Thailands Ancient Capitals

Before I start this blog I want to let you know that it will not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s gonna be pretty long, informative and in some points maybe even a little bit boring so don’t worry I won’t feel offended if you skip through it and mainly look at the pictures….

After spending a lot of time admiring the immaculate marble and gold architecture of Bangkok and Kanchanaburi we were very happy to be moving on to Ayutthaya. Between 1350 and 1767 Ayutthaya was the capital of Siam (Thailand) and one of the most dynamic cities in Asia, until the Burmese army invaded the capital completely destroying the city and its people. In 1991 Ayutthaya’s ruined Empire was named a Unesco world heritage site, which is what Ayutthaya is best known for and the reason most people come to visit today……If you are already bored don’t worry the pictures will be coming soon!

IMG_6636As Steve and I did not have much of an understanding of Buddhism or the history of Siam we decided it would be best to get an audio tour for the historical park (although having one player and two headphones resulted in MANY arguments along the way!

We started our journey at Wat Phra Mahatat. Walking through the grounds, listening to our audio guide, I was completely in awe of this remarkable site. Wat Mahatat was recognised as the most sacred Temple in the period of Ayutthaya’s reign and even after the Burmese burnt down the Wat, the ruins have remained infamous. The once majestic Temples were left crumbled after the invasion, with fallen columns and decapitated Buddha images so we had to use our imagination to picture how these buildings looked in their prime.

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Wat Phra Mahatat

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Buddha Relics

IMG_4859One of the most interesting parts of the Temple, was the head of Buddha enshrined within a Bodhi Tree, thought to have been accidentally left behind by the Burmese and then captured within the tree as it grew.

Wat Phra Mahatat was surrounded with Buddha relics, however completely disfigured they had been maintained pretty well throughout the hundreds of years since the invasion and in my opinion I found the ruins much more interesting than any of the glittering Temples we had previously visited.IMG_6671

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3 main chedi’s (stupa’s)

After leaving our first destination we hopped on our bicycles and rode the short journey to Wat Phra Si Sanphet. This Temple was once Ayutthaya’s largest and most iconic Wat, housing a 16m high Buddha image, covered in gold, which was unfortunately melted by the Burmese. Si Sanphet’s main attraction is the three main Chedi’s, which have been restored many times since the invasion and covered in Stucco, which is made from a combination of lime, sugarcane and sand (obviously we learnt all of this from our extremely informative audio guide).

IMG_6714Next to the impressive Wat Phra Si Sanphet was Phra Mongkorn Bophit, this again was a newish Temple and after walking around the ruins I wasnt honestly that interested to see a shiny gold temple, but we were right there so thought we may as well take a look. This historical building houses one of the largest bronze Buddha images in Thailand, however due to lightning storms and a string of fires this 17m image has undergone many restorations, the most recent being completed in 1957.

After visiting the main sites in Ayutthaya’s world renowned historical parks we spent the rest of the day cycling in and around the park and ended our day with a ‘party’ at Moradok Thai Guesthouse (which we will tell you about later!)

On our second day in Ayutthaya, we left the city and took a day trip to a small town called Lopburi. Carrying on our historical tour we thought we would check out one of Thailand’s oldest cities, however the ruins were not very well maintained and near enough non-existent : ( This definitely is not the reason most people come to visit Lopburi anymore (Steve will update you on why people now visit this ancient Thai city later today…)

After three nights in Ayutthaya we decided to head north to Sukhothai. Regarded as the first capital of Siam. Sukhothai was in power from the mid 13th century to the late 14th century, when it was absorbed by Ayutthaya. Sukhothai’s Historical Park is one of Thailand’s most visited and most impressive World Heritage Sites.

IMG_4958The park, which is located in the Old City of Sukhothai is split up into 5 zones, Central, Northern, Southern……you know where im going with this. The Central zone is the main zone and luckily for us this was located right outside ‘Vitoon Guesthouse’ our home for the next few nights. Even though we could see the park entrance we decided to rent bikes as we were slightly hung over from our extremely interesting NYE the night before and didn’t feel much like walking! We also opted for the audio tour as we were pretty impressed the first time round and for 150 baht (3 gbp) we would be able to learn about all the sites in the Northern and Central zones.

Sukhothai’s park was huge in comparison to Ayutthaya’s and there was so much more to cover, surprisingly Steve preferred the two Temples in Ayutthaya (maybe that was because he’s lazy) but I was completely blown away by the sheer size of Sukhothai’s former Kingdom and I couldn’t wait to explore it!

Here are some of the best bits from the Central Zone….

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We cycled to the Southern zone aswell before heading back to the Centre to watch the sunset over Wat…. (I may have forgotten the name) as recommended by our Hostel but to be honest it did not compare to those we have seen in Kanchanaburi so we didn’t stick around to watch the end of it!

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On our second day we wanted to travel slightly further afield to see what the fuss was about in the Eastern and Western zones so we hired a moped (Steve’s new favourite pastime). We started in the Western Zone (100 Baht entrance fee) and our first stop was Wat Saphin Hin. After walking up a few steps Steve noticed smoke coming from the Temple, I reassured him that this must just be coming from the incense sticks that we regularly see being burnt in front of Buddha images, however as we climbed the hundreds of steps and started to get closer the smoke started to increase. I was still sure there was a reasonable explanation for this…………I was wrong! The Temple was indeed on fire!!

We had seen a Chinese couple walking away from the Temple, and of course we are not suggesting that they were in any way responsible but when we shouted out “FIRE” they didn’t even turn around to see what was going on, if anything they started walking faster back down the hill. Out of nowhere a man appeared, who we can only presume was in charge of the safety/ protection of the Temple. He literally arrived at the Temple, seconds after Steve shouted fire however unfortunately he was not armed with anything to put the fire out! Luckily it was a hot day and Steve and I had packed our usual big bottle of water which we removed from our bag and handed to the man who began throwing it everywhere. Steve and I were trying to help out by jumping on the smaller flames in front of us…………………anyway long story short we saved a thousand-year old monument from complete incineration. We did show the pictures of this ‘event’ to Karsten and Simone (our new friends) but obviously they couldn’t understand the sheer scale of the life threatening fire from our pictures!

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We spent the rest of the day covering the remaining ruins, however we did not find anything nearly as impressive as the first day, so if you do visit Sukhothai for a short time focus on the Central and Northern zones first.

We made a short trip into New Sukhothai whilst we had the freedom of the moped and when I say short I mean short we literally arrived, saw that there was NOTHING going on and then turned the moped around and headed back to the familiar Old City.

So that complete’s my history lesson of the day, I am sure Mr Rodgers would be very proud of me!

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