Ayutthaya: A Big Trip for a Little Head

Bangkok wasn’t always the capital of Thailand. It used to be in the city of Ayutthaya, home of endless temples, before the Burmese invaded and destroyed everything. Well, in some respects that was good, because now we had a great city of ruins within a day trip’s striking distance.

As per the usual, we had to get up earlier than we’d like to catch a train for the 100 or so miles North to reach Ayutthaya. On our taxi ride to the station, our driver indirectly chided us, saying that you need a few days to see everything there, and that you need to leave early in the morning. Yeah yeah yeah, we’ll just see what happens.

Well, also as per the usual, our scheduled 90 minute journey arrived late by 45 minutes. But no big deal, we got to see some great scenery along the way, and I caught up on some much neglected podcasts. We debated renting bikes to get around quicker, but decided just to hoof it and see what happened. There were only a few must see ruins for me anyway, and Alina had sort of stayed back and let me do all the planning so she didn’t really have an agenda.

DSC01233WWe caught a cheap ferry across the river to Ayutthaya proper which is located on an island, and started walking.

DSC01234WThe main attraction was to be the ruined Wat Phra Mahathat, located smack in the middle of the city, and the tree-enveloped head of Budha that it’s famous for. As we started exploring, much of the architecture was reminiscent of what we’d seen at Angkor Wat, but with its own special flavor.

DSC01240WThere were dozens of headless, semi-destroyed Buddha statues lining the walls everywhere. Plus, we got a great glimpse of the gigantic prang (large tower) overlooking Wat Ratchaburana just to the north. This is the most well preserved of the ruins in the city, and even from a distance we could see much of the detailed sculpture on its faces.

DSC01239WOf course, we also had to see the main event, a head of Buddha, knocked from some forgotten statue, leaning against a short wall. Growing over the wall, and seeming to swallow the head, are the roots and trunk of an ancient tree. It really is quite an sight, as the hordes of surrounding tourists attest too. In a gesture of respect, there are attendants instructing to kneel when they get their picture taken with the Buddha, as one should never be higher than him in an image.

DSC01245WAfter that, we mostly just wandered the streets, taking in other temples as we passed.

DSC01250WAt one point, we saw a processions of elephants with people on top, each lined up to have a picture taken in front of the lake with ruins in the background. Probably looks pretty great in a photo, but you know you were just in the middle of a city. Kind of cheating.

DSC01254WNever to let a post go by without talking about food, we’d read that Ayuttaya was famous for the women selling roti sai mai near the south end of the island. This is a strange but delicious treat, apparently of muslim origin. It consists of two parts; first, a thin, crepe-like pancake, but smaller, and often in different colors. Ours were green. Second, unrefined palm sugar is rolled/spun, creating fibers that are similar in many ways to cotton candy.

DSC01256WThey also come in many colors like green and pink. A small pile of these are then rolled up in the roti, creating a sweet burrito.

DSC01258WThe interesting thing is that the spun sugar comes in big plastic bags, sort of rolled up. When we first saw these, we had no idea what we were looking at, and thought it was freshly cooked pasta! Only when we visited a stall and ordered did we learn. It turns out that they were delicious, and though we gorged a bit, we managed to save enough to tide us over on the long train ride back to Bangkok.

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