Out Of Bangkok

I have to admit, Thailand is an easy place to get around. I just had to learn to get off the roads and out of the traffic jams. This morning I took the sky-train to Lumpini Park in downtown Bangkok. Then, after walking around there for a bit and photographing a giant (although not nearly as giant as they can get) monitor lizard, I went underground and took the MRT (aka the subway) to the train station.

A modern, crowded place, full of Thais and foreigners alike, the train station offers service pretty much anywhere in Thailand and beyond. I was headed to Ayutthaya for they early afternoon, an hour and a half (and .50 cents) north of Bangkok. Ayutthaya was the Thai capital over 400 years ago. It served as the ruling center for 33 kings and several dynasties until 1767 when the Burmese ransacked and pillaged its temples and palaces. Now Ayutthaya is a place of ancient ruins, but still spectacularly beautiful and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.

Along the way to Ayutthaya I saw first hand the extent of the flooding that occurred in then past few weeks. Trees stood in the middle of what looked like lakes and the roofs of buildings were just visible above the roiling surface of the swift moving Chao Phraya river. I thought it humorous when we passed a flooded field, then a manicured golf course surrounded by freshly dug ditches and sand bags to keep the water out, then more flooded fields. I guess they like their golf.

I arrived in Ayutthaya around one and crossed the busy street to the ferry dock that would take me across the river to the island of Ayutthaya. Today, Ayutthaya is actually a large, modern city. It’s spread out along the banks of the Chao Phraya as well as on the island where the ruins are located.

After a short ride, I arrived at the other side. The guidebooks say that the best way to see the ancient city is by bike, so I hired a green and white beach cruiser with a basket (I wish I had gotten a picture because I know I looked ridiculous) and was on my way. The first temple I came to was Wat Maha That. I was in awe. It was so amazing to see the tall, crumbling brick ruins and know that hundreds of years ago they were part of a resplendent city. Part of me wished I had stuck with my desire to be an archaeologist. I meandered among the ruins, taking photo after photo and climbing up and into the more preserved temples. In one, you could go down a steep staircase into what was probably a crypt, but is now home to a family of bats.

Back on my bike, I peddled to some of the other sites, each equally beautiful and each as breathtakingly majestic. All of the temples and palaces once had hundreds of stone carved Buddhas lining the walls, gracing places of worship, and overseeing entrances. But when the Burmese attacked, they cut off all the Buddhas heads because they believed it would weaken their enemies.
Only a few statues remain whole and others have the severed heads lying by their sides. In Wat Maha That there is a Buddha head entombed in tree roots.

I spent about 4 hours wandering among the ruins, biking over wooden bridges and admiring the beautiful sites. Then it was back to the train station and back to Bangkok for my last night in the city. Tomorrow I board a bus that will take me south to Surat Thani and then a ferry over to Koh Samui!


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