weekend away - Ayutthaya
Written by John Lander Illustration by Vesa Sammalisto
Thailand’s premier UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ayutthaya Historical Park contains enough preserved ruins to delight any history buff. Visitors also love the park for its lush, green countryside setting.
Ayutthaya was the capital of ancient Siam, founded in 1350, and was one of the great trading capitals of Asia during its heyday. International traders from Portugal, Japan, China, India, Holland, Arabia, and France had flourishing outposts here. However, all this grandeur came to a halt when Burma invaded Siam in 1757 and destroyed the city. The capital moved to Thonburi, then to Bangkok, and subsequently the country’s name was changed to Thailand.
Ayutthaya Historical Park, a calm, relaxing, laid-back place, has been lovingly restored and landscaped within a park-like setting, offering whispers of the citys glorious past. The ruins were given UNESCO World Heritage status in 1991.
Don’t miss Wat Phra Si Sanphet – famous for its row of restored chedi towers. The most visited temple complex is Wat Phra Mahathat. The rows of headless Buddhas give the temple its special atmosphere: they also show the extent of the destruction at the hands of Burmese invaders. Wat Ratchaburana stands out with its huge prang (tower), which was recently restored to its original condition. Wat Chaiwatthanaram is located along the banks of the river and was built in the Khmer style, explaining its resemblance to Angkor Wat.
Almost any tour of Ayutthaya will include the nearby Summer Palace at Bang Pa In. The most memorable attractions: The Divine Seat of Personal Freedom, a pavilion in the middle of a lake, and the Sage’s Lookout a brightly coloured tower for viewing the countryside.
Part of Ayutthaya’s attraction lies in its proximity to Bangkok, less than two hours away by train or car. The usual visit means renting a bicycle to see the sights. Alternatively, almost any hotel can charter a tuk-tuk for a day or half-day. Be sure to start off early in the morning with the early morning mists, and before the heat sets in at midday.
Ayutthaya by Bike and Boat
Cycling around the park is the best way to see all the sights, as many of the temples are some distance apart. A great alternative to cycling Ayutthaya’s ruins is to take the boat. Check out Ayutthaya Boat and Travel, which has won various awards for its outstanding service. The group also offers lunch and evening dinner cruises, cycling tours, and kayaking.
Tel: +66 35 244 558