Ayuthaya


The second bike had not come as anticipated by Friday, but with the first bike ready we headed out on a shakedown cruise to Ayuthaya. Ayuthaya, the formal royal capital of Thailand, is just under a hundred kilometers from Bangkok, but is worlds apart in terms of its pace. The first thing that struck us about traveling in Thailand was how relatively effortless it was compared to what we had just experienced in India. The highway rivaled the best and newest interstates to be found in America, and the exits were actually marked, numbered, and even transliterated. What a concept. In India we had grown accustomed to the practice of checking distances on the map and then keeping an eye open for our turn. When we figured we were close we would start the process of asking people for the road to such-and-such place. Still we would get to forks in the road or intersections with no markings whatsoever. The fortunate thing about India though is that no matter how remote a place is you could always find someone a short distance from any intersection, or someone would be along in a minute. The absence of any expectation of privacy occasionally had its up-side. Thailand, on the other hand, was much easier to navigate on your own, and once outside Bangkok sprawling ring of suburbs we encountered beautiful countryside and roads that felt like we had them to ourselves. Ayuthaya's center is an area completely surrounded by water formed by the confluence of three rivers and a linking canal. The rivers are bustling arteries plied by barges and tugs hauling rice and other staples from a fertile agricultural heartland. Ayuthaya's real draw though are the ruins of many temple complexes from its fluorescence as a Royal center during the 14th to 18th centuries, as well as a period as a major Khmer outpost prior to that.

The thing that strikes you immediately about visiting historical sites such as these in Thailand is how meticulously maintained and groomed they are. The fact is that everywhere we went in Thailand we found ourselves in awe about the absence of litter (San Francisco take a hint!). Even minor roadways in the countryside were immaculately clean. Admission to museums and historical places are still a bit more expensive for foreign visitors than for Thai citizens, but they are still quite reasonable, usually no more than a dollar or so. The grouping above is representative of the Khmer influence, most notably because of the prang or corncob like structure in the center. The surrounding chedi were usually oriented to the cardinal directions.


Part of Ayuthaya's charm is that many of the structures are lit at night, blanketing the ruins in an otherworldly glow.

Providing the contrast of more contemporary Thai architectural styles is Wihan Wongkhon Bophit. Last rebuilt in the 1950s, it houses one of the largest Buddha images in Thailand (below left) dating back to the 15th century. In contrast, among the precious objects that sit around the larger Buddha's base is this gold encrusted "emerald" Buddha a mere few inches tall.



Undoubtedly the most photographed Buddha image at Ayuthaya is this simple stone image (left) on the grounds of the ruins of the 14th century Wat Phra Mahathat. Almost completely entwined in the roots of a banyan tree, for many it is emblematic of Buddhism's coexistence with nature. Even the situating of these sacred sites at the confluence of these three rivers is itself indicative of the importance Buddhism places on the forces of nature. Perhaps it even exerts influence in one of Ayuthaya's other sources of renown. Across the road from Wat Phra Mahathat is just one of the many nurseries selling beautiful locally grown orchids (right).