We have been to Thailand twice in the past two years. We are happy to say that this time we have explored a bit more of its history. However this doesn’t mean that we missed out on the lovely beaches! It was a real surprise to discover at a very short distance from Bangkok, a place rich of ruins and history: Ayutthaya!
A little bit of history…..
Thailand’s history has not always been very happy, for example what happened here in Ayutthaya a long time ago.
The kingdom of Ayutthaya was founded by King Ramathibodi I in 1350 as the capital of his kingdom. It became the second capital of Siam after Sukhothai.
The kingdom of Ayutthaya was the trading capital of Asia thanks to its perfect location between China, India and the Malay Archipelago. By 1700 it had become the largest city in the world with a total of 1 million inhabitants. Merchants from all over the world would come here because it was considered one of the finest cities they had ever seen.
In 1767 all this changed. The Burmese invaded Ayutthaya. They almost completely burnt the city to the ground. Most of the architecture, art, and literature were destroyed. This marked the end of the kingdom.
Today you can see ruins of what it ones was. The great cultural value of Ayutthaya’s ruins were officially recognized in 1991, when it became an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Our home for a few days….
We decided to see with our own eyes what remained of such an important city for Thailand. However instead of taking one of those day tours from Bangkok, which is only 1 hour away. We booked a very spacious home at Kalamar Palace, which was at walking or rather biking distance to many of the ruins. They also gave us complimentary bikes we could leave our car and our time there by going around the ruins by bike.
We love bike riding and this was the first time we had a chance to do it here in Thailand. It was a wonderful opportunity!
The staff at Kalamar Palace was also very friendly and helpful. They gave us tips on what to see and do around there. At night we enjoyed a lovely and very big dinner in their little restaurant.
Ayutthaya area and what we saw
The area is pretty big and I think we should have stayed at least 1 extra day to be able to cover it all. However no regrets, we are happy with what we saw anyway. I did notice that there are many tours from Bangkok for a full day though. Don’t do that, come and stay here it will give you the opportunity to really get a feel for this place. It is also much less chaotic than Bangkok!
1. Wat Lokkayasutharam
As we started exploring the area close to the hotel, our first stop was to the Reclining Buddha. Though most of the original temples have been destroyed, luckily the Reclining Buddha has survived in excellent condition! For a couple of minutes the area was packed with a bus of tourists, so we started wondering around the ruins. By the time we got back they were all gone!
The Reclining Buddha, is 42 meters long and it was constructed of bricks and cement in the art style of the Middle Ayutthaya Period. A unique feature is that his head is pillowed on a giant lotus blossom. It is truly beautiful.
2. Wat Kai
Wat Kai is a bit of a drive out of the center, so you will have to leave your bikes behind for this. We had been told to go there to see lots of monkeys. But we were quite surprised by what we found…..
At Wat Kai there is a picturesque and colorful representation of the Buddhist Hell. Originally constructed during the Ayutthaya period (1351-1767), the temple was abandoned after the fall of the Ayutthaya kingdom. It was established as a residence for monks around 1992. The temple’s name Wat Kai, means Chicken Temple and comes from an epidemic that killed a large number of chickens here.
While we were in one of the temples, our kids started exploring the grounds on their own. Understandably they were a bit horrified by some of the statues they saw. Clearly you are not here for the religious experience. But rather to see some of the strangest statues and take pictures of monkeys! Although we didn’t realize how strange these statues were going to be until we saw them!
Also be careful to the monkeys, they are so used to people bringing food that they can be very greedy. They will also attack in order to get what you are holding in your hand. One monkey also tried to pull Mass’s pants off in order to get the food!
3. Wat Mahathat
Wat Mahathat, temple of the Great Relics, is almost right in the center of Ayutthaya. It was the symbolic center where the Buddha’s relics were enshrined. It was also the residence of the leader of the Thai Buddhist monks. The ancient temple in the location is believed to have been built around 14th century but was destroyed and reduced to ruins in 1767 during the invasion of Ayutthaya by the Burmese army. Many of the Buddha images and heads were vandalized. The site remained abandoned until the early 1950s, until the Department of Fine Art of Thailand began the restoration work.
This temple is also well known for the very popular Buddha head, which is embedded into a tree trunk. One of the theories is that the head was part of a sandstone Buddha, which fell off the main body. It got trapped in the roots of the growing tree and it is still very visible. Another theory instead states that a thief moved the Buddha head away from the main temple to hide it. It is believed that the thief could not move the head beyond the walls surrounding the temple. So it was left by the wall, where it got nestled in the tree roots which have grown and entwined around it.
4. Wat Phra Si Sanphe
Wat Phra Si Sanphet stands almost in the center of the main area of the old capital. It is believed to have been built by King Boromatrailokanat in 1448, although there is ample evidence that it existed earlier. It was one of the grandest temples in the ancient capital. The temple took its name from the large standing Buddha image erected there in 1503. The image stood 16 meters tall and was covered with more than 150 kilograms of gold. The Buddha was smashed to pieces and the gold melted down when the Burmese sacked the city.
The three large bell-shaped chedis have become a symbol of Ayutthaya. They were built to contain the ashes of King Boromatrailokanat and his two sons, King Ramathibodhi and King Boromatrailokanat II. They are considered typical of the Ayutthaya style. This was a royal temple used for important royal ceremonies such as swearing allegiance.
The grounds are very well maintained and it is impressive to walk around them.
5. Wat Mongkhon Bophit
Wat Mongkhon Bophit is famous for the large bronze Buddha image, named Phra Mongkhon Bophit, the “Buddha of the Holy and Supremely Auspicious Reverence”. This is one of Thailand’s largest seated bronze Buddha with its 12.5 meters height (excluding the pedestal) and fills the whole temple. It was assumed to be built during of King Srongtam kingdom. The King ordered to build a dome on top. However a thunderbolt struck at the tip of the dome which causes damage to the dome. During the fall of Ayuttaya in 1767, it was ruined by the enemy.
After that the Buddha was under the open sky for 200 years. In the mid-1950s, the Prime Minister of Myanmar gave a donation for the renovation of the temple. The restoration was completed in 1957 and it was large enough to house the giant Buddha. The statue was entirely covered with gold leaf, which gave its current splendid look.
6. Ayutthaya River Cruise
For our final evening in Ayutthaya, we were recommended to take a boat cruise on Chao Praya River. This gave us the opportunity to see a few more temples and enjoy a lovely sunset. It was truly a wonderful experience to actually see Ayutthaya also from the water!
The only issue was that it is a sunset cruise so as you stop in the different temples you have to rush to see them, because they close at 5pm and you don’t want to miss out on anything!
We arrived just in time, like lots of other tourists, to enjoy a lovely sunset at Wat Chaiwatthanaram.
Don’t forget to take a little ride on a Tuk Tuk!
If you travel around Thailand you will have a chance to see Tuk Tuks in every city. They might change in color, size or style but they are everywhere. Most of the time you have to negotiate on the price and they are always more expensive than a taxi or a grab, but they are totally worth going on at least once. Personally the Tuk tuks we saw here in Ayutthaya were my favorite though. I loved their shape and style.
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Check out the lovely hotel we stayed at Kalamar Palace!!!