AYUTTHAYA, THAILAND: Welcome to the land of wats, chedis, pagodas, and stupas. Once known as Siam, it is familiar as the location of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I. Thailand is a mysterious, exotic and colorful destination filled with floating markets, saffron robes, and massive Buddha statues.
To the people of Thailand, the ancient city of Ayutthaya has long been the spiritual heart of the nation. Here visitors discover the greatest treasures of the kingdom where they are able to connect with the past and better understand Thailand’s heritage.
Simply put, these are the “Thais that bind.”
Getting to Know Ayutthaya, Thailand
Located just over 50 miles from Bangkok. Travelers can access Ayutthaya by train, car or taxi but another pleasant method is by boat along the Chao Phraya River.
Here riverboats glide silently along Thailand’s interstate waterway with its impressive picturesque temples dotting the shoreline.
Founded in 1350, Ayutthaya was the second major capital of Siam (Sukhothai being the first). During its five centuries of dominance, Ayutthaya was regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world until it was ransacked by the Burmese in the 18th century.
Commerce in Thailand
As a center of commerce, Ayutthaya attracts trade from Europe as well as Asia. Traders in search of luxurious materials and Thai rice. Thai rice was then recognized as the ultimate commodity of its type in a category all its own. Much like brands such as Beluga caviar and Dom Perignon champagne stand for luxury today.
Thanks to its strategic geographical position, Ayutthaya flourished. An island, Ayutthaya is surrounded by three rivers that flow to the Gulf of Thailand. Accessibility from the outside world was critical to Ayutthaya’s prosperity with the seafaring explorations of the Portuguese being the first traders to arrive in the 16th century.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, Ayutthaya, is an ideal place for a day trip from Bangkok.
Among the most popular, and best preserved, temples in Ayutthaya is Wat Yai Chai Mongkon. At just over 200 feet in height, it is possible to climb the steps to the base of the chedi to get stunning views of the city. A chedi , or a stupa, is a mound-like structure for meditation. Within the chedi are relics, or remains, of Buddhist monks or nuns.
Wat Yai Chai Mongkon in Thai Buddhism is because it was the monastery of the monks who journeyed to Ceylon to study. Here you will encounter row upon row of Buddha images done in the Sukothai style.
Buddhas are typically posed in either a sitting or a reclining position. Look closely however, for it is the poses and gestures of the statues that give them their significance.Each mudra or “pose” represents a particular event in the life of the Buddha with five specific depictions being among the most common.
The following images from Buddha Poses and Postures: The Meanings of Buddha Statues’ Hands show the differences in the posture of the Buddha’s hands.
Travelers will encounter a “reclining Buddha” from time to time. This is a mudra representing Buddha during his last hours. It signifies signifying tranquility and detachment from worldly desires before passing to Nirvana. As with other Buddhas, a reclining Buddha, though more rare than its sitting counterpart, also features specific gestures and poses that are meaningful.
A reclining Buddha
A great example of a reclining Buddha in Ayutthaya is Wat Lokayasutharam. The 137-foot stone image is unusual as Buddha’s head perches on a lotus leaf, rather than her hand or a pillow.
The word wat basically translates to “Buddhist or Hindu temple” in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. In this case, the Wat Lokayasutharam complex today is more of a ruin than a temple with the exception of the remaining Buddha.
Even so, the sheer size of the Buddha is well worth a visit.
Among the most famous temples at Ayutthaya is Wat Chaiwatthanaram where royal ceremonies were carried out by the kings.
King Naresuan the Great
King Naresuan the Great (1555 –1605), one of Thailand’s best loved monarchs, helped free Ayutthaya from the Burmese. Naresuan, astride a horse is a popular tourist photo. The statues massive base highlights his accomplishments including an image where the king wrestles a crocodile,
As visitors stroll through the alluring grounds of Ayutthaya, they often notice numerous roosters scattered throughout the park. Naresuan, or Sanphet II, was King of the Ayutthaya Kingdom from 1590. He was overlord of Lan Na from 1602 until his death in 1605.
Naresuan gambled his freedom with a Burmese prince on a cockfight during the time when he was held captive by his arch enemy.
In tribute, visitors frequently leave model roosters at various temples throughout Ayutthaya as offerings of thanks.
Though badly damaged in 1767 after the fall of Ayutthaya, Wat Phra Sri Sanphet still represents the largest and most grand of the ancient city’s temples. So legendary was its beauty that it became the model for the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok.
The most famous, and most photographed, Buddha image is ‘Wat Maha That.” A Buddha head has become enshrined within the trunk of Bhodi tree as an eternal tribute to its surroundings.
Living proof that a visit to Ayutthaya, Thailand is a place where “its ‘bark’ is worth its bite.”
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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