Ayutthaya

DAWN at a Thai site of wonder and mystery

Just before dawn on a warm August morning, I crouched with camera and tripod in hand and gazed across a lotus pond towards the ruins of Ayutthaya.

In perfect silence, a pair of saffron-robed monks glided past.  A faraway flute moaned a melancholy lament.  So saluted, the sun rose gently and without drama behind clouds that hung low above the Chao Phraya River.  Then magically it found a break in the overcast, bathing Ayutthaya in ample pinkish-golden light.

Ayutthaya

Surely, no place so lovely could have endured such a tragedy as befell Ayutthaya on the 14th day of  October, 1767.

Just 80 years earlier, this city was home to nearly a million people.  A grand capital located along two major rivers, the Ayutthaya of 1687 boasted  royal palaces, ornate places of worship and a highly organised system of trading centres.

London, Paris and Rome were all smaller, less ornate and less developed. 

From its golden palaces in the 16th and 17th centuries, a dynasty of Siamese kings ruled over an empire that included today’s Laos, Cambodia and Burma.  Foreign traders, mostly Portuguese, English and Dutch, recorded in their diaries that this was perhaps the most awe-inspiring city in the world.  Its grandeur, its breathtaking scale, were unsurpassed in Europe or anywhere else in Asia.

Ruins in Ayutthaya

Then, weakened by years of in-fighting, the Thais and their capital were attacked by a mighty Burmese army and the greatest city on earth was ransacked.

Ayutthaya

TRAVELERS CHECKS:

To experience Ayutthaya at dawn, you’ll need to stay overnight.  The Krung Sri River Hotel is the pick of the lot, upmarket and well-located.  Far down the luxury scale is a gaggle of basic but clean guesthouses and hostels. 

Ayutthaya is well served by daily trains or bus tours from Bangkok. The classy way to arrive, though, is by converted rice barge.

MUST KNOW:  

* This now almost forgotten city is located 86 kilometres north of present-day Bangkok.

* For its historical significance, it’s been included on the World Heritage list.

* Several of the ruined temples have steps leading to the top, but the climbs are steep and difficult.