My first tourist trip in Thailand was about 2 hours north of Bangkok, to Ayutthaya. This UNESCO World Heritage site was the second capital of Siam after Sukhothai. Most of the ruins here are of temples and palaces and they sit on an island located where the Chao Phraya, Lopburi, and Pa Sak rivers merge.
We arrived mid morning and our guide, Pok, showed us round the temples there. The first one was Wat Phu Khao Thong, which is about 3km out of the main town of Ayutthaya. You can walk up the many steps to the temple and there are stunning views all around. There is a shrine inside the temple itself. The huge white chedi is set in a massive field and there is also fat smiling Buddha image in the grounds.
There are many temples in Ayutthaya, and Viharn Phra Mongkol Bopit houses a large sitting Buddha, which is made from solid bronze. When you enter these temples it is expected that you remove your footwear, and also to make sure you never point your feet at any Buddha image as this is a mark of disrespect.
There is also an elephant kraal, where you can watch a small show and take a ride on an elephant for about 500 baht. I am never quite at ease with these elephant shows, and although this particular one allows you to learn a little more about these beautiful creatures and to feed them, I don’t believe that they were meant to play football, and stand on their back feet, whilst swinging their trunk round to music. However, I have been to a few since then and the elephants seemed to be looked after and they seem happy enough. In fact in Isaan, NE Thailand, elephants are treated like one of the family, when the family eats and sleeps so does the elephant! (You can make your own mind up).
We had some free time so I wandered round the ruins. I love going to places like this because I like to imagine how the temples would have looked like many years ago, and to imagine the people that lived and worshipped in them. Each of the temples has a story behind it and there are plaques to tell you what the buildings were actually used for.
As I was wandering around a group of school children came up to me and asked me questions like “where are you from?” and “what do you like about Thailand?” They were doing a project at school and wanted to practice their English with a farang (foreigner). Having taught English in Surin for 3 years, I have come to love the kids. They are so respectful and it really is a joy to teach them.
The next stop was to see Ayutthaya’s largest reclining Buddha. The largest one in Thailand is Wat Po, in Bangkok. This stone statue is lying in the middle of a clearing surrounding a forest. It is very impressive, clad in orange and visitors can make offerings.
Wat Phra Mahathat is the place where you will see one of Thailand’s iconic images-a banyan tree which has grown around a Buddha head. The stone head was originally lying on the floor but over time, as the tree has grown, it has picked the head up and it grows upwards as the tree grows. When you take pictures you must remain lower than the head itself.
The last stop was Bang Pa-In Royal Palace. The grounds here have individual palaces for the Kings, Queens and Princesses. The buildings are set in beautiful gardens befitting royalty, and you can see palaces, throne rooms, royal residences, a lookout tower, and a pavilion built in the middle of a pond.