– DECEMBER 31, 2015
For the daytime before New Years we decided to take a day trip out to Ayutthaya, a small town north of Bangkok with some quite famous sights to see. One of the most iconic images in the world of Thailand is the Buddha face engulfed by bodhi tree roots, but we will get more into that a bit later in this post.
There are multiple trains from Bangkok to Ayutthaya throughout the day, so we chose the 8:30am departure. The train ride is about 90 minutes and only cost $2 Cdn each, so it was a transportation bargain. We arrived at the Ayutthaya train station at 10am and were promptly greeted by a sea of tuk tuk drivers offering their services for no-so cheap prices. The game is always on in Southeast Asia, where they see a tourist and immediately quote you a ridiculous price. Some tourists don’t feel comfortable with the negotiation game, so they just agree to the high price. Others (like us) will spend 10 minutes debating with them why they should drop their price to a fair level…fair for both us and them. Our driver (in the image below) was a nice guy whom we liked right away. However he offered to drive us around Ayutthaya to six sights (we only came for four, so this was a bonus) for 1500 baht ($60 Cdn). I knew this was outrageous, especially since we could get an overnight bus all of the way from Bangkok to Chiang Mai with dinner and water included for less than 1000 baht. I bantered with him back and forth, after making our stand at 500 baht I walked away to start over with another tuk tuk driver and this guy ran after me to accept my price.
In North America is feels really weird to try this to someone…but here it is not only okay but it is also expected. When travelling for a year you need to be careful what you spend, as paying an extra $5 on a tuk tuk ride wll quickly add up over the course of 365 days. So we jumped into the tuk tuk and off we went for six sights in just over three hours (since we wanted to get back to Bangkok in time to chill out before going out for New Years celebrations).
WAT YAI CHAIMONGKHON
The monastery here was constructed by King U-Thong to accommodate the monks that were ordained by Phra Wanratana Mahathera Burean. This monastery was named “Wat Pakaew“. Afterwards, Phra Wanratana of Wat Pa Kaew suggested to King Naresuan the Great to build a Chedi (pagoda), which was constructed here in this monastery. This monastery became known as Wat Yai Chiamongkhon.
Wat Chaiwatthanaram, locally referred to as the Cambodia Temple, lies on the west bank of Chao Phraya River, south west of the old city of Ayutthaya. It is a large compound part of Ayutthaya Historical Park; however not a part of Historic City of Ayutthaya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Wat Chaiwatthanaram structure reflects the Buddhist world view, as it is described already in the Traiphum Phra Ruang, the “three worlds of the King Ruang“, of the 14th century. The big “Prang Prathan” that stands in the centre symbolizes the mountain Meru, which consists the central axis of the traditional world. Around it lie the four continents (the four small Prangs) that swim in the four directions in the world sea. On one of the continents, the Chomphutawip, the humans live. The rectangular passage is the outer border of the world, the “Iron Mountains“.
The temple was constructed in 1630 by the king Prasat Thong as the first temple of his reign, as a memorial of his mother’s residence in that area. The temple’s name literally means “the Temple of long reign and glorious era“. It was designed in Khmer style, which was popular in that time and thus why it reflects a Cambodian style design.
It has a central 35 meter high prang in Khmer style with four smaller prangs. The whole construction stands on a rectangular platform. About halfway up there are hidden entrances, to which steep stairs lead. The central platform is surrounded by eight chedi-shaped chapels, which are connected by a rectangular cross-shaped passage (Phra Rabieng). The passage had numerous side entries and was originally roofed and open inwards, but today only the foundations of the pillars and the outside wall still stand. Along the wall, there were 120 sitting Buddha statues, probably painted in black and gold.
The eight chedi-like chapels are formed in a unique way. They had paintings on the interior walls, the exterior ones decorated by 12 reliefs depicting scenes from the life of Buddha, which must be “read” clockwise. Just fragments of the paintings and the reliefs survived. In each of the rectangular chedis were two sitting Buddha statues and in each of the four middle chedis was one big sitting Buddha statue, also lacquered in black and gold. The ceiling over those statues was of wood with golden stars on black lacquer.
Outside of the passages on the east, close to the river was the temple’s ordination hall (Phra Ubosot). North and south from the Ubusot stood two chedis with “12 indented corners”, in which the ashes of the king’s mother were laid.
