Ayutthaya, a city with a rich history. In the former capital of the Siamese kingdom, only dilapidated ruins bear witness to its former glory. But in the midst of these buildings, you inevitably feel transported back to a bygone era. So we made our way from Bangkok, 70 kilometers away, to the former capital and today's UNESCO World Heritage Site to immerse ourselves in the foreign culture and the land of smiles in the footsteps of long-forgotten kings.
We set off from Hua Lamphong Central Station to Ayutthaya, sat on a bench in the station concourse a short time later, 40 baht (~ €1) lighter, and waited until our train finally departed. 50 cents per person for a 70-kilometer train ride! Regional trains run almost every hour, but if you want a more comfortable journey, you can also take a minibus or cab. If time permits, we always prefer to use public transport on our trips, as it saves money and gives us a deeper insight into the lives of the locals. When the conductor finally let people on the train, we looked for a suitable seat. We had bought the cheapest tickets and sat in a compartment with wooden benches. At first we thought, ok, just sit down somewhere, until we noticed signs. Some seats are reserved for monks and old people, so keep your eyes open! When we were finally seated properly, we enjoyed the 1.5-hour train ride over bridges, past gray blocks of houses and green landscapes. The further we got away from the clutches of the Bangkok metropolis, the more rural and idyllic the scenery became that we observed during the journey. Warm, fresh air filtered through the open window. It felt like 100 vendors were getting on and off at every stop. Equipped with food and drink, they also found grateful customers in us. So here we were, on a train full of monks and locals of all ages, and we seemed to be the only tourists, not just in the carriage but in the whole country. At least that's how people looked at us.
Once we arrived in the city, we shouldered our rucksacks and made our way on foot to our previously booked accommodation. It was idyllically nestled in a beautifully landscaped garden with a large pond and the hotel's own pool enticed us with its cool water. As we didn't want to visit the ruins until the next day, we relaxed for the rest of the afternoon.
The remains of the former metropolis are spread over several kilometers, which is why we asked ourselves how we should best organize the tour to the buildings. Our accommodation provided free bicycles, so the question was quickly answered. The next morning we set off on our exploration tour on two rusty bikes, feeling refreshed and rested - and is there anything better than a bike tour through an unknown city in a foreign country with left-hand traffic?
On the way to our first port of call, countless small buildings next to the road bore witness to the city's former greatness. From a distance, you can already see Wat Mahathat, built in 1374, and its central prang. This is one of the most important elements of the temple, but it collapsed in 1911 and since then only the stone remains indicate its former height. At the entrance, which is open from 8 am to 5 pm, we bought tickets for 50 baht each (~ €1.50) and strolled off. Paved paths led us through the ruins and we couldn't help but feel the significance of the site, which was once one of the most sacred buildings in the city before the Burmese destroyed most of it in 1767.
To show their power, the Burmese smashed countless dams. The inhabitants of Ayutthaya wanted to protect as much as possible from the conquerors. So they buried the head of a Buddha in the ground to hide it. However, Mother Nature had planned a fig tree in this exact spot and allowed the severed head to grow into the tree.
On the opposite side of the road from Wat Mahathat is one of Ayutthaya's most famous temples, Wat Ratchaburana. Legends and stories abound about the foundation of the building. If one is to be believed, it was built in 1424 to house the ashes of two brothers. These were the siblings of the king at the time, who had killed each other in a duel. But even if nobody knows the exact background, we can assure you that its size is impressive! If you climb the main jump and look over the trees into the distance, you can enjoy a great view.
WAT PHRA SI SANPHET
Following the road along Rama Park, we reached Wat Phra Si Sanphet after about one kilometer. As we approached, we could already see the three large chedis that were part of Ayutthaya's former royal palace. Before its destruction by the Burmese in 1767, the temple was the largest and most admirable in the entire city, equivalent to today's Wat Phra Kaeo in Bangkok. During the conquest, countless sites were destroyed and looted, including Wat Phra Si Sanphet. It was not until 1956 that the temple was painstakingly restored.
WAT PHRA RAM
Wat Phra Ram is just a stone's throw away from Wat Phra Si Sanphet. It is still not clear when the temple was built. But you can tell that it was one of the most important temples by its orientation. This is because all important temples in Thailand face east. The large prang was built on a square base and steep stairs lead up to its entrances. The central tower is surrounded by around 40 smaller chedis, some of which have been destroyed.
And if you've already seen enough stone blocks, seated Buddhas and chedis, you should go to the reclining Buddha. The practical thing about Ayutthaya is that many of the most interesting sites are located very close to each other, which is also the case with Wat Lokayasutharam. The stone statue measures 42 meters in total and is also known as Wat Phra Non. Researchers assume that the Buddha was originally surrounded by a temple, at least there is evidence of a foundation.
WAT CHAI WATTHANARAM
Wat Chai Watthanaram was the last temple complex before we ended our jaunt through Ayutthaya. Built in 1630, the temple with its 35 meter high central tower represents the Buddhist world view with its floor plan. The main spire symbolizes Mount Meru, while the four smaller towers represent the four continents. There are a total of 120 Buddha statues along the walls, which make for a great photo opportunity as they sit in rows.
After an exciting day and countless photos, we returned to our accommodation exhausted but happy. Impressed and still speechless by the silent witnesses of time, we felt like explorers who had freed the ruins of the former metropolis from the clutches of the jungle. However, some of us had not survived this exciting exploration tour without permanent damage. Lui had forgotten to apply sun cream and consequently had a pretty severe sunburn. But the cool pool and the view of the upcoming adventure on the island of Koh Phangan should ease the pain!