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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Temple Hopping at Ayutthaya



Ariadne and I woke up at around 5:30 am at our lovely hostel, the Shambara Boutique Hostel in Khao San Road, eager-beaver for our day trip to the ancient city of Ayutthaya, which is situated approximately 76 kilometers north of Bangkok. We took a cab from Khao San Road to Victory Monument (81 Baht) and from there, we took a van (a spacious and comfortable Toyota Commuter - 60 Baht) for an hour trip to Ayutthaya. We arrived at Ayutthaya at around 8:30 am and started our temple hopping aboard a motorized 3-wheeler Tuk-tuk, which was driven by the middle-age woman who quickly approached us as we got off from the van. We agreed on a deal for her to take us around and visit at least 10 temples for 500 Baht. (for two persons already). 

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Wat Yai Chaimongkhon
Ayutthaya was a Siamese Kingdom that flourished around the time it was the capital of Thailand from the years 1350 until 1767. The kingdom was founded by King U Thong (1314-1369), who reigned from 1351 to 1369 and the city was then ruled by a succession of 33 kings from different dynasties, until the city was attacked and conquered by the Burmese in 1767. A city-wide burning by the Burmese reduced the city in chaos following 14 months of fighting, leaving the once mighty Ayutthaya Kingdom in total abandon. Today, the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya has become a major tourist draw in Thailand and was shortlisted as among the World's Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

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Wat Phanan Choeng
The weather was a bit colder than usual and along with the sunny sky, it made the weather perfect for exploration. I was just more than a month removed from a similar temple hopping trip in Siem Reap in Cambodia still, I was anticipating with delight whatever visual feast and new information these temples and ruins would provide. As we rode along the city road of Ayutthaya I can see its many similarities with where I came from, only here - you can see ruins of a stupa along the road and temples all over. History has really left an invaluable mark in this city and that makes Ayutthaya along with a few other cities, a place to indulge and savor new historical knowledge.

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Wat Chai Wattanaram
We first visited Wat Yai Chaimongkhon, initially constructed as a place for meditation by King U-Thong. It bears the remnants of its troubled history, highlighted by the still fine formation of its giant chedi. Visitors can go inside it, which is also the tallest building in Ayutthaya. There is a stairway on which we climbed, although wary of the small steps, we reached the top and saw a great view of the surrounding stupas located around the temple. There is also a reclining buddha found on this site, something we almost missed out if not for a photograph we saw near the exit.  Next up was Wat Phanan Choeng, which is located just near the Chao Phraya River. This temple has been renovated and still in use and houses the largest ancient bronze statue of the Buddha in Thailand (known as Luang Po To) , built in 1325, it is the oldest in Ayutthaya.

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Phra Budhasaiyart (the Reclining Buddha)
Wat Chai Wattanaram is another Buddhist temple and from the looks of it, even from a distance, is one of the best in Ayutthaya. It was built in 1630 upon orders by King Prasat Thong and constructed with heavy reliance on Khmer architecture, thus reminding me of the temples I saw in Siem Reap back in November. Too bad, at the time we went there, visitors are still off limits to enter inside this Wat, since restoration works and draining of waters are still being done on the ruins because of the recent flooding in Thailand. The man manning the gates showed us the mark of the floodwater and it was up to my neck. I could not imagine the extent of the damage the flood really did to this city. The Phra Budhasaiyart or the Reclining Buddha was our next stop. as the marker suggests, the reclining Buddha "represented the moment at which a giant named Asurindarahu was unwilling to pay respect to the Buddha because he was so proud of his huge body. The Buddha desired the giant to be less arogant, so he turned himself as much larger as the giant". It was a simple reason yet full of lesson - something that teaches us the value and importance of being humble to whoever we may meet in this lifetime.

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Wat Phu Khao Thong
Wat Phu Khao Thong also known as the "Golden Mount" is the only temple we visited that has that 'black and white' appearance as seen from the distance. We climbed up its Chedi and again saw a wonderful view of the surrounding. It was a mixture of Ayutthaya and Burmese architecture of the period it was built. The monastery was first constructed in 1387 and later in 1569, a huge Pagoda was added as a symbol of the Burmese army's victory over Ayutthaya.

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Wat Phra Mongkol Bophit
Wat Phra Mongkol Bophit houses a large bronze Buddha that was previously burned by the ransacking Burmese. The Buddha was restored back to its old crowning glory in 1956. A few walking distance from here, The Royal Palace and Wat Phra si Sanphet lies in a beautiful set of ruins. Used as the Royal Monastery from 1350 until 1448, the temple has three chedis that represents that three royal relics of the kings of Ayutthaya. We took more time walking around this ruined compound more than the others as there are lots to see and stare into. 

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Wat Phra Si Sanphet
I told Ariadne these ruins kinda are similar, though different in some aspects with those of Siem Reap's, but I told her it doesn't matter, because it makes us relive that interesting part of history that I am now starting to discover and would love to know more about. Nobody taught me all about these back in school, but through traveling, I was able to realize that the world is really filled with opportunities to learn new things, especially with history and oriental religions, of past kingdoms that came and gone.

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Wat Mahathat
Wat Mahathat - believed to be first constructed in 1384 by King Rachatirat, is famously represented by the eerie and mysterious image of a head of a Buddha seemingly trapped between the thick trunk of an old Banyan tree. A stunning image that has since become an icon of Ayutthaya. It is now a sacred site, and visitors wanting to take a photograph with the head of the Buddha should do so, only in a kneeling position. Around the site, a row of headless Buddha statues adorn one side of a ruined wall. Stupas stood hollowed around at almost collapsing state. 

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Wat Ratchaburana
It was past lunchtime already, but whose keeping track of the time? we're kinda going through with the temple hopping in a blaze and keeping tab of the clock is the last thing we had in mind. It has been a great incursion to this ancient city, seeing all these ruins, the leftover of past kingdoms and once mighty civilization was truly a great opportunity. Surely, at that moment - I feel like it defeats lounging on a deserted beach somewhere. 

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Sitting next to Wat Mahathat is Wat Ratchaburana (be careful with your pronunciation - you might utter "Wat Buratcha" or something), constructed in 1424 upon the orders of King Boromajara II, to serve as the cremation site of his two elder brothers who engaged in a duel for the throne. Wow, what a passionate bunch of people, giving up their lives in the name of the kingdom they all wanna rule. Interesting isn't it? The Chedi has beautiful detailed carvings. Atop and inside the Prang you can see the crypt and even go down the staircase if you dare, it will then lead you to a couple of rooms with paintings slightly visible on its walls.

We wrapped up the whole tour just before 2 pm at which we were then directly taken back to the van terminal. After a couple of hours we found ourselves lounging at our hostel and eating Pad Thai and fish rolls, glad that our short trip to Bangkok has even taken us all the way to the ancient city of Ayutthaya. Through its ruins, we were also able to go back in time - figuratively and through our imaginations.

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