Wat Phra Si Sanphet, April 2015. Planning a trip to northern Thailand? DO NOT miss the historic city of Ayutthaya, a breathtaking treasure trove of ruined palaces, glittering temples, towering statues, colossal Buddhas, rolling fields, emerald green rivers and lush, impossibly knotted trees. A mere eighty kilometers north of Bangkok, this former Siamese capital was once one of the wealthiest places on earth. Today you can bask in its former glory by renting a bicycle, grabbing a free map and exploring the place at your own leisure. Be warned though that it can be hard, hot work, with most people taking in just a fraction of the sites on offer! This centrally located former temple was one of Ayutthaya’s holiest places, until the Burmese rolled into town in 1767 and smashed it to bits. Famous for its three bell-shaped structures with soaring spires, (the grey buildings in the background); you could easily spend an hour wandering around this expansive complex.
Baby Temple, April 2015. I spent around two and a half hours biking between all the central ruins. And what made the experience even more special were those little unexpected moments like this tiny, closed and seemingly nameless temple located in a large park. The entire area was deserted, definitely one of those moments where I had to pinch myself and remember how privileged I am to be able to travel.
Wat Phra Mahathat, April 2015. One of Ayutthaya’s most popular temples, visitors flock here to track down the famous sandstone Buddha head beautifully embedded into the trunk of a chunky tree. Anyone wanting to get close to the head should crouch down low so that they are at head level, or even lower. To tower above it is seen as disrespectful, something the stern-looking park warden will be quick to reprimand you for.
Reclining Buddha – Wat Lokayasutharam, April 2015. This fantastic Buddha, situated in a small ruined temple complex, lies some distance outside the central zone and can be tricky to find. On arrival I was delighted to see very few people, though the experience was dampened somewhat by a local vendor’s relentless efforts to flog me some grubby looking candles. The east-facing Buddha, known locally as Phra Bhuddhasaiyart, is Ayutthaya’s largest reclining statue at thirty-seven meters long, eight meters high.
Phu Khao Tong Chedi, April 2015. Always willing to go that extra mile, I found myself determined to seek out this stunning Buddhist tower, located way out of town in the village of Phukhao Tong. It took me around forty minutes to get there on my rickety bike and I had to keep checking with locals along the way. The climb up to the top only gets you to the chedi’s halfway point, but this still makes for excellent views across the surrounding rice fields. There’s also a tiny little shrine, though accessing it via the low, narrow corridor is definitely not for anyone with even the slightest sense of claustrophobia!