The historic City of Ayutthaya (1351-1767), was the second capital of a flourishing Siamese Kingdom (Thailand’s old name). For 417 years from the 14th to the 18th centuries, it grew to be one of the world’s largest and most cosmopolitan urban areas and a most important center of global diplomacy and commerce during its time. It was said to be beautiful, luxurious and fabulous… think wild Paris of ancient history.
Ayutthaya was strategically located on an island in the midst of three rivers connecting to the sea. Based on ancient maps and historical records, the prosperous kingdom was laid out according to a systematic and rigid city planning grid consisting of roads, canals, and moats around its principal structures. It had a technologically advanced hydraulic system for water management which was unique in the world. It developed into a major rice farming area.
Only a few hours away from Bangkok, is the ancient Siamese capital of Ayutthaya. A walk through the ruins takes you back four centuries to a time when the city was a flourishing trade centre, finds Moeena Halim
What will two girls do in Thailand?” laughed a male friend, when I announced our intention to travel to the neighbouring peninsula. He’d recently been there himself, and it seemed quite clear why he (and the host of other Indian men we eventually spotted waiting in the visa queue at Suvarnabhoomi airport) had made the trip.
Our plans did not include the obvious ‘girly’ thing to do either. And when girl friends began drawing up elaborate lists, we’d had to confess that shopping was not going to be part of our itinerary. We were in for another load of confused ‘but-what-will-you-do-there’ stares.
At weekends, Wat Phananchoeng Worawihan in Ayutthaya province is still crowded with Thai and foreign worshippers and tourists all day after last year’s big flood. Hundreds of people were spotted paying respect to the presiding Buddha statue, Phra Buddhatrairattananayok, during the half an hour we spent there on a recent trip. The situation was similar at eight other temples in Ayutthaya and two neighbouring provinces we visited. Visiting temples in flood-hit areas is an opportunity for us to learn how many temples coped with the disaster and why a few were spared by the floodwater.
Worshippers hold saffron robes above their heads while presenting the robes to Phra Buddhatrairattananayok, the presiding Buddha image, at Wat Phananchoeng Worawihan. Phra Buddhatrairattananayok, or Sanbaogong (the protector of seafarers), is in Wat Phananchoeng Worawihan’s smaller chapel (viharn ).
The ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya, about eighty kilometers north of Bangkok, is a worthwhile day trip if you’re staying in Bangkok.
To really appreciate Ayutthaya, it helps to know a little about its history. Following Sukhothai, it was the capital of Thailand for 417 years, from 1350 to 1767. With a population of about 1 million it was the largest city in the world in 1700. It became an important trading center and won the admiration of Western visitors, who compared it favorably to the European capitals. In 1767 it reached a sudden demise when the Burmese destroyed the city.
Ayutthaya has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1991, but only remnants of its former grandeur remain. It sustained further damage from the floods that recently inundated Thailand.
The ruins at Ayutthaya do not quite equal Cambodia’s Angkor Wat in their scale and impressiveness, largely due to the extent of the Burmese sacking.