We left Bangkok from the Hua Lumpong Bangkok Train Station and headed north to the ancient capital of Ayutthaya.
Ayutthaya or Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya was the ancient Thai capital for 417 years. It was founded in 1350 by King U-Thong after the Thais were forced out of the North by their neighbors. It became the trading capital of Asia as it was an excellent location between India, China, and the East Indies. It was considered the finest city by European merchants. There were 33 kings, from different dynasties, who ruled Thailand until the demise of Ayutthaya 1767 by the invading Burmese army that sacked the city.
Ayutthaya is on an island surrounded by three rivers – the Chao Phraya River, the Lopburi River and the Pa Sak River. The historical park is on the island but there are several temples around the rivers that run the perimeter of the island.
David found the room that we stayed at in Ayutthaya on Airbnb. It was advertised as a single room in the back of a family-owned restaurant. It was located close to the Historical Park (a ten minute walk) and looked like a very interesting place to stay. Plus, it was only $14 a night and that included breakfast!
What an amazing and wonderful experience it turned out to be. The owners, Tom and Niki are amazing host and very, very interesting people! We arrived as strangers but left as friends!
Tom is Russian born but spent his teen-age years living in Switzerland where his mother was a diplomat for Russia. Tom was always fascinated with the history and culture of the orient. He pursued this interest by graduating with a master in Thai studies and shortly after graduation, he moved to Thailand. His life journey took him to live in Canada for a brief stint and then Russia. It was in Russia that he met Niki, a Thai national who was living and working there.
They fell in love, married and eventually moved back to Thailand. Although they own property in the southern part of Thailand, near the islands, they are living in Ayutthaya. Niki runs the restaurant and Tom is very much an entrepreneur. Since he speaks four languages – Russian, Thai, English and Lao and he is in high demand as an interpreter. He teaches part-time at the University and is involved in exporting coconut products.
They are such kind and delightful people who could not do enough to make our stay enjoyable. Niki is a fantastic cook! We ate all of our meals at their restaurant. The last night, we even got a cooking class with her showing us how to make Pad Thai and wide noodles with sautéed vegetables. Tom was always available to explain any questions we might have regarding customs and culture of Thai people, arranging tours and introducing us to interesting people from the town.
Staying in back of the restaurant was sort of like a “homestay” as we really experienced how this Thai couple lived. Our room was sufficient for the amount of time we were in it. The bathroom was an experience…there was a small hole drilled in the bottom of the wall to allow water to drain from the shower. It wasn’t covered with a screen and each night, there appeared a new “critter!” The first night, it was a huge spider…I mean huge! It was just a tad smaller than the size of my hand and that is no exaggeration. The next night, was a toad/frog that I almost stepped on. It was in the middle of the night, that I was heading to the bathroom and there was a dark rug on the floor. That darn little guy was sitting on the corner of the rug. Fortunately, the flashlight on my iPhone hit him enough that I spotted him before stepping on him! The third night was a small salamander and a large cockroach that “buzzed” and moved it’s anteni while I was using the bathroom. All of the critters were gone by the morning! The day we left there was a large snail under the sink! I found it all very entertaining and just part of the experience!
I really hope that the universe will provide an opportunity for our paths to cross with Tom and Niki. If you are planning a stay in Ayutthaya and a single room with large twin beds would suit you, I encourage you to stay with them. Tom has his establishment listed on TripAdvisor as KRB Family Restaurant with Private Accommodations and on AirBnb as Family Owned Restaurant with Private Accommodations. Their restaurant is named Krua Ruaen Boran (Old City Kitchen). Tell them that Sharalyn sent you!!! 🙂
As I said earlier, the city was attacked and razed by the Burmese army in 1767. The inhabitants were forced to flee. After this, the capital was moved to where the city of Bangkok is today. Today, Ayutthaya is a Unesco World Heritage site. There are several ruins of Bhuddist temples and palaces. We spent a couple of days going around to many of them.
Here are some of the temples for the park in the center of Ayutthaya:
Wat Phra Si Sanphet
Wat Phra Si Sanphet was originally where King Rama I, King Rama I ordered his Royal Palace to be built in 1350. The palace was completed in 1351 and King Rama I made Ayuttahaya the capital of his kingdom. This was where the Royal family lived and no monks lived here.
In 1448, a new palace was built by King Borommatrailokkanat and he made the former palace a holy site. His son, King Rama II, had two chedis built. One was to house the ashes of his father King Borommatrailokkanat and the other was for his brother, King Borommatrailokkanat III. In 1529, another chedi was built by King Borommaracha IV.
