A day of history (Ayutthaya)

I was excited to explore Ayutthaya after our previous afternoon’s brief introduction to this historic town. And I was definitely not disappointed by what we found. We spent the day walking all around the river-bound island and across to Wat Chaiwatthanaram.

We started our exploration with Wat Phra Mongkhon Bophit, a massive red and gold-guilded structure that houses one of the largest Buddha images in Thailand. The building is amazing and it’s scale is impossible to share in photographs alone.

Inside it houses a 17m (55′) image of the Buddha. The image is thought to have been built in the sixteenth century but was damaged in the fall of Ayutthaya in the eighteenth century when the right arm and part of the head were severed. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that the image and building were restored to their former glory.

Next door is Wat Phra Si Sanphet. I liked these ruins with the rounded white cheddies. It was large and had shady trees growing throughout the complex. But the real highlight of our visit to this site was our interaction with the school children who were completing some sort of assignment. Groups of uniformed teenage girls were shyly stopping tourists and asking whether they spoke English. If the answer was “yes”, then a series of short questions would follow. Two groups of girls were brave enough to stop us to ask questions. I answered the first “interview” and Paul did the second. Then I saw a group of girls who had just been speaking with their teacher. They looked shy and scared. So I asked them whether they wanted us to do an interview and they looked so relieved. I’m studying teaching at university and think this makes a fantastic way for children learning a foreign language to engage with native language speakers in a semi-realistic setting. It’s a relatively safe controlled environment because you are in a tourist park with clear boundaries. And most tourists don’t mind helping students in this way.

It was a long walk from here around the island to the bridge that leads across the river to Wat Chaiwatthanaram. There’s a pretty little restaurant right on the river’s edge that serves delicious food for a great price. Both of us were hungry after walking for hours and we ate up a feast.

Wat Chaiwatthanaram was worth the 10km walk from our hotel. The complex was large and overlooked the greeny-brown river. We walked around the outer edge of the complex but chose not to climb the stairs to the centre spire because the structure looked vulnerable from years of existence. The wat was originally constructed in about 1630. Again, many of the Buddha images had their heads chopped off.

We contemplated catching a tuk tuk or taxi back to our hotel but found ourselves walking to a more modern wat just near the cross-river bridge. The bright red paint and decorations of the wat were a pleasant surprise and starkly contrasted the ruins we had been walking through all day. We bought some candles, insense and gold leaf, which we used at the temple.

Again we ended up walking our way around the island but this time we took the northern route. It was worth it to see the a giant chedi near the police training camp, the giant reclining Buddha, some very Thai architecture and the sun setting over Wat Phra Mongkhon Bophit.

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