Between the 1400′s and 1700′s, Ayutthaya was a wealthy and powerful city that controlled most of modern-day Thailand. Taking advantage of the Chao Phraya, Lopburi, and Pasak rivers that surround it, it quickly grew into a major international trade hub with a population of one million and home to over forty different nationalities. In their Golden Age, much of their wealth was spent on grand temples, libraries and art. Sadly, the good times came to an abrupt end when Burma captured and destroyed the entire city in 1767. Once the Burmese were driven out, Bangkok was built as the new capital.
Today, Ayutthaya has a modern city area, but the main attractions are the ruins of the old temples. Even in their current??dilapidated??state, they’re incredible and it’s easy to imagine how impressive they must have been to the people living there. For me, visiting the peaceful, solemn ruins was a good time to reflect on how temporary everything is. Ironically, the word Ayutthaya comes from the Sanskrit word for “invincible,” and I’m sure the city probably did seem invincible at the time. Four hundred years later and they’re just crumbling blocks in the middle of a field. You never know what time will bring.
However, one of the temples we stopped at, Wat Phanan Choeng, was a??frenetic swarm of activity, pretty much??the complete opposite of the somber ruins. Packed with tourists and devotees alike, we had to elbow our way through the crowd just to get in. There was so much burning incense in the air, it was hard to see and breathe.??An orange-robed monk splashed everyone with holy water as soon as they entered. A man on a microphone was talking so rapidly in Thai, it sounded like he was an auctioneer. (I really wish I knew what he was saying.) It seemed like there was money everywhere. Huge donation boxes filled with cash lined the aisles along with miniature trees with money clipped to them. After we passed all that, we finally got to the wat’s main feature: a 62-foot-tall gold Buddha that takes up the entire hall.
We explored the city on foot, bike, and boat and managed to see quite a bit. On the busy rivers we passed by tugboats towing concrete barges with just a regular rope. At night, there was a huge night market/Chinese New Year celebration that went all along the main road. There were concerts, dances, and dragons along with stalls selling food and goods. It was definitely the most fun night market we’ve been to yet.
Now we’re in Bangkok, getting our visa situations figured out. It was a bit of trouble, but we managed to get our visa for China. Next we’re applying for our Vietnamese one. It looks like we might not be able to get a tourist visa for Russia, though, so our plans there may be in trouble. We may have to make do with a transit visa and only do the Trans-Siberian Railway or just skip it all together. We’ll just have to wait and see!