From Kanchanaburi we travelled to Ayuthaya, stepping back in time to appreciate the legacy the ancient kingdom who established their capital here for nearly 400 years. But far from being a city lost to history, Ayuthaya has evolved into a prosperous commercial center that has earned its own place in modern Thailand. Surrounded by three intersecting rivers and situated just an hour north of Bangkok, it’s a surprisingly genuine city to visit, with some authentic local markets and relaxed riverside restaurants.
We began our explorations of the city with an early morning tour of some of the major temples. There are no tuk tuks or taxi cabs in Ayuthaya – just mini pick-up trucks that you ride in the back of – so, it makes for an interesting ride. In the afternoon, we continued our explorations by long-tail boat, an equally peculiar (and noisy) mode of transport that gave us a different perspective on this water-centric locale.
The temples we visited exhibit many different influences, including those of the earlier Sukhothai and Angkor empires. They are mostly in ruins thanks to the Burmese, who destroyed the capital and forced the Thais to flee to the present day capital of Bangkok. Yet, they are still impressive – giant brick and sandstone towers reach toward the sky, as flowering trees envelop them in an attempt to draw the sites back to a more natural state.
Although many of the Buddha images have been stolen or beheaded by looters, the city retains its religious importance and many younger temples have been erected nearby or on top of the ancient ones. Hundreds of pilgrims make their way here each day to honor the giant reclining Buddha or to give alms to the monks who reside here. At Wat Phanan Choeng, we watched a group of devotees wrapping a colossal golden Buddha in sacred yellow cloth, while others outside gave offerings to the fattened catfish swimming in the river.
It’s easy to get temple overload in a place so rich in cultural treasures, so we left ready and excited to head south to the islands of the Andaman Sea for week of rest and relaxation.