Before this holy site was destroyed it was an impressive place. Today, the 3 Chedis are the only exisiting part of the temple that were not destroyed and have been reconstructed.
Wat Maha That
This temple was constructed in 1374 during the reign of King Borom Rachathirat I.
In 1384, Ramesuan the nephew and successor of King Borom Rachathirat I, expanded the site to build a grand temple.
One of the unique features of these ruins is the Buddha head in the tree roots. This head was once part of a sandstone Buddha statue that was constructed around the mid-1600s. The head fell off the statue and was soon surrounded by the roots of a growing Bodhi tree. This was a popular picture seen throughout the gift shops of Ayutthaya and on posters advertising the city.
Wat Phra Mongkhon Baphit
This temple houses the large bronze-cast Buddha statue Phra Mongkhon Baphit. Originally, it was enshrined outside of the Grand Palace. King Songtham transferred the statue to its current location and built a Mondop over it. The Mondop was damaged by fire from a lightening strike and the then reigning king, built a sanctuary over the Buddha. Both the sanctuary and statue were badly damaged during the second fall of Ayutthaya. There was a renovation to restore the statue and the building as it is today, but the current building does not have the elaborate craftsmanship as the original one had.
I almost didn’t visit this temple but I am so very glad that I did. It was our last day in Ayutthaya when I finally went. David was tired of touring around, especially in the heat, so he opted to stay back in our air conditioned room. On the other hand, I had a ticket that allowed us to visit several temples and so I decided to take advantage of seeing as many as I could before we left. This temple turned out to be my favorite spot. I think it was because if was so very peaceful as there were very few tourist visiting when I was there.
The temple was built in 1424 by King Borommarachathirat II on the cremation site for his two brothers who had fought to their deaths in a duel to determine the successor to the throne after the death of their father, King Intharacha. Due to their death, their younger brother became king.
Wat Phra Ram
This was really the only temple that I didn’t visit while in Ayutthaya. It was however, the one temple I did get a photo of at night. It was really beautiful. It was built in 1369 and believed to have been extended in 1665-1685.
One day, David and I took off on foot to explore the city of Ayutthaya away from the historic and touristy area. We passed through the shopping district that was a busy street lined with a variety of businesses.
We really enjoy walking in a new area as we are able to see things that we would most likely miss if we were in a tuk-tuk or taxi. For example, the street signs were interesting to me….very ornate!
Eventually, we came to the river and walked along it for awhile.
As we walked along, we came to a place that was offering boat rides. We had been walking quite a few hours in the heat of the day and thought it would be a nice way to cool off and see more life along the river.
The ride lasted about 1 1/2 hours and was really nice to have a breeze to combat the heat and humidity. Plus, it was interesting to see the variety of homes….from apartment buildings to high-end homes to house boats and the several temples along the river. Here are some pictures of our trip:
Tour of the Temples by Tuk-Tuk
Tom, our host, arranged for us to take a full-day tour of the temples. Noi has been giving tours in his tuk-tuk for several years now. We visited several temples this day.
Wat Phanan Choeng
This temple existed before Ayutthaya became a capital. It was built in 1324 and it is believed that the temple was connected to nearby settlements. One of these settlements was made up of approximately 200 refugees from the Song Dynasty China.
The highest building in the temple complex, the wihan, houses a 62 ft (19 meter) statue of a seated Bhudda. This statue is from 1334 and is believed to be a guardian for sailors. It has undergone several repairs but I find it truly amazing that this statue has survived for over 685 years! That is 442 years older than when the United States gained independence! WOW!
Although it is among ruins, this temple is currently an active monastery with some new, modern buildings near the ruins. It was an interesting mix of old and new. From research I have done, it is believed that this temple predates the founding of Ayutthaya which was in 1350.
Wat Thumikara is not one of the more famous temples in the area, but I really liked it. Unfortunately, many of the signs were just in Thai so much was lost as to understanding what we were looking at. Greeting us at the entrance were these two monkey figures.
You guessed it! The King’s rooster won and Ayutthaya was free from Burmese rule. Today, people pay homage to the king by placing statues of roosters at any of his statues throughout Thailand.
Upon leaving the temple area, we passed these decaying boats with statues in one of them.
I am sorry to say, I have no idea what this is supposed to represent. I looked on the internet and couldn’t even find anyone else’s blog mentioning these statues. I am sharing the pictures with you because I thought it was all very interesting……maybe they are used to celebrate a holiday or something. It is such a shame that it is left to the elements and not under some kind of protection.
