Thursday, September 6, 2012



Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon
Ayutthaya is to Bangkok what the Grand Canyon is to Arizona...well, not quite. But when I lived in Arizona every visitor wanted me to show him the Grand Canyon. When in Bangkok, Ayutthaya seems to be the chosen location for all culturally interested tourists to visit. 

Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon
Ayutthaya was the capital of Thailand from 1350 to 1767, when it was virtually destroyed by Burmese invaders. In the mid 1600s is was a major power in Southeast Asia and an impressive site. It had 375 Temples and was larger than Paris or London.

I love visiting Ayutthaya and have been there countless times. It is all about temples. Ruined temples and monasteries and temples which are still functional and used by worshippers. I have spent single days here but also weeks at a piece with an opportunity to explore the old city on foot. This way I have literally been to every temple in the old district, which is a World Heritage Site. 

Wat Phananchoen
Most organized tours drag their visitors to Ayutthaya and most taxi drivers will offer it (though at total rip-off prices). I always had my own transportation and was more independent but for those who love to explore Thai history it is best to rent a car with a driver and spend a day there. The drivers usually know where to go and will all follow the same route, so you will be in the company of a lot of other tourists but there are places which are less known. Unfortunately the drivers will also not know how to go there. 

Wat Phananchoen
When I visit Ayutthaya with my guests, I usually try to give them a brief overview of the history, the different temples and the layout of the ancient city. I include some of the major historic sites as well as some temples which are still beautiful examples of Ayutthaya architectural style. I also include a lot of time to just wonder through the temples and ruins, so my guests will not just follow an umbrella and are being herded through the site like cattle. 

Wat Mahathat
A typical list of my temples and sites I like to visit when in Ayutthaya include the following:
Wat Ratchaburana
Wat Phra Mongkhon Bopit
  • Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon - still a monastery and was one of the oldest and most important temples of ancient Siam. 
Wat Phra Sri Sanphet
  • Wat Phananchoeng Worawihan - This temple along the Pasak river was built in 1324 A.D. and thus 26 years before the founding of Ayutthaya by King Ramathibodi.  It contains a palladium Buddha image of Ayutthaya, Luang Phor To, a huge U-thong-style statue.
  • Wat Mahathat - The most sacred part of the old capital. Buddha relics were enshrined in the Mahathat Chedi.
  • Wat Ratchaburana - A huge but ruined temple with a large Prang in the middle.
  • Wat Phra Mongkhon Bophit -  A huge building with a palladium Buddha image of Ayutthaya, Luang Phor Mongkhonbobhit, an U-thong and Sukhothai-style image which is entirely covered with gold leaf.
  • Wat Phra Sri Sanphet - The temple was the residence of the Ayutthaya monarchs. Wat Phra Sri Sanphet was the temple in the Grand Palace.
  • Wat Na Phra Meru - A temple, which is still in use today and the only one, which was not destroyed during the Burmese invasion.
  • Wat Na Phra Meru
  • Wat Suwandararam - Besides the beautiful temple buildings in late Ayutthaya-style, it is famous for it's murals which cover significant historical events. 

"Wat " being the Thai word for temple, it becomes clear that this visit here is really about temples, culture, Buddha images and Thai architecture. It is important to notice that proper dressing is important here. After all it is similar to visiting a Cathedral or a Mosque, though I have the impression sometimes that those historic Buddhist sites are visited as if it was a Disney Park. 

Tourist pay 5x what the locals pay
Proper behaviour please
Fun ride for tourists
Mural paintings of Wat Suwandararam