When we planned our Thailand Trip, we roughly gave Bangkok 4 days. We realized that it was a mistake the moment we stepped into Bangkok. Why – you would ask? I think I should save that for another post, but, for now, I would just say that Bangkok is not a city that opens itself up easily. I was in no mood of spending 4 days at shopping malls and temples and that is when Ayutthaya came in mind.
Ayutthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ayutthaya is roughly 80km from Bangkok and it would take about 3 hours to reach depending on the traffic. Luckily, we planned it on New Years’ and the roads were pretty empty after the New Year’s Eve parties.
We reached Ayutthaya by a mini-van and the moment we stepped down into this laid-back and sleepy town, we were surrounded by Tuk Tuk drivers who were very determined to get quick clients. It was a hot day and we did not have our bikes, so Tuk Tuk seemed to be a good option for us.
The Tuk Tuk driver showed us some worn out pictures & maps of the sites and temples; briefed us about the same. In no time we hopped into a very shabby Tuk Tuk and zeroed down 6 temples that we would be visiting.
As we drove through the canals and ponds in Ayutthaya, it was not very difficult to notice a stark resemblance between Ayutthaya and Angkor Wat (Cambodia). I have not visited Angkor, but, I’ve seen pictures and read enough about Angkor. The driver also told that Wat Chaiwattharanam in Ayutthaya is believed to be a representation of Angkor Wat. I was excited.
The temples of Ayutthaya are strikingly similar yet different because of the history associated with it. I say similar because of the way it is constructed, the prangs and the numerous headless Buddha statues all over the ruins.
As I wandered around the ruins, there was one thought that constantly came in my mind. With very few exceptions, every single Buddha statue was headless. I wonder why the Burmese Army during their invasion in Thailand cut the head and arms of most of the Buddha statues? It is said that at the time of invasion there were around 10,000 Buddha statues and all of them were beheaded. But, the head is nowhere to be found. The irony is, Burmese are predominantly Buddhists as well! Nevertheless, the ruins of Ayutthaya is very well preserved and you cannot help but wonder how stunning it must have been during its glorious past.
I read that most of the heads were looted and sold to different museums in U.S and Europe. However, one buddha head inexplicably survived and a peepal tree grew around engulfing this Buddha’s head. Somehow this buddha’s head and the peepal tree reminded me of Bodh Gaya and the Maha Bodhi Tree in Bihar. It is said that Buddha attained enlightenment under the peepal tree in Gaya and since then the place is known as Bodh Gaya and the peepal tree as Bodhi Tree. And, here in Ayutthaya, this ruin simply brought the belief of Buddha’s Enlightenment that happened in Gaya to life. Fascinating!
As I walked through the ruins of Ayutthaya, I realized how Ayutthaya has set a strong example for all of us in life. Ayutthaya’s beautiful kingdom was invaded and set alight by the Burmese. They destroyed it completely. But, Ayutthaya remained. It rose up – As Ruins. As a World Heritage Site. And now thousands visit Ayyuthya for this. I wonder if Ayutthaya would have been as famous as it is now if it was not invaded.
Though I fall, I will rise again.
Getting there and getting out:
If you are located near any of the BTS stations, head to Mo Chit BTS Station. From there, head to Bangkok Bus Terminal (Chatuchak) – Floor 1, Counter 18 sells tickets for Ayutthaya. The one-way fare is 70 Baht/person via a mini van.
At Ayutthaya bus station, you can find a lot of Tuk Tuk drivers who’ll be ready to take you for a tour. However, if you’re interested in doing it yourself, you can opt for bike/bicycle rentals from Ayutthaya. If you plan to take Tuk Tuk, bargain heavily. We paid 700 baht for 6 temples (approximately 5 hours including lunch time). Personally, I do not like the Tuk Tuk option. If you can find a bike, opt for that. Bicycles can get tiring because the climate is very hot (even in December) and the sites are located far away.
For the return journey, you can take the minivan from Ayutthaya bus station which will drop you near Mo Chit BTS station. It is good to leave around 5 – 6 PM after which the frequency of minivan reduces.