Wednesday, September 29, 2010

29 September 2010

Yesterday was the first time I drove some place that I had never been (i.e. by having someone else take us there).  I looked on the map, and decided to explore some of the touristic charms of Ayutthaya off the "island".   Those of you on Facebook can see an album i posted there.
Ayutthaya city, capital of the province where I live, was the capital of Thailand for four hundred years or so, ending in 1767 (I think) when the invading Burmese torched and sacked the place.  The Thai response was basically to get up and move, since the city was uninhabitable.  They moved to Thonburi for a short while, then across the river to the current capital, Bangkok.
As far as I understand, it never occurred to the Thai that Ayutthaya's ruins were a treasure trove, until the fifth king of the current (Chakri) dynasty, known in English as King Chulalongkorn (successor to his father, King Mongkut, the king of "The King and I"), started work to restore it.  I think it may have been as a result of visiting the west and seeing how they preserved and respected old treasures.  The Thai respected their treasures, but apparently didn't know a ruined city was one.  Well, that was a hundred or so years ago.   There is now an endless supply of things to see on the island (I guess about 9 square miles) which was the location of the capital, as well as off the island in all directions.  The more modern part of Ayutthaya now lies to the east of the island.  In 1991 Ayutthaya was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Yesterday we visited Wat Chai Wattanaram, a ruin with a lot of remaining structure and statuary, though in poor condition.  It sits on the river, in a gorgeous location.  It's a huge complex for having just been a temple.  Next we went to St Joseph's church, founded by the French a few hundred years ago, but also succumbing to a blaze, and rebuild in the 19th century.  Didn't get a chance to go inside, but it's lovely and the grounds are lovely.  It has a school attached to it.
After that we went to Wat Putthaisawan, further down the river a short ways, with two boat landings on the temple grounds, and finally the Portuguese settlement, which is basically an archeological ruin with one special treat.... a building housing a lot of skeletons basically "baked" onto concrete slabs.  Unfortunately there is nothing further left of the settlement of the first Europeans to appear in old Siam.  This site was restored in the past twenty years thanks to the Thai government, the Portuguese embassy, and the Gulbenkian Foundation (Portugal's greatest cultural benefactors).
Getting to these places was interesting.  Signage is a bit whimsical on streets, but we found what "had to be " the right road to the first place, and just followed it along with my nose.  It is amazing how "out in the country" we were along these roads.  The roads were very good, but you certainly felt like you were in the middle of nowhere.  Somehow we managed to find everything.  We were on our way to cross the river downstream about 3 miles, to come up the other side and visit the Japanese and Dutch settlements, but didn't make it yesterday.  Another trip.  There is enough to keep us busy without going more than 25 miles from home here.  Here's one picture of Wat Chai Wattanaram.

1 comment:

  1. From what I've read, when the Thais left Ayutthaya they took a fair amount of the bricks with them to create their new city. And to extract the bricks the Chinese workers burned Ayutthaya (when burned, the mortar falls off and the bricks harden - direct quote).

    Ok, that's not the story taught in Thai schools (and if you mention it to Thais they will disagree loudly). That little tidbit comes from a Thai professor at Chiangmai Uni. For more, read Alex Kerr's fabulous book Bangkok Found, reflections on the city.