Monday, 02-02-15. Day 166.
Palaces & Temples.
We'd sort of been a little sedentary in Bangkok, so it was time to check out Ayutthaya, one of the old capitals of the Thailand, home to numerous temples, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Our guide for the day, Mandy, and our driver picked us up at the Golden Mountain Hostel at 8:00 a.m. and we headed out for the 80-kilometer drive to the north of Bangkok.
Bang Pa-in Summer Palace
Before we visited any temples, we stopped off at the Bang Pa-In Summer Palace, a sprawling 60-acre complex along the banks of the Chao Phraya River. Bang Pa-In Royal Palace was built in the 1600s and was the second capital of Siam for 400 years until it was burned by the invading Burmese in 1767 and subsequently fell to ruin.
King Rama IV (most famous to Westerners as the king featured in The King & I) began to restore it in the middle part of the 19th century, but most of the current buildings were completed by his son, King Rama V, who was the king largely responsible keeping Siam from being colonized by the West.
After entering the gate and and walking for a bit, we came to a gazebo (Gra-Jom Tae) overlooking a pond. Here Mandy bought us some bread so we could feed the fish and turtles in the pond. A lot of people were doing the same thing, and the fat fish would fight over the crumbs the tourists were tossing in to the water. We also saw a chubby monitor lizard cruise along the banks and stealthily disappear under the adjacent Dolls Bridge.
Aisawan Thiphya Art (Divine Seat of Personal Freedom)
After feeding the fish, we walked across the Dolls Bridge (featuring a series of statues of Greek and Western design) and admired the Aisawan Thiphya Art, a Thai-style pavilion sitting in the middle of the pond. This structure, built by Rama V, is a copy of a similar structure in the Grand Palace that was built by Rama IV. Inside there is a statue of Rama V dressed in Field Marshall regalia.
From there it was a short walk over to Warophat Phiman (Excellent and Shining Heavenly Abode), a simple, though opulent home for the royal family. The current king, Rama IX, uses it occasionally to meet with foreign dignitaries. There was no photography allowed here.
Ho Withun Thasana (Sages' Lookout)
We strolled through the compound and climbed up the steps to the top of the Ho Withun Thasana, which allowed for great views of the entire complex. Here's a little sample of what that looks like:
Wehart Chamrunt (Heavenly Light)
A Chinese-style royal palace and throne room right next door to the Sages' Lookout, Wehart Chamrunt is a large building that houses a lot of Chinese-style artifacts and relics. Again, no photography was allowed.
After we left Bang Pa-In, we had some lunch at a noodle place. Each small bowl was only 35 baht, so we all started with three, but it was pretty tasty so we ended up eating a few more. From the noodle place we walked to Wat Mahathat, our first temple in the Ayutthaya Historical Park.
Ayutthaya Historical Park
Ayutthaya was the old capital of Siam, and at its center there's an island formed by the confluence of three rivers (the Prasak, the Lopburi, and, of course, the Chao Phraya). The city was build in the 1300s and was the capital for more than 400 years until the invading Burmese army burned the place in 1767. Because of the three rivers coming together, the location was considered to be sacred and many temples were built here. We visited a few of them.
This is one of the most famous of Ayutthaya's temples. In its day, its said to have been magnificent, holding untold riches, including a Buddha in a golden casket (which is now in the National Museum in Bangkok). These days it's most famous for the iconic stone Buddha head trapped in a bodhi tree.
The rest of the temple is impressive, too. It's very large, and there are many standing images of Buddha to be seen throughout the crumbling ruins. We could have spent a long time wandering the ruins.
We took a brief break from touring temples to visit some elephants. These poor beasts, who didn't look very happy, shuttled humans around Ayutthaya. Our daughters made the decision that we wouldn't be riding any elephants on this trip (more on this soon), so we didn't ride these beleaguered animals. But the girls did feed them bananas and coconut shells. The elephants munched on the coconut shells like potato chips.
Phra Mongkhon Bophit
We stopped in to see the large bronze, gilded Buddha at Phra Mongkhon Bophit, an active temple inside Ayutthaya. It's an impressive sight, standing 12.45 meters high (not including the base). Seeing a Buddha this large up close reminded me of a G.I. Joe View Master reel I had as a kid, which I hadn't thought about for many years (such is the power of Buddha). There was some sort of active ceremony going on as we visited, so we didn't stay long.
Wat Phra Sri Sanphet
Right next door to the giant bronze buddha, Wat Prha Sri Sanphet was once the home to an even larger Buddha. This one was 16 meters tall and covered in pure gold. When the Burmese invaded, they smashed it to pieces and tried to melt the gold.
The three stupas on the site, which have become another iconic symbol for the Ayutthaya region, house the remains of King Boromatrailokanat (who is responsible for the building of the temple) and his two sons.
This large, reclining Buddha, the last remaining structure at Wat Lokkayasutharam after the Burmese invasion, measures 37 meters long—just a few meters shorter than the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok. The statue is usually draped in a huge saffron robe, but when we visited, it was adorned only with a long, yellow scarf. It, too, is an active place of worship and there were many people praying while we were there.
We also stopped near the Buddha to try a local dessert called roti saimai—which is a lot like a crepe stuffed with fairy floss, which was about as delicious as it sounds.
This temple, which was built in 1630 in the Khmer style, is located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya river, which means it's outside of Ayutthaya island and, therefore, not part of the UNESCO heritage site. But it was still an impressive temple, and we climbed up the very steep steps to see the Buddha housed in the central prang and take in some great views of the temple from on high.
After we finished up at Wat Chaiwatthanaram, the sun was starting to go down and it as time to head back to Bangkok before the traffic got too bad. It had been a long day and we saw some cool things, but we all pretty much agreed that as fantastic as the temples of Ayutthaya were, they couldn't measure up the splendor of those in Angkor.
- UNESCO World Heritage Sites visited: 1 (18 cumulative)
- Temples visited: 4
- Elephants fed: 7
- Buddhas seen: many