One of the most powerful and progressive kingdom in the history of Thailand is the Ayutthaya kingdom. Present day Ayutthaya is a small city just an hour train ride from Bangkok. It now has no signs of the progressive town that it used to be as portrayed in museums or history. The muddy Chao Praya river was flowing down swiftly as I was watching the sunset from my homestay. The sun was setting behind one of the pagodas of a temple that I was waiting to explore the next day. A noisy cruise passed on with people dancing in and lights shining brightly. So was the case at a resort in the opposite bank, party lights and music was blaring. The river seemed to wait for none nor was bothered about the noise, it kept flowing swiftly to meet the sea. Before the darkness started to loom, I and my friend decided to check out the local market that seemed abuzz on the way. Ayutthaya is pretty much a simple town, it doesn't really cater to the tourists. It is in its own raw state and the cuisine, people, drinks everything is native. I couldn't stomach the papaya salad here which was high on fish sauce. Maybe this is how som tum tastes actually. A bite into a savoury snack made of sweet potato and coconut and some dried nuts along with cold coffee was my dinner. I retired early anticipating a long day, the next day. Before I take you on exploring the top 10 Ayutthaya temples, a little bit of the history of Ayutthaya kingdom and how to prepare for your visit.
History of AyutthayaAyutthaya known as Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya was the former capital of the Siamese kingdom (Thailand). Founded with a strong influence of Hinduism and named after Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama; there is no trace of Hinduism anymore or ruins that talk about it. It was founded in 1350 by King U Thong. Ayutthaya, being an island with rich rivers flowing all around and being high land with flourishing rice fields; the king found it as a suitable place to set up his kingdom. Ayutthaya period was after the Sukhothai period, hence you can see that the kings were more open to the world and had a better knowledge about the world, opening doors to trade from many countries as far as Europe. One of the prominent kings of the Ayutthaya period that you will often see in museums and around Thailand is King Phra Narai. He is one of the progressive kings who made an alliance with France and other countries. One of the curious and controversial kings who wanted to learn languages, exchange goods with other countries and brought foreigners into his court as advisers. This, some say worked in his favor and some say that led to burning many ties and fall of Ayutthaya eventually. With the Burmese invasion in 1700s, Ayutthaya fell and the Burmese burnt down everything in the city. Though Ayutthaya period is considered as the golden age of Thai in terms of literature, art, medicine and infrastructure development, with the Burmese invasion there are not much of such sorts you will get to see. [caption id="attachment_2198" align="alignnone" width="960"] Chao Praya River flowing around Ayutthaya[/caption] Present Ayutthaya is filled with ruins that are managing to hold up. With it being at so close to Bangkok, Ayutthaya has become a popular heritage site to visit. You have to be someone who can appreciate history and ruins, you will not find it interesting otherwise.
Ten Ayutthaya Temples - Ayutthaya Historical ParkBefore we get to see the Ayutthaya temple, let me introduce to the terms that describe the structure of the temple. Almost all the temples have similar structure and you will come across these terms again and again.. Wat - the temple complex containing the below Chedi/ Pagoda/ Stupa - referred by many of these names, this is main structure we see in the temples. The tall cylindrical tower that has a wider base and gets narrow towards the top. The pagodas are usually flanked with smaller pagodas on either side. The pagodas are adorned with stuccos depicting some life story or anecdotes from mythology. The Chedi usually has the relics of kings, monks or that of Buddha itself. Prang - Prang is also pagoda just that the structure will be different. Chedi will be conical or cylindrical. Prang will be like a pyramid. Ubosot or Bot - The ordination hall, the main prayer hall which is an important part of the wat. Ubosot is surrounded by eight Sema or Sima stones. They are installed by doing rituals and iron balls are places under these stones. It marks as the sacred boundary wall of the bot. A ninth sema stone is placed below the main Buddha statue in the ubosot. Viharan - Assembly hall where some of the ceremonies are performed. They look similar to ubosot but they do not have sema stones around them Some of them will have a library too. Let us now visit the places to see in Ayutthaya. Do hire a vehicle or two-wheeler /bike or cycle. It is a long ride that am gonna take you around. PS: The first thing on the Ayutthaya map and the first thing you will see before the Ayutthaya historical park is the Ayutthaya Elephant Centre. Please do not, go there, hire an elephant and go around the city in an elephant. The thing is they put a really huge bench like stuff on the neck of the elephant. You will definitely not look like king and queen going around the city on top of the elephant. Book your tour to go around Ayutthaya here - Ancient city tour by Klook
