Friday, 20 March 2009

The Kingdom of Ayutthaya

A must-do in Bangkok is the tour of Ayutthaya, going by bus and returning by a cruise down the Chao Praya River. For 1800 Baht (USD 50) this whole day trip is a steal with lunch, pick-up and drop-off at hotel arranged.
This should be followed up by the Siam Niramit show at the Thailand Cultural Center which promises to bring to life the history and culture of the people of Thailand in vivid colour. It simply completes the experience.

After having visited the ruins of Ayutthaya about 8 years ago with my late father, he would have been happy to know that the ancient site is looking better than before due to ongoing rehabilitation and excavation of this World Cultural Heritage site. The Ayutthaya estate, situated on an island, lends to its strategic position and rich rice economy.

The Kingdom of Ayutthaya and then capital of Thailand was established in 1350 AD by King Ramathibodi and lasted for 417 years. Wat Chaiwatthanaram, one of the most important Bhuddhist monastries consists of a main prang (Khmer-type tower) and 4 lesser prangs surrounded by a further 8 lesser prangs, occupies pride of place centrally.

Most of the Buddha images have been looted except for this one trapped in the roots of a fig tree. Headless figures line the Wat as testament to mans' greed and penchant for destruction. The few remaining images of Buddha can be viewed at the Chao Sam Praya National Museum.Back in the day, Ayutthaya was a busy metropolis and welcomed foreign traders, including the Chinese, Vietnamese, Indians, Japanese and Persians and later the Portugese, Spanish, Dutch and French permitting them to set up villages outside the city walls. The strong Chinese influence is seen throughout the city to this day.

In the sixteenth century, it was described by foreign traders as one of the biggest and wealthiest cities in the East. The pomp and pageantry is well depicted in the Journey back to History at Siam Niramit.

The court of King Narai (1656-1688) had strong links with that of King Louis XIV of France, whose ambassadors compared the city in size and wealth to Paris.

So strong was the French influence on the Thai royalty that the Bang Pa In Summer Palace dating back to the 17th century was built in French architectural style. King Mongkut (Rama IV) revived this style in the 19th century and the result is what you see today.

A Chinese style residence built in China was transported over as a gift to King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in 1889.

The might of Ayutthaya knew no bounds and its vassals included the Northern Shan states of present-day Myanmar, Lanna (Chiang Mai, Yunnan & Shan Sri (China), Lan Xang (Laos), Cambodian Kingdom, and some city-states in the Malay Peninsula. Early on in his reign, King Ramathibodi had seized Angkor from the Khmers.

Malacca and other Malay states had become Muslim early in the 15th century, and thereafter Islam served as a symbol of Malay solidarity against the Thais. As it failed to make a vassal state of Malacca, Ayutthayan control of the strait was gradually displaced by the Malays and Chinese.

In 1569 Ayutthaya eventually fell to the Burmese Kingdom of Tounggoo as part of its 'imperial expansion' plan.

Imagine this apsara / nymph / celestial maiden stepping out of the alcove . . . magical effect in Siam Niramit.

Ayutthaya entered into its golden age, a relatively peaceful episode, in the second quarter of the eighteenth century when art, literature, and learning flourished while foreign wars were fought against the Vietnamese and Burmese. Eventually Ayutthaya fell in 1767 to Burma after a lengthy siege. Ayutthaya's art treasures, the libraries containing its literature, and the archives housing its historic records were almost totally destroyed.

Leaving behind the legacy of ancient Ayutthaya, the 2-hour river cruise afforded time to savour Bangkok au natural along the Chao Praya.

A Wat in downtown Bangkok.
Rama VIII Bridge
Riverine Temple

The 'Bangkok Hilton'

Luxury villa

Bangkok skyline

1 comment:

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