Ruins and rivers

Founded in 1350 by King Uthong, the Siamese capital at Ayutthaya was one of Asia’s grandest cities until Burmese forces overran it in 1767. What remains of the ancient temples and palaces is now essential viewing for history-inclined travellers — or anyone who might enjoy a stroll through impressive ruins. Today Ayutthaya is one of Thailand’s top-ranking heritage destinations.

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Officially known as Phra Nakhon Sri Ayutthaya (Great Sacred City of Ayutthaya), the founders borrowed the name of an ancient Indian city that was home to King Rama in the Ramayana epic. After taking control of the Chao Phraya River basin, the Ayutthaya kingdom’s realm spread over much of mainland Southeast Asia. Its trade networks stretched from Persia to Japan, eventually reaching as far as London.

Ayutthaya has its own flavour of tuk tuks. : David Luekens.
Ayutthaya has its own flavour of tuk tuks. Photo: David Luekens

By all reports, Ayutthaya was magnificent. Set on a riverine island between the Chao Phraya, Lopburi and Prasak rivers, the inner city was fortified by a 12-kilometre-long and five-metre-thick brick wall. Nearly a hundred gates opened to roads and canals reaching into some of the most fertile land in the region. Gilded chedis and Khmer-style spires topped temples and palaces amid a glittering skyline. According to Cambridge University’s A History of Thailand, a French Jesuit remarked in 1687 that “a single Idol” in Wat Phra Si Sanphet was “richer than all the Tabernacles of the Churches of Europe”.

Home to perhaps a million residents in the late 17th century, the city was remarkably cosmopolitan for the time. Settlements of Chinese, Persian, Arabian, Indian, Japanese, Mon, Cham, Lao, Khmer, Viet, Malay, Portuguese, Dutch, French and British ringed the city. Much of what’s now considered “Thai cuisine” was forged from these varying influences. With Chinese shrines, Persian mosques, European churches and Brahman sanctuaries joining the hundreds of Thai Theravada Buddhist temples, freedom of religion was a hallmark of Ayutthaya for most of its ... Travelfish members only (Full text is around 1,400 words.)

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