1. Wat Phra Si SanphetThe main attraction marked inside the Ayutthaya historical park is the Wat Phra Si Sanphet. It was situated in the premises of the royal palace built by King U Thong. So this is not actually like a temple, or open for public. But all important royal ceremonies like swearing in would take place. It is also the royal family's private chapel. The main attraction here is the three grand pagodas standing adjacent to each other. These pagodas contain the ashes of three kings. Restoration work is under progress. [caption id="attachment_2178" align="alignnone" width="962"] Three famous pagodas of Wat Phra Si Sanphet[/caption]
2. Wat Phra RamRight opposite the gate of Wat Phra Si Sanphet is the Wat Phra Ram. Get one ticket for all the major attractions and you are good to visit all the temples. The temple was built by King Ramesuan at the cremation site of his father, King U Thong. It hence gets the Wat Phra Ram. This also comes under the original palace complex. Hence there were many restorations done often that the pagoda is still up. Around this temple or rather to the front is a swamp, which is now a lily pond. It is said that inside the relic chamber, the walls are decorated with the image of Buddha and other motifs. This is one of the temples where on the sides of some of the pagodas have Buddha statues still intact. [caption id="attachment_2179" align="alignnone" width="995"] Wat Phra Ram, Ayutthaya Historical Park[/caption]
3. King U Thong MonumentNot really a temple but it is worshiped so by the people of Ayutthaya. After the Burmese war, Ayutthaya was ruined and many people lost their lives. Considered as a town of misfortune, the governor then had the idea to construct a memorial for the founder, hoping that he would shower the city with good luck. These are recent developments in 1970. So they constructed this memorial and opened the King U Thong statue. He can be seen in a standing posture with a sword in hand and dressed like a king. Every year on April 3rd people assemble at the monument to pay their respects. As tourists, we pay our respects too and seek His blessings. [caption id="attachment_2180" align="alignnone" width="1025"] King U Thong Monument[/caption]
4. Wat MahathatThe most visited temple and the most revered temple too. It has the relics of Buddha. The main pagoda no longer stands. But looking at the base of it one can judge that it must have been the tallest Pagoda constructed during that time. Wat Mahathat known as the Temple of the Great Relics was also where the supreme Buddhist monk resided. What it is famous today for is the Buddha head among the roots of a Bodhi tree. The most photographed and seen by many, this is an iconic image. The Buddha head which must have fallen off from a statue, is now entrapped with roots. This being a Bodhi tree around a smiling Buddha head, some people look at it as a cosmic connection. This is probably the only proper Buddha head that you will see which is so big and up close in the whole of Ayutthaya. Mahathat is also one of the temples where you can see the ubosot, viharan and library. Go early if you intend to avoid the crowd. It is a bigger complex than any wat that you will visit. [caption id="attachment_2181" align="alignnone" width="960"] The famous Buddha head amidst the Bodhi Tree Roots - Wat Mahathat[/caption]
5. Wat RatchaburanaTo the right of Wat Mahathat is the Wat Ratchaburana. This temple is well maintained and one of the few pagodas that you can climb and see the inside of the pagoda. Not so clear Buddha images can be found. What I was surprised with this pagoda was that the statue of Garuda, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu, was seen flanking on the walls of the pagoda. I am not sure why this kind of representation on Buddhist pagoda. Plenty of photo op, so plenty of people! [caption id="attachment_2185" align="alignnone" width="960"] Entrance to Wat Ratchaburana[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2186" align="alignnone" width="983"] Wat Ratchaburana[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2187" align="aligncenter" width="540"] A close up shot[/caption]
6. Wat ThammikaratThis one was my favorite because no other tourists were there. Hardly a couple or two apart from me and my friend. And the architecture was different too. The moment you park your vehicle you get to see the chedi which has lion sculptures all around. The lions are square faced and the entrance of Chedi has naga sculptures, am a little carried away to the Khmer style. The ubosoth is huge and the red brick pillars are standing tall giving you the impression of what big a structure it could have been. This is still a place of worship. So we can see many offerings of cock idols, am not sure what is this custom but in many temples, we can see sculptures of cock and elephants placed. [caption id="attachment_2188" align="alignnone" width="962"] Lion sculptures at Wat Thammikarat[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2189" align="alignnone" width="960"] A common practice found in Thailand[/caption] Just when I thought this was all and walked a little down to see what the monks were upto, I saw a small room with people praying in. When I walked in, I was surprised to see there was a huge reclining Buddha. Have you seen one in Wat Pho at Bangkok? It is similar to that. Huge one and people stick the gold leaf on this statue. Thailand surprises you this way, in many ways! The monk there asked me if I have been to Bodhgaya in India and I said no! He burst out laughing and was like, "What are you doing in all these temples when you have not been to one close home." Well, I gave a wry smile and moved on. It has an adjacent new temple too. [caption id="attachment_2190" align="alignnone" width="960"] Reclining Buddha at Wat Thammikarat[/caption]
