At home in the former royal capital of Ayuthaya

Posted: March 7, 2011 in South East Asia
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A swift and easy minibus ride from Bangkok took us to Ayuthaya in little more than 1hr. Muneeza did well in booking us into the delightful Baan Lotus Guest House in the heart of town. Run by a charming old lady, it consists of 2 huge traditional Thai wooden houses set around a central pond with, you guest it, plenty of lotus flowers. The lady owner, whose name is too hard to remember, was so sweet and welcoming, not to mention hilarious. We wall wanted to take her home with us.

Ayuthaya is an interesting interlude to a stay in Bangkok. It was the capital of Siam between 1350 and 1767 and had strong links to Europe. Burmese invaders put an end to its glory. It was such beautiful place that early Portuguese visitors called it the “Venice of the East”. After the Burmese invasion, General Thaksin moved the capital to Bangkok. It was only in the 1950s that the site started to be restored and it was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1991. Today Ayuthaya is a modern town built around a litany of beautiful temple ruins and sites of historical interest. We had one day to get stuck in.

My kingdom for a rickshaw

Having booked an evening temple tour to see the town lit up by night, our plan was to wander down to the Muslim Quarter and Portuguese Settlement just south of the river. We soon realised how foolish that was; it’s hotter than Bangkok here and the walk would have been over an hour. We all would have passed out en route. Instead, we decided to flag down a tuk-tuk but we couldn’t for love nor money. Nobody wanted to take us there. Apparently it’s too far.

Instead we stepped into an AC restaurant and reviewed plans over lunch. Luckily for us, 3 lovely Thai women who all spoke reasonable English ran the restaurant. We got to know them and they offered to help us and arrange for a friend to take us where we wanted to go by tuk-tuk at a reasonable price.  We waved fond farewells and set-off.

The Portuguese Settlement is in the southeast and serves as a memorial to the Portuguese who lived here at the height of the city’s prominence. The Portuguese brought guns with them and helped the Thais defeat the Burmese in 1520. As a result of this victory, the Portuguese were given land but the Burmese then burned down the settlement in 1767 and it wasn’t until 1985 that a Portuguese foundation restored the village. Today you can see the exposed graves of the early settlers as well as ruins of the old Church. It may not be grand but it’s an interesting insight into the European influence in Thailand.

Our driver didn’t know where the Muslim Quarter was and, to be honest, blink and you miss it. As we drove back I spotted the mosque tucked down a side road, so we pulled over. The bright yellow mosque with green domes was open, so we all went inside and enjoyed a peaceful tour. We headed back to Baan Lotus for the evening tour.

It’s ruined, I tell you

The Lonely Planet claims that the ruins look better at night, lit up and assuming an ethereal glow. We threw our luck to chance and decided to stump up the cash for an organized tour and avoid the walking alternative. It proved to be a good decision.

The tour lasted 3 hours and took us to the impressive Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon before hitting the motherload of ruins in Ayuthaya Historical Park. Reclining Buddhas are like stray dogs here and we stopped at one to make a peace offering, lighting candles and laying flowers beside the Buddha. I’m not a religious person but I do enjoy taking part in other people’s customs.

The ruins did look impressive at night with a soft orange glow that gave them an almost haunting quality. It was peaceful to just stand, stare and conjure up images of former decadence.

The ruins are fascinating to visit. You can imagine how impressive the complexes would have been in their prime. For me, ruined buildings are more enjoyable than restored temples because they are imbued with a sense of history that hasn’t been tampered with. I’m not saying restoration is a bad thing; it’s just that sometimes the past is best displayed in its broken guise.

We had an obligatory stop at the night market before finishing the evening off in the local pizza joint. Culture vultures don’t you know.

Love jamer & muneeza x

Buddhist ruins Ayuthaya

 

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