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Published: March 29th 2009
Restored and covered in gold leaf
Ayutthaya, the City of Gorgeousness Sunday 29th March 2009
The journey from Khao Lak wasn’t exactly enjoyable. Thirteen hours on a coach is a long time. It is OK if one travels on the “V.I.P“. busses, because they are very spacious. Unfortunately we couldn’t get booked on one of those and the bus we were on was very squashed with little leg room. We arrived at Bangkok southern bus station one hour late at 6 a.m. Our original idea was to get a boat to Ayutthaya but we found out that there were no public boats only expensive tour cruises. Therefore, we got a bus across town to the northern bus station and then a bus to Ayutthaya, then a tuk-tuk to our hostel. We then went to bed! Once we had recovered we started to enjoy this beautiful city.
The Thais call Ayutthaya the City of Gorgeousness and it really is gorgeous. This ancient city was the capital of Thailand (or Siam as it was then) for 417 years until the Burmese sacked it in 1767. Ayutthaya is Thailand’s major tourist attraction for indigenous tourists; for foreigners like us it is a challenge with little English spoken
and tuk-tuk drivers who fail to understand our poor pronunciation! Nevertheless, we have managed to get around all of the sites independently, in the awesome 40 degree heat, been on a long-tailed boat on the river, shopped and ate in the market and had a great time.
Once one of Asia’s most prosperous cities, the ruins of old Ayutthaya cover a vast area. It is so rare to see city ruins left untouched in a huge park-like setting, totally unspoilt by modernity; new Ayutthaya surrounds the ancient core but doesn’t intrude or despoil its beauty in any way. Stunning! There are hundreds of wats (temples) in Ayutthaya and we saw several; perhaps the most stunning is Wat Phra Si Sanphet, nest to the ruins of the Grand Palace. The many Buddha statues here have been left still headless after desecration by the Burmese attack, but a huge restored bronze Buddha dominates the new wat next to the ruins, now covered once again in gold leaf thanks to a programme initiated by the Queen of Thailand.
Ancient Ayutthaya is an island, surrounded by rivers on all four sides, so a boat trip proved to be a great way to
see the sites once we were weary of foot-slogging in the heat and tuk-tuks. Cruising down the Chao Phraya River was a delightful way to end this long sightseeing day as the sun started to go down. Our hostel backs on to the Klong Muang on the northern side of the city island opposite one of the major wats and a stone’s throw from the palace walls; fantastic location. As we cruised along the klong we saw a very large snake in the water and two monitor lizards, dozens of catfish and many people fishing. Also, we saw many children swimming, despite the snakes and large monitor lizards! The Chao Phraya is teeming with life and so snake, eel, frog and catfish are all on the menu in most restaurants.
The elephant kraal here houses about ninety rescued elephants and to support their upkeep, tourists can ride around the old city on an elephant. We didn’t do so, but enjoyed seeing them go by; they add such a colourful and authentic touch, dressed in gold and scarlet with fringed parasols to shade passengers from the sun, they look most regal amongst the palace ruins, lakes and parkland. Lakes, rivers,
frangipani and orchids, little bridges and shady seats, stilt houses, elephants and the mighty Chao Phraya River, this is Thailand at its most luscious. Only one thing not so gorgeous here and that is the abundance of mosquitoes and cockroaches!
Tomorrow we move on again (trying to pack in as much as possible in our remaining few weeks). We are catching the 9.45 a.m. train to Chiang Mai (just been this evening to the railway station and bought the tickets). It is a long journey north, arriving at 8 30 p.m. so all day on the train! We decided against another night-time journey so that we can see the countryside. Let’s hope it is more comfy than the bus!
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