After the total destruction of the old capital by the Burmese in 1767, from which Wat Chai Watthanaram was not spared, the temple was deserted. Theft, sale of bricks from the ruins and the beheading of the Buddha statues were common. Only in 1987 did the Thai government start restoring the site. In 1992 it was opened to the public and was free for us to visit on Dec 31st.
The important feature Wat Lokayasutharam is a huge reclining Buddha image, called Phra Bhuddhasaiyart, which faces to the east. It is also called the “Happy Buddha“. It was constructed of bricks and cement in the art style cf the Middle Ayutthaya Period. It is 37 meters long and 8 meters high. There are other impressive Reclining Buddha Images in Ayutthaya, but this seems to be the largest. The head is placed on a lotus, and the legs overlap squarely to show the equalized toes. Behind the Reclining Buddha there are the remains of other temple buildings.
WIHAN PHRAMONGKHON BOPHIT
Wihan Phramongkhon Bophit is situated on the south of Wat Prasrisanpetch and is where the bronze Buddha image in the attitude of subduing Mara is situated. This is one of the biggest Buddha image in Thailand. It was assumed to be built during the Ayuttaya Era of King Srongtam. The King transferred the location from the east side to the west side which has been the location since then, after that the King ordered to build a dome on top.
However, in the era of King Suer, a bolt of lightning struck at the tip of the dome to cause damage to the dome. The King ordered to restore the dome and change the roof of the dome to a cathedral and thus the top of Pra Mongkolborpit was extended during the reign of King Barommakote. During the 2nd fall of Ayuttaya, Wihan Phramongkhon Bophit was ruined by the enemy. After that King Rama 5 ordered to restore this viharn again in the Ayuttaya architectural style. It is a good model of the Buddha image during the end of Ayuttaya reign.
AYUTTHAYA HISTORICAL PARK
The Ayutthaya Historical Park covers the ruins of the old city of Ayutthaya. The city of Ayutthaya was founded by King Ramathibodi I in 1350. The city was captured by the Burmese in 1569; though not pillaged, it lost “many valuable and artistic objects.” It was the capital of the country until its destruction by the Burmese army in 1767.
In 1969 the Fine Arts Department began with renovations of the ruins, which became more serious after it was declared a historical park in 1976. Thirty-five kings ruled the Ayutthaya kingdom during its existence. King Narai held court not only in Ayutthaya but also from his palace in the nearby city of Lopburi, from where he ruled 8–9 months in the year.
In 1991, a part of Ayutthaya Historical Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as an excellent witness to the period of development of a true national Thai art. The sites under UNESCO protection are including Wat Ratchaburana, Wat Mahathat, Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, Wat Phra Ram and Wiharn Phra Mongkhon Bopit. The sites that are not part of World Heritage Sites are the sites outside Ayutthaya Island; for example, Wat Yai Chai Mongkon, Wat Phanan Choeng, Wat Chaiwatthanaram and Wat Phu Khao Thong.
WAT MAHA THAT
Wat Maha That or the “Monastery of the Great Relic” is a monastery standing on the west bank of the important canal of the 20th century named Khlong Pratu Khao Pluak. The structure has been registered as a national historic site by the Fine Arts Department on March 8th, 1935 and is part of the Ayutthaya World Heritage Historical park.
BUDDHA HEAD EMBEDDED IN A BODHI TREE
This Buddha head was once part of a sandstone Buddha image which fell off the main body onto the ground. It was gradually trapped into the roots of a constantly growing Bodhi tree. The stone head has rather flat and wide facial structure with thick eyebrows and big eye lids, straight wide lip, and discernible lip edge, reflecting the art of the Middle Ayutthaya Period, presumable around the mid of 1600’s. This image is one of the most iconic images of Thailand, repeatedly used on publications (like travel guides) and Thailand advertising campaigns.
Wat Ratburana was founded in 1424 by King Borommarachathirat II of the Ayutthaya Kingdom and built on the cremation site of his two elder brothers. The two brothers had fought to their deaths in a duel for the royal succession to their father Intha Racha. In 1957 the temple’s crypt was looted of a large number of Buddha images and gold artifacts. The thieves were later caught, but few of the treasures were recovered. Some that were recovered are now housed in the nearby Chao Sam Phraya Museum. Subsequent excavations of the crypt have uncovered many more rare Buddha images.
We managed to fit all of these sights into the time we had available and without rushing…excellent. We got a ride back to the train station and rode the 90 minute ride back to Bangkok. We had plenty of time to head back to the hotel and chill out for our evening out to celebrate New Years Eve in Thailand!
For more photos of our adventure go to our flickr account here.