The Wats of Ayutthaya

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January, 2019

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Ayutthaya’s historical centre is located on a riverine island surrounded by three rivers: Lopburi, Passak and Chao Phraya (which flows right down to Bangkok). 200 of Thailand’s 31,000 registered temples or wats, are in and around Ayutthaya, a former Siamese Royal capital. Fortunately, our sight-seeing excursions only took in the more important.

“WAT CHAI WATTANARAM”: – is located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, and just outside the city walls. Here, we began to see how similar the wats were to those we’d seen in Bagan, Myanmar, with their crumbling red brick structures. The Burmese had invaded Ayutthaya in 1767 and destroyed the city mainly through fire. We could see how thick the concrete coating covering the bricks had been and learned it was made traditionally from ground sea shells. This concrete canvass would then have been covered in gold and paintings and must have been an impressive sight. There were five pagodas, surrounded by cloisters, with a main pagoda (or fang) in the centre. The latter had steep steps up to the centre, designed to make the entrant bow at each step.

“WAT PHANAN CHOENG”: – contained a huge golden Buddha flanked by two others. This was made from solid concrete and covered in gold leaf. Around were a series of recesses containing 84,000 Buddha statutes. Three similar Buddha statues where in a hall next door, but the Buddhas on either side were said to be solid gold. Colourful and beautifully painted murals adorned the walls.

From here we crossed the River Passak by small ferry and were once again on the island city.

“WAT MAHATHAT”: – is located to the east of the Royal Palace and is the only royal temple that houses Buddha’s relics. There were the remnants of narrow vertical windows because the architects believed that if the windows were too big, the walls would fall down. There was also the best remains of the ornate decoration which would have covered the concrete. There was only one original Buddha’s head, and this was placed in a tree trunk which had invaded a wall with its roots, like Tha Prom in Cambodia.

WANG LUANG – is the former Royal Palace and at Wat Phrasisanpet, royal cremations took place. Here three stupas were a magnificent sight. Many of the structures were leaning dangerously due to flooding. The last major floods were in 2011 when the water had been over five foot deep. If these had been in Britain, it’s likely that entrance would have been banned for health and safety reasons.

“WAT LOKAYASUTHARAM”: – the main feature was a 42-foot reclining Buddha, restored in 1954. The head pointed north and the face west, with lotus flowers supporting the head. Each of the ten toes, were equal in length with one foot being positioned on the other at an exact right angle. In front of the Buddha, were the traces of 24 octagonal pillars which, when restored, have been made circular.

“WAT YAI CHAI MONGKOL”: – this is a part active temple and part ruin and had another, but smaller reclining Buddha clad in gold cloth. We watched as a temple assistant helped a devotee hoist a section of material up the body (this is said to be done on auspicious days for the person). Once again, there was symmetry with Buddha statues surrounding the four sides of the chedi. This time we were able to climb the Chedi and walk around a terrace three quarters of the way up. Fortunately, the 50+ steps had been restored and were even and solid. Having walked to the Royal Pavilion, we were met by the amazing sight of thousands of colourful cockerel statues. Some were less than a foot high, whilst others were bigger than a person. Some were in traditional colours, whilst others were covered with gold and silver. Apparently, King Naresuan was fond of cock fighting and therefore devotees leave the cockerels in his honour. Our guide said that although the vendors could in theory remove them to resell, they never do.

WAT NIVET DHAMAPRAVAT – this is not strictly speaking part of Ayutthaya’s Historical Park but is in the village of Bang Pa-In on Ayutthaya’s outskirts. We passed the Summer Palace, which you can’t enter, and headed across the river by small, but effective cable car, to a small riverine island. Wat Nivet Dhamapravat was built in 1878 in the gothic style and has stained glass windows and what looked like regency striped wallpaper which was in fact plaster moulding.

All the sights were relatively close and our itinerary had suggested we cycle around them. However, when our lycra-clad guide saw me take to a bike for the first time in many years and wobble around the carpark, he immediately summoned up a tuk tuk. I was extremely grateful!

Helen Jackson

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