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon
This was my second favorite temple. I loved the Buddhist statues that were lined against the wall of the temple and how they were drapped in lovely orange/yellow cloth. It made for quite a site.
In 1357, this monastery was built by King U-Thong, the founder of the city of Ayutthaya. The monastery was named “Wat Pakaew” and became the primary seat for the Supreme Patriach of the forest sect of Buddhism .
The large Chedi – Chedi Pra Chai Mongkhon – in the center of the temple area was built in 1592 by King Naresuan the Great as a tribute for the defeat over the invading Burma King Maha Uparacha.
Odds and Ends
The meaning of this temple is “Temple of the long reign and glorious era,” as it was built by King Prasat Thong in honor of his mother in 1630.
There is much symbolism for the way this temple is laid out. The dominate prang represents Mount Meru – the center of the Buddhist universe. The four smaller prangs represent four island continents in the Buddhist belief. The rectangular walkway represents the iron mountain that surrounds the Buddhist world.
Like most of the other temples in Ayutthaya, Wat Chaiwatthanaram suffered much damage when the Burmese attacked in 1767. After, it was deserted for many years. Over the years, looters helped themselves statues, sold bricks and other acts of vadalism. In 1987, the Department of Fine Arts started restoring the temple and in 1992, it was opened to the public. Restoration continues on it today.
Floating markets have long been a Thai tradition. In earlier days, land around the rivers or waterways were where people settled. As you well know, water is necessary for survival. It made sense that people would settle near water in order to have easy access to it. As a means of transportation, people would travel in boats. They would bring their crops to barter or trade. Floating markets became the hub for communities. As roads and railways were built, people began to travel overland with their goods, rather than by boat. Over time, markets were moved to land, closed down or renovated.
Today, the few floating markets that remain, are more for tourist than for the Thai people. Unfortunately, David and I didn’t have very good luck in visiting one. The day that we went to Wat Tha Ka Rong Market, which got very good reviews, was closed. The market is only open on Saturday and Sunday, I believe. We walked around briefly but honestly, we didn’t see much. Nearby is a temple but we didn’t get to see it as our tour guide had an agenda. Here are a few pictures:
The other floating market we visited was the Ayutthaya Floating Market. If, by chance, you are reading this blog post doing research for an upcoming trip, please DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY AND VISIT THIS FLOATING MARKET. The only reason we ended up there is because it was part of a tour we took. It was the worst and a complete tourist rip-off. There was nothing about a “floating market” at this place. To visit the market, we had to pay 100 Thai baht each (about $13.00 US), which included a boat tour and a traditional dance performance.
I thought that we needed the boat tour in order to see what the vendors were selling from their boats. This wasn’t the case at all. There are no vendors selling from boats. The “floating market” is a walkway built over the water with stalls where the vendors were selling souvenirs.
The boat ride was a 15 minute ride around the canal.
Once off the boat, we walked around the walkway and then left. The whole experience was just plain horrible and so not worth the money.
Then, to top it off, we walked across the street as we saw vendors selling there and thought that it might be a more authentic market. What a HUGE mistake that was as there were elephants chained in small pens who were being used for elephant rides. We even saw a baby elephant tied to its’ mother with a rope around each of their necks. Nine months later, I am still trying to get that sad, sad image out of my mind. After seeing that, we just left. Trust me, DO NOT GO…this is definitely one place you do not want to support.
Traditional Thai House
This is a traditional Thai house. The can vary slightly depending on the region and the size of the family. Most are built on stilts to avoid flooding during the rainy season as well as dirt, animals and even thieves.
The high ceilings, open windows, as well as the porch, helps with ventilation to give relief from the hot and humid temperatures.
In the past, the homes were constructed from wood or bamboo. Due to declining forest and increase in the city sizes, homes today are mostly constructed out of concrete. Life in Thailand has truly changed. The cities are getting more congested. To make more roads, canals are being filled in and homes are fairly nondescript due to the high-rise apartment buildings to accomodate the increasing population.
Our hostess, Niki, offered cooking classes at the restaurant. For the fun of it, I took a class to learn how to make the Thai Wide Noodle dish and Pad Thai…our two favorite dishes. I am surprised we didn’t turn into wide noodles!!
Odds and Ends
This just about wraps it up for Ayutthaya. I really encourage to to spend as much time as possible in this wonderful, historic city. Amazingly, my travel guide – Lonely Planet for Southeast Asia, did not cover this city. Such a shame!! It is definitely one of my favorite experiences from the eight weeks we spent in Southeast Asia. Next stop, Chiang Mai.
Until then, may you be filled with joy and sparkles!