From the size, number and density of the ruined monuments here it is easy to appreciate the grandeur and grace that Ayuddaya must have possessed in its hey-day. Many visitors who are aware of the tragic past of this ghost of a city feel a certain melancholy as they wander around the ruins of buildings that weren't abandoned, in a city that never fell into decay or decline, but met a sudden and savage end. This melancholy is something that a monk advised the author shouldn't be pushed away, as it is a positive feeling of empathy with the suffering of others, which is one of the steps on the eight-fold path that together constitute the fourth of Gautama Buddha's Four Noble Truths, which together promise an end to the suffering caused through attachment to impermanent phenomena.
The best way to arrive in Ayutthaya is to shadow your forebears and take a deluxe boat ride upriver from Bangkok. As an introduction, take a river tour around the island, which can easily be arranged on arrival and provides a splendid vantage point, but is not possible in the rainy season. Then take an elephant ride www.ayutthayaelephantcamp.com round a few of the monuments for a closer look. In typically idiosyncratic Thai style, you usually need to pay an entry fee to the ruined temples, whilst the restored ones are free. A few of the more memorable monuments are as follows:
Wat Phra Si Sanphet is the largest temple in Ayutthaya and is known for its row of chedis (Thai-style stupas). Housed within the grounds of the former royal palace and a venue for royal religious ceremonies, it once housed a 16-metre Buddha covered with 340 kg of gold. When the Burmese set fire to the statue in order to melt the gold, they destroyed the temple in the process.
Trimuk Hall is located behind the Sanphet Prasat Hall and is believed to have been the royal relaxation area and residential area of the consort members.
At Wat Phra Mahathat several leaning prangs look like they will at any moment give up the battle with gravity, whilst the rows of headless Buddhas are eerily atmospheric. This is also the location of the famous tree growing around a Buddha head).
Phra Chedi Si Suriyothai is a restored white- and gold-coloured chedi built as a memorial to the first heroine in Siamese history (see above). Adjacent to Chedi Phra Si Suriyothai, and in typically incongruous Thai style, is a park containing old Buddha statue fragments - on the grounds of the Ayutthaya Distillery Company's rum plant. Located on an old battle-field 3 kilometres northeast of the city, Somdet Phra Suriyothai contains a life-sized bronze statue of Princess Suriyothai on the neck of her war elephant, as well as 49 other associated sculptures, models of historical events, a reservoir and a public park.
Wat Nah Phra Meru has a large viharn containing the biggest bronze Buddha image in Ayutthaya, incongruously dressed in full royal regalia. The viharn is set in well-maintained grounds which contain Buddha images, a small koi carp pond and three ruined chedis, one of which has a large bodhi tree growing out of the top of it.
Wat Yai Chaimongkon is a large working wat, which features a large Buddha in saffron robes reclining in its own ruined wiharn and, most spectacularly, a huge chedi swathed in golden cloth set in a courtyard lined by Buddha images swathed in saffron robes. Very photogenic.
The Chao Sam Phraya National Museum is where you can find some of the Buddha heads that are so conspicuously missing from the sites themselves and, amongst many other worthwhile exhibits, intricate wood carvings and an immense bronze Buddha head from the U Thong period.
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