of the Burmese army in the time of King Rama I that witnessed the abandonment of Ayuthaya in favour of Bangkok as the Thai capital.

In times of peace the city thrived, whether in the political and diplomatic arena, or as the cultural centre of this diverse and exotic Kingdom. This is seen in the abundance of temples, over 400 of them, and the construction of three spectacular palaces.

Ayuthaya has many sections that seem to replicate the grandness and opulence of Angkor Wat. The city was essentially destroyed by in 1767 by the Burmese army, who sacked the city and destroyed many of its finest temples. However it has proved to continue to draw crowds of visitors every year. It was finally designated as a historical park in its own right, in 1976 and was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981.

New findings are always being discovered at this site and usually there is some sort of archaeological dig taking place within the city. Wander through the streets and ruined temples, passing rows of Buddha’s that have had their heads removed during the sacking of the city and gazing in wonder at the magnificent obelisks and pagodas.

Culture vultures might also want to head to the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum which displays many of the artifacts saved from sites, and gives some insightful information on the areas history.

Modern Ayuthaya is a typical Thai city that has grown up around its historical surroundings, complete with busy roads, unsightly overhead cables, noodle carts everywhere and plenty of billboards for mobile phones and Honda Dreams. None-the-less it can be a pleasant place to base yourself for a couple of days and has more than enough average hotels and guest houses.

One of the more enchanting ways to see Ayutthaya is to take one of the old wooden live-aboard boat cruises up the river for a couple of days.

Bang Pa In Palace
Another site in the area which draws the crowds is the much newer Bang Pa In Palace which is 20kms south of Ayutthaya and boasts a number of architectural styles, some of European influence. Built as a summer retreat by King Rama V in the late nineteenth century, it has some pretty lakes, one with a fairy tale type pavilion on an island within, as well as a colourful Chinese styled palace; Wehat Chamrun and the light-house inspired building known as Withun Thatsana. Wat Niwet Thamaprawat, across the river, looks more like a church than a temple. A sad story accompanies the river, for it was here that one of the King’s consorts drowned after her boat capsized and onlookers were too afraid to break a rule of touching royal consorts to come to her aid.

No comments: