When traveling to Ayutthaya, 60km north of Bangkok, there are three, famous places that you can visit, to start your immersion in this beautiful countryside. On the bus, admiring the beauty of Chao Phraya River, I prepared myself to see another masterpiece of history and culture. I have become fascinated by the pages of Thailand’s heritage. Once I arrived, I immediately realized that my trip to this former Thai capital would be up among the best.
Topping my list was a visit to Wat Mahathat (The Monastery of the Great Relic). I could not believe my eyes when I entered the temple ruins. This was one of the most beautiful and largest temple ruins I have ever seen. I could not understand how the Burmese could burn this temple some 200 years ago, when they invaded. It was sad looking at the numerous heads of Buddha on the ground . However, I must admit that this actually added to the entire beauty of the old ruins.
I put aside the evidence of past temple invasion rape, because this place contained numerous Buddha relics. The greatest attraction was the entwined head of Buddha, in the roots of a banyan tree. Simplicity suggests the tree simply grew around Buddha. The sacred story accounts that a thief moved the Buddha’s head away from the main temple to hide within and the tree grew around to protect it. Remember. this is a sacred site so the tree is guarded with surrounding chains, to prevent people from touching the Buddha’s head. You may take photos, but to be respectful, these should be taken when kneeling. So as a mark of my respect to Buddha and the sacred story surrounding it, I carefully knelt in the dirt and had my picture taken at close range.
Bang Pa In, the illustrious, summer palace of King Rama IV was another surprise. It was a well preserved complex, from the time when Thailand was known as Siam. There are several iconic buildings, a mixture of European and Asian styles.. Greeting visitors to the palace is a sparkling, glamorous, ornamental pond that looks like a long rectangular pool with a carefully manicured landscape. This pond features the central attraction of Bang Pa In, an elegant Thai-style pavilion in the middle of a pond, with the label “The divine seat of personal freedom.” It is the only classical Thai architecture within the palace which houses the statue of King Rama V.
Getting around requires extensive walking, so we hired a buggy car until we reached the Chinese-style palace and throne room. It is a marvelous structure of ornamental tiles with heavy ebony furnishings; gold, silver and porcelain delicate carvings and that famous red lacquer interior. Like most Chinese-inspired temples, you will see an intricately carved dragon, atop the roof, in the facade. In the inner complex, this is the only one open to the public. The main residence which looked more in the style of a Swiss Chalet, is only used occasionally by the Royal Family and is not open to the public. So much for evolving tastes.
I was treated to a real palace experience seeing the guards changing position and marching in the promenade in their handsome uniforms. It was also delightful to see the Victorian era statues, generously built in many areas. Today, the palace is only used infrequently, and then mostly for state occasions rather than as a royal summer residence. Please bear in mind that in order to enter the museum, in the the palace, women should wear skirts and shoes are strictly not allowed If you were unaware of this protocol, the museum provides free sarongs for women.
My last visit was the temple of the Reclining Buddha. The reclining Buddha can be viewed in the outdoors. Simply called Phra Noon, the Reclining Buddha is artistically made of bricks and cement. 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. I had heard that the Buddha looks so stunning in a sunny orange robe but at the time we visited, it was naked under the sun and its weathered look gave it a more ancient feeling. Up close, Buddha will reveal the beauty of its head placed on a lotus and the legs overlapping squarely, to show the equalized toes. In the Buddhist tradition, a reclining Buddha is a major statuary pattern of Buddhism. It represents the Buddha during his last illness. He is lying on the right flank, his head resting on a cushion, relying on his right elbow to support his head with his hand.
Just across the open-space temple is a stretch of souvenir shops where tourist buses and cars park. Whenever in Thailand I always enjoy the taste of fresh coconut juice. This is unique because it combines sweetness with the taste of vanilla. And so in sipping this drink, was ready to bid goodbye to another adventure.