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Published: December 3rd 2009
After our snail's pace trip via train to Ayuthaya we found a lovely new guest house (Promtong) close to the historical park. Ayuthaya is a World Heritage site as it was originally the capitol of Thailand and is dotted with dozens of temple sites in various stages of ruin. It is actually an island caused by the convergence of three rivers as they head towards the Gulf of Thailand. That afternoon we wandered around the area close to the guest house - the park across the road was lined with stalls selling orchid plants and within the park a busy market selling clothes and house hold products. It had been set up as part of the city's lantern festival celebrations. On the other side of the park we found the entrance to Wat Phra Mahathat, one of the oldest temple complexes in the city. The sun was setting as we wandered amongst the ruins - they were made from red bricks, all were lopsided as they are gradually collapsing, and in the late afternoon light they glowed pink. Very pretty! These temples were constructed in the 15th century. One of the most photographed areas within the grounds is actually a Buddha
head which over the years has been engulfed by tree roots. The area was full of headless statues of Buddha, though there were two complete statues, albeit a little weather worn. I had run out of reading matter so we walked a long way into the centre of the city looking for a bookshop without luck. We found plenty but none with titles in anything other then Thai which considering the thousands of foreign tourists who visit Ayuthaya yearly strange. My fault of course - I had been so over awed by the glitter of the shopping malls in Bangkok I had actually forgotten to buy a book!
Next morning we hired a tuk tuk to drive us around some more of the temple sites. The tuk tuks were all shiny and new - in fact everything still felt shiny and too clean after India! The first wat we visited was Wat Yai Chaimongkhon , a 14th century monastic complex set off the main island. It dominated the skyline as the central stupa was very tall and impressively surrounded on all sides by rows of orange and gold clad Buddha statues. In the grounds was another reclining Buddha , draped
in orange and decorated with hundreds of squares of gold leaf which are pressed on by devotees. The whole complex was extremely photogenic! Our next stop contained an immense gold covered bronze seated Buddha within Wat Phra Mongkhon Bophit. This Buddha is extremely important as it originally was enshrined in the Royal Palace. The wat was surrounded by stalls selling offerings - large bags of rice, trays of fruit and rolls of orange cloth. This cloth was thrown over the Buddhas shoulder by three men (who were dwarfed by the statue's size) after being blessed. Behind the Buddha were baskets of the fabric, which was taken down regularly, rerolled and presumably resold!
The next wat (Wat Na Phramen) had a heavy Chinese influence, again many beautiful Buddhas were in the central hall which was lined with wooden pillars painted a brilliant red with gold patterns. The altar was particularly lovely - another stunning golden Buddha behind an area covered in flowers and rose coloured lights. In the grounds was a cemetery for local Chinese families. Our last visit was to a unrestored complex of leaning stupas - Wat Chaiwatthanaram - the central one was very high and difficult to climb
- the steps were extremely steep. There were rows of Buddhas, most minus their heads! Next day we took a tuk tuk to see the wats under flood light and this particular one was spectacular. It was a thoroughly enjoyable day out and our friendly driver dropped us at the local shopping centre where I hoped to find a book - no luck again but the shopping centre had dozens of karaoke booths for entertainment - not something I expect to become popular within Aussie shopping centres.
Next day we had the brilliant idea to visit the Royal Folk and Arts Centre 27 klms from Ayutthaya. That 27 klms took 2 hours by local bus though thankfully the return trip wasn't as long. The complex was worth visiting (thankfully as I never thought we were going to get there!). It had a large area of reconstructed houses, showing all the styles of architecture in Thailand, set within a lovely garden full of flowers and topiary shrubs. The centre highlights local crafts and it was wonderful to watch the artisans at work. I loved the intricate embroidery pictures which are as beautiful at the back of the picture as they are
at the front. From a distance they look like photographs. The larger paintings take a year to complete. After watching the basketry workers weaving rattan as thin as cotton into baskets we realised that they were worth the couple of hundred dollars of the price tag. Again each tiny basket took months to construct. All the crafts were covered - from weaving, mask making, carpentry, rattan furniture weaving, bronze casting, glass blowing and fabric arts. It turned out to be another thoroughly enjoyable day.
That evening we visited by tuk tuk the elephant corral (Ayutthaya has elephant rides as part of their attraction though we didn't see any in operation) where we watched the elephants lumber in for the night. There are over 100 in the corral which had a fence made of logs shaped like phallic symbols. Jerry had a great time playing with a fortnight old baby elephant. He was so cute! He bounded over like a puppy - really playful. Next our driver took us to watch the sun set over Wat Phu Khao Thong - a monastic complex built in 1387. It was a glowing white stupa in the evening light, again fronted by a golden
Buddha. We climbed the steep steps to the top and arrived just as the sky turned pink from the sunset. Near this wat was the monument to King Naresuan who obviously had a fetish for roosters as the local devotees cover this monument with statues of roosters! There were hundreds, in all sizes, the ones at the entrance were over 6 foot tall and covered in silver mirror mosaic tiles. Quite bizarre! The surrounding park was a hive of activity with large stages being set up in preparation for the lantern festival the next day.
Up early next morning as we had been advised by our landlady to visit the floating market. We were expecting boats selling fruit and vegetables but actually found a purpose built lake surrounded by bamboo food stalls with seating over the water. All the stalls were selling wonderful prepared food, decorated with orchids. The whole area has been set up for the locals - the only tourists we saw there were all from our guesthouse - and it was a fabulous place. The food was beautifully displayed, very fresh, and all the walkways were hanging with fresh orchids. During the day regular cultural performances are
held on a bamboo stage just below the water so it appeared that the dancers etc were dancing on the water. It was very effective. All day a traditional band played music. The whole concept was fabulous and I would love to see something similar in Australia. The appeal had a lot to do with the incredible effort the stall holders had put into their displays. By the time we left (a couple of hours and a waterside foot massage later) the place was teaming with Thai families having brunch. A great way to end our few days in Ayutthaya! A mini bus took us back to Bangkok in a quick one and half hours - no more trains for us - where we re booked into our hotel and then headed to the waterfront for an evening of lantern festival activities.
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