7. Wat Cherng ThaThis temple is a little away from the other group of temples. And the new wat close to the ruins seemed to be abuzz with all the activity. There were many many Chedis and stupas here of all sizes. The history written on the board said, it was not a temple in the beginning but a bridal house. Apparently, the daughter of a rich man elopes with her lover and the disappointed father builds a bridal house and keeps waiting for her return. She never comes and so later he turned it into a monastery. When I walked in through the bushes some everyday prayer was in procession and it was soothing to listen to. You can give this place a miss if you find it out of the way. [caption id="attachment_2202" align="alignnone" width="960"] Wat Cherng Tha[/caption]
8. Wat Lokaya SuthaThis one is my favorite. It is a huge reclining Buddha in the open and has the most pleasant smiling face I have ever seen. It is like you see that face and you automatically smile back. But the figure is of black and white that that smile doesn't get captured in the camera. I just tried to take so many pictures hoping to capture that smile but only in vain. It is said that this entire big Buddha was once inside a Viharan because we can see the base of the pillars in front of the statue. The Buddha is seen reclining on a bed of lotus flowers. This is a must visit temple. [caption id="attachment_2191" align="alignnone" width="960"] Reclining Buddha Wat Lokaya Sutha[/caption]
9. Wat Yai Chai MongkonAnother popular Wat of Ayutthaya. This is one ofthe temples where the Buddha statues' have a head still intact, the chedi is up, you can climb up the chedi and see what it is like inside and all of that. It is also relatively new and a lot of Buddha statues around the chedi have been contributed newly, so it looks like a brand new temple at some parts. It is also one of the functioning ones. There were few monasteries for some reason hosted the monks who were returning from Ceylon. Am not sure if the teachings were different that they were in a separate monastery or what, this is one such monastery which hosted monks who were back from learning in Sri Lanka. [caption id="attachment_2192" align="alignnone" width="960"] Wat Yai Chai Mongkon[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2193" align="alignnone" width="962"] Around Wat Yai Chai Mongkon[/caption] From here the Japanese village museum and one more was also close by. But we decided to skip them as we had Wat Chaiwatthanaram to be completed before closing time.
10. Wat ChaiwatthanaramSaving the best for the last. There was more character to this one. Probably because Chao Praya river was flowing right next to it or it has still some Buddha images intact in spite of it being old ruin or because I watched the sunset from here or because I can see this place from my airbnb or because it was so serene to sit on those lawns and watch the towering pagodas. This place stole my heart. It was a royal temple complex built during the Ayutthaya period. The temple complex was constructed as an Aranya sector temple meaning the place where Buddhist monks would practice meditation in forest hermitages. The main pagoda is flanked with four others around them. There are also some stuccos around the temple depicting stories from the life of Buddha. This is probably the temple you should see if you need to understand all the structures of a Wat complex in Ayutthaya. [caption id="attachment_2196" align="alignnone" width="961"] As the Golden Rays of Sunset fall on Wat Chaiwatthanaram[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2195" align="alignnone" width="960"] Inside the Pagoda[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2194" align="aligncenter" width="960"] One of the Pagodas at Wat Chaiwatthanaram[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2197" align="aligncenter" width="540"] Sunset at Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Ayutthaya[/caption] Those are the ten must visit temples of Ayutthaya. Now let us get you there.
How to Reach Ayutthaya
Bangkok to AyutthayaWe took the train from Don Muang station which is right opposite the Don Muang international airport. Actually, I was heading on this train to Khao Yai National Park and this train passed through Ayutthaya too. It is a third class train and about 30 bhat or so ticket but no confirmed seats to Ayutthaya. This train starts from Bangkok's Hualamphong Train station. It is just about 1 and half hour journey to Ayutthaya. [mappress mapid="39"] You can go as a one day tour too by hiring a cab or going as part of tour packages. There also regular buses that leave from Moh Chit bus terminal regularly. [caption id="attachment_2200" align="aligncenter" width="558"] how cool to have traffic signal around a Chedi :) You will come across many spots like this in Ayutthaya City[/caption] I came to Ayutthaya from Lopburi. So a minivan going to Bangkok picked us and dropped in the highway near Ayutthaya city park. It is about 10km away from the town and you will need to shell out again for tuk tuk or cabs. The train is another option from Lopburi to Ayutthaya but ticket availability was there only for a later point of time in the day so we opted for the mini bus. Explore Ayutthaya on a bike - Take a cycle tour with Klook
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