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Published: December 8th 2008
We arrived in Ayutthaya by bus in the quiet hours of a Tuesday morning
. By taxi, we made our way from the bus station to somewhere 'central' and from there, we began the all-too-common search for lodging. We found a crappy little bedroom in a house-turned-inn, secured our belongings and went in search of breakfast. Over breakfast, even as the city awoke, we mulled our options for exploring Ayutthaya and its surroundings. Finally, we settled on renting bicycles for day one's exploration of the nearby sites and a moped for day two.
Founded in 1351, Ayutthaya was an island nation bounded by the Haophraya, Lopburi and Pasak Rivers. Named after the city of Ayodhya in India, the birthplace of Rama in the Ramayana, Ayutthaya's size and riches, at the height of its power, rivaled that of Paris. Its military might humbled parts of modern-day Myanmar, parts of the Malay Peninsula, the Cambodian Kingdom, its Thai rival Sukhotai and even Yunnan Province in China. By mid-17th century, Ayutthaya had a population of over 1 million, double the population of London at that time. After a period of relative peace and prosperity, where literature and art flourished, Ayutthaya was invaded in 1765
by two Burmese armies. The Burmese were successful and razed the city to the ground almost destroying every work of art and literature and leaving the city in tatters.
It was an easy pedal from our hotel to the site of the old city. Gigantic pinnacles stabbed at the morning sky, ruins of ancient temples and administrative complexes. They foretold of the awesome magnificence, grandeur and power that once was Ayutthaya's. We started at Wat Phra Si Sanphet, where three giant chedis sat in silent remembrance of three great 15th century kings. The style of the chedis, sharp-pointed atop a bell shape, identified these are Ceylonese-styled. The eastern and central ones, were built in 1492 by King Rama Thibodi II to hold the ashen remnants of his father and elder brother. His own ashes are interred in the third chedi, built in 1530 by his son and successor on the throne, King Boromaraja IV. This place was once the site of the Grand Palace and almost the very center of the ancient city. Just outside the entrance gates to Wat Phra Si Sanphet was Viharn Phra Mongkolbophit, a Buddhist shrine encapsulating a huge bronze Buddha. This same Buddha originally
sat outside the gates of the grand palace.
Just across the street was Wat Phra Ram. This wat sported a round, corncob-shaped stupa owing to its Cambodian (Khmer) roots. This type of stupa is called a prang. And even though the stucco was well worn and battered, we still got the feel of the intricate detail of the architecture. Over at Wat Rachaburana, we climbed the rock-hewn steps to a gateway in a prang. Inside was cool and dimly lit. Harrowing, narrow, creepy and dangerous stairs led us downwards to a crypt deep into the belly of the prang. The remains of the elder brothers of King Boromracha II were once buried here. A few minutes later, back in the sunshine, we surveyed the prang. It was well preserved and the stucco was highly decorated with many nagas, garudas and other beautifully rendered statues.
The largest complex lay in almost absolute ruin. Wat Mahathat was once the royal monastery and had been the seat of the Sangaraja, the head of the Buddhist monks of the Kamavasi sect. But the sight of the towering columns of its viharns, the layout of its porticos and the landscape of the complex
was enough for the mind's eye to picture Wat Mahathat. A favorite among local tourists seemed to be the head of Buddha gently cradled by the powerful roots of a tree. A shrine was erected and devotees knelt in prayer. Daylight faded and we, still awestruck by the wonder of it all, sat in silence on the lawn of Wat Mahathat watching the fading light create silhouettes of prangs and chedis and columns.
The next morning, we rose with the sun, rented a moped, donned flimsy helmets and set off in search of the more outlying sights. And while their names we may not be able to recall, the more distant sights and even those off the island, were just as impressive. We visited a 29-meter (95 feet) reclining Buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam. Draped in a bright orange wrap, the plaster-covered, brick-constructed Buddha simply dwarfed everything and everything nearby. later, we crossed the bridge leading out of Ayutthaya to visit a few other Buddhist complexes and wats. Just after lunch, we had the accident
. Just as she was stepping off of the moped, Shanna stepped on a nail. A crusty, rusty, brute of a nail. It punctured
the tough sole of her Tevas and buried itself into her left heel. Vibert gently (Shanna wouldn't agree, of course) eased the nail out of her heel and we sped off to try and find a hospital. Find it we did and doctor showed Shanna to an untidy, dirty little hospital bed. "I just want it cleaned", Shanna told the doctor. But he had other ideas. "We have to operate"
, he said. Shanna's eyes grew as BIG as saucers. Above her protestations, the doctor started setting up 'operation utensils': a scalpel, bandages, swabs and a lengthy needle. Three jabs of anaesthetic were enough to numb the foot and bring tears to the eyes. And then it was time for the cutting. The doctor made a delicate 'X' to expand the wound and then, with a piece of swap at the end of a tweezer, he deftly maneuvered around inside the incision. Fifteen minutes later, with a decent supply of painkillers and antibiotics, we were put-putting our way to another wat. 😊
😊 The doctor, nurses and staff of Ayutthaya Hospital.
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