M.A. Van Wey Travel & Photo

Climbing Ruins in Ayutthaya
November 30, 2009, 3:41 pm
Filed under: Travel Abroad | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Just 2 hours north of Bangkok by train, the ancient capital city of Ayutthaya sits in a hot, dusty valley with two major rivers flowing through it.  In fact the city proper is actually an island between these two rivers with only a handful of bridges and ferries crossing over them.  There’s almost 700 years of history in this city, Thailand’s old capital fortress, and the ruins and restored temples share this story with anyone curious enough to venture inside.  It was sacked and looted so many times by Burma and Laos that by the 18th century the king was fed up and moved shop down to Bangkok.   Thankfully there is still plenty left to look at and photograph, including some absolutely stunning wats and chedi’s (stupas).

We stayed here only 2 nights and 3 days, although as a tourist it isn’t really practical to spend much longer.  Temples and ruins, like I mentioned, are the prime attractions here and after looking at 20 or 30 it’s time to move on.  The city itself, however, is vibrant and bustling and has much to offer the traveler who’s interested in more than the history of the area.  Our first day we explored most of the city proper on foot, covering a dozen kilometers and a dozen temples in an afternoon.  Most of the temples here were built of brick and a mortar covering.  As we explored their ruins, the structures ranged from massive piles of brick to perfectly preserved steeples and arches and domes.  We wandered in and out of different crumbling landscapes, stumbling upon herds of grazing cattle, couples sleeping in the shade of the chedis, street dogs patrolling their territories, and other hidden treasures of the unknown.  Towards the end of the day we found ourselves walking into an elephant camp, where around two dozen elephants and their riders hung out, waiting to give rides to tourists through the city ruins.  Instead of riding them, we contented ourselves to loitering with them and taking photos.

The following day we rented bikes to take us to the outer reaches of the city and its most impressive temples.  Navigating the chaos of Thailand’s streets is daunting on a bicycle.  There is a distinct hierarchy in place on the road, with the most fragile and destructible at the bottom of the totem pole.  Essentially, the more vulnerable you are, the more attentive you must be (if you value your life).  Bikes are just pedestrians moving precariously closer to traffic in a seated position.  Nevertheless, we survived and had a blast.  One temple we visited on the outskirts of town was pretty in its own right, but what fascinated me the most by it was a tree out back.  It was a Bodhi tree, with a massive, twisting, tentacle-like trunk completely encompassing a small chedi and a statue on it.  All you can see of the statue is its face barely emerging from the roots.  Another temple even further from town was equally rewarding to visit.  The temple was a massive stone chedi about 60 meters tall with a small complex of ruins surrounding it.  Cows and horses were tied strategically to trees around the temple such that they could graze sections of the lawn, creating a living lawn mowing and fertilizing system.  Because of the strict value of all life in the Buddhist tradition, temples are often safe havens and refuges for all kinds of neglected animals, from horses to dogs to chickens and everything in between.  Whenever we visit a temple, there is inevitably some adorable puppy or kitten that claws at my heart strings when I see them.  This time there were 3 puppies, barely 6 weeks old, that decided my arm was interesting and all started licking it in unison.

One of the last temples we saw in Ayutthaya was unique in that it belonged to a sect of Buddhist nuns.  The order of monks in the Theravada Buddhist tradition is male oriented, and while women were explicitly included in the teachings of Buddha, they face many challenges as nuns such as funding for their temples.  This temple is specifically renowned for its hundreds of Buddha statues that are wrapped in saffron scarves, creating a mystical and colorful atmosphere throughout the complex.  We ditched our bike at the gate and spent the last slivers of daylight exploring the crumbling relics before making the trip back home to our guest house.  It was around this time that Jennifer got hit with her first dose of Delhi Belly, aka Montezuma’s Revenge, aka food poisoning, so we peddled home fast.  At one point we managed to get ourselves onto an expressway with barely any shoulder to bike on, then again we found ourselves on another major thoroughfare on the wrong side of the road.  It was a miracle we made it back alive through the dark, but all I had to do was keep up with Jennifer as she tore through the city like a bat out of hell.  Later that night her stomach was feeling better…

The last day in Ayutthaya was pleasantly lazy and spent mostly in the shade for a change.  We arranged an overnight sleeper train to the north of Thailand that night and loitered in one of the few backpacker cafes along a quiet side street in town.  Tony’s Place as it was called, was run by a flamboyantly gay Thai who was everywhere when you didn’t need anything and nowhere in sight when you did.  The slow service allowed us to take in some good people watching however.  Later in the afternoon, as our departure to Chiang Mai in the North was approaching, we moved all our gear to the train station and had some dinner.  After sitting down and ordering some food, we noticed a gentleman sitting next to us munching contentedly on a bag of indiscernible contents.  He noticed us watching him with inquisitive eyes, so he turned around and pulled out a monstrous barbequed grasshopper and offered one to each of us.  The taste was mild, like a dusty stale cracker, and the crunchy texture was like biting into a huge sunflower seed with the shell and all.  I’m sure I made a horrible face as I choked it down, yet he still offered me more.  After Jennifer nearly gagged eating hers, he understood.  It was worth trying, but never to be repeated.

The train pulled in about 30 minutes late, which is a miracle by Thai train standards.  We purchased a couple liters of cheap beer and a bag full of snacks for the 13 hour trip, hopped on, found our beds, and began the next leg of our journey through Thailand.


1 Comment so far
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the second photo reminds me of India for some reason

Comment by lovebug35

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