One interpretation of history of human civilization is one constant epoch of conquering and colonization usually involving resources and ideology. In fact there are only a few countries that have never been colonized. Thailand was one of the select few that was never colonized (Citation). The Kingdom of Thailand has been under monarchical rule since the 1300s. Formerly the Kingdom of Siam, Ayutthaya was the capital. It was the major trade center bridging Europe, Africa, India, the Middle East, China, and Asia. This kingdom sacked Angkor Wat and though it struggled with its Burmese neighbors, it remained independent and unsubjugated by the Burmese or any other power.
The once massive capital city lasted for nearly 400 years. Sprawling temples, stupas, prangs, palaces, and monasteries lasted in one form or another until current day. Unlike Angkor Wat, the modern city exists all around the ancient city. Periodically, the cityscape will stop, and a large park will present itself with ancient ruins, then the cityscape resumed. In all there are over 50 historical archaeological sites intermingled in the city.
We had limited time in this ancient capital. We arrived by sleeper train at 4am. We had to check into our hotel, see the ruins, and leave by train the following day to Bangkok.
The ruins of the Ayutthaya were fascinating. They were much larger than I anticipated, and like the ruins at My Son, they were built from brick. Another surprising feature was that many sites had additional features such as Prangs, stupas, added after the original construction. It was a way for a more modern ruler to make their mark and contribution to an already important location.
UNESCO has recognized Ayutthaya as a World Heritage Site.
WAT YAI CHAI MONGKHON
This monastery was originally constructed in 1357, the original ubosot still stands, however its signature feature, a large stupa (chedi in Thai), was added in the 1700s. It is still an active monastery. For a price, visitors can purchase a robe and place around the many Buddha statues. The statues each have names of people who we presumed were donors to the monastery. The robs were removed in the afternoon and people could repurchase the right to put the robes on again. (Why wrap the statues in robes)?
A favorite part of this monastery for us was the moat. We fed the large amount of catfish and turtles that were nearly 2 feet long. We saw a giant Asian water monitor lizard (between 5 and 6 feet long), eating one of the turtles. It swallowed the whole turtle!
Built in 1424, the central prang remains one of the best in the city. A lot of the detail was preserved. The site was small and we were able to cover it in less than an hour. We saw many stupas as well as the remains of two ubosots (cermeony halls). All the temples were made of small bricks (like My Son), but larger and grander in scale. Portions of the stucco covering remained. Even though this was a cityscape, there were plenty of birds to admire.
Interestingly, this temple was erected for two brothers that dueled to the death fighting over rights of succession. In 1957, during excavation, the tomb was looted. The security guard who was responsible for watching the tomb was found to have colluded with the thieves and was convicted. Only some of the looted artifacts were recovered.
Build in the late 1300s, this compound was the center of attention during the time when Ayutthaya sacked Angkor Wat. Many of the looted relics made their way from Angkor Wat to be displayed here.
Next to this complex is a giant park. As we roamed the park on the way to our next destination, there were quite a few small named temples. Bats were inside and a dead dog carcass was next to another. We saw another water monitor lizard swimming in the pools looking for something to eat.
- Wat Langkakhao
- Wat Nok
- Wat Langkhadum
WAT PHRA SI SANPHET
Next to the Royal Palace is Wat Phra Si Sanphet. Three giant Stupas. Surrounding the giant three were nearly 25 other smaller Stupas. Built originally in the late 1300s, various Thai Kings added to this complex over the years.