Monday, January 21, 2008

Take 2: A day in the old capital, Ayuthaya

Since we had a few days to kill in Bangkok before other people got in, we decided to leave for a day. Gopika, Deanna and I decided we wanted to go to Ayuthaya, Thailand's (then Siam) capital from 1350-1767. There are ruins scattered throughout the country, but at a mere 86km northwest of Bangkok, we knew it couldn't be missed. Ayuthaya Historical Park encompasses all the ruins in the area and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

We hopped on the early morning train from Bangkok central station. It was relaxing... for Deanna, who didn't give up her seat for elderly folks the entire hour and a half ride. Jerk:)
It was a beautiful ride though and gave us a good chance to see some country side after being succumb by Bangkok's city scene. People came through (well, shoved and pushed through) the aisles selling fun food - this was my first and last taste of jimblings/star gooseberries. They were so ridiculously sour. The flavored sugar packet it came with cut the bite, but it was still pretty painful to eat. And they had pits in the middle. What do you do with pits?

To get to as many ruins as we could in the day, we rented bikes. Best decision ever. They were a total blast and I think I actually stopped sweating while riding.
We tried to make our way to first and biggest ruins of the area. We decided to park our bikes here and later found out that there was a bike rack like 50 m away. Anyway, this is me reading about what we were looking at. It goes a little something like this:
"Wat Phra Mahathat:
One of Ayuthaya's most photographed sites is on the grounds of this temple. Built during the reign of King Ramesuan in the 14th century, it is home to the Buddha head embedded in twisted tree roots. Despite extensive damage - not much was left standing after the Burmese hordes had finished - the Khmer-style tower is still impressive: it was one of the first built in the capital." - Thailand Lonely Planet
We not only missed the bike rack, but also the entrance to the Wat. We were at the back left corner, but had no idea and were in such awe that we just started hiking around and snapping pictures. Eventually we found the front and paid the proper entrance fee.

This is the famous Buddha head mentioned before. As we walked around the grounds, naive me got into lots of trouble. First I got whistled at by a guard for standing on a pedestal I wasn't supposed to. Then I got whistled at for taking a picture with this Buddha standing up (apparently your head is never supposed to be higher than a Buddha's). This picture was taken by the most hilarious Japanese tourist ever. First he offered to take our picture with it. He was giving me and Gopika very specific instructions about where to shuffle to get just the right shot. My head was apparently much to small so I had to come toward him a lot. After about 15 shots like that, he goes, "Oh, did she want to be in it?" pointing to Deanna. She was just like, "ummm, no it's fine, whatever. Like I matter." This was right after that and one of two shots with Deanna in it. He then made Gopika his personal photographer and had her do the same for him. He had very specific instructions for exactly how she had to take the pictures of him and where Buddha's head should be in proportion and position to him. Meanwhile, a tour bus had gotten dropped off and about 25 people were waiting to snap a shot as well. Priceless.
Sitting Buddha!

Off in the distance you can see two chedi (stupas). These are quintessential Ayuthaya style, which has been identified with Thai art more than any other single style in its time. Many royal temples or palaces for the kings utilized this design. Again, it was built in the 14th century!
This was our "high school senior picture" pose.
It was about midday and getting hotter, so we grabbed a snack and sat on this here bridge with our feet rejuvenating in the river water. Definitely a highlight of the day.

Onto more ruins. Look closely to see all the decapitated Buddhas. We couldn't quite figure out why only their heads were gone.

The Leaning Tower of Chedi?

Outside of this wat were a bunch of kids playing tag... with guns. It was a little scary, but also somehow still incredibly cute.
This was the best treat of the day - it was like a cotton candy filled crepe. The bags are filled with what tastes like cotton candy, but has the texture of really thick hair strands. They're taken from the bags and put into hot off the griddle crepe like pancakes. Mmmmm.

We stopped at a few other places along the way: a market, a huge area being prepped for a midnight marathon with yummy drinks and cool clothes and shoes (that were actually expensive), a semi-dessert with a dead 10 foot phython (or some big scary snake), and Wat Mongkhon Bopit which has one of Thailand's largest Buddha images, a 15th centruy bronze casting.
Then we convinced Deanna to go to one last sight for ruins, Wat Phra Si Sanphet. It's most famous for the line of three impressive chedi. This too was built in the 14th century and used to have a 16-m high standing Buddha covered with 250kg of gold, but it was a goner by the time we got there because those dang Burmese conquerors got ahold of it and melted it down.

Snoop doggy stray dogs were all over the place in Thailand, but they were definitely the scariest in Ayuthaya. These two had a brawl on the tracks and then reclaimed their sides. The sun was setting on our way back. There are rice fields in Thailand, too!

Inside the train.
The perty sunset!

We were planning on eating out at a restaurant on the river that night, but didn't because the train got stalled 45 minutes while we waited for the King (King Rama IV) to cross the road. I'm not saying anything bad about the situation, or him or anything, because to do so would not only be highly frowned upon and shunned, it'd be illegal. Interesting...

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