A place of history

A place of history

A quick getaway to Ayutthaya is the perfect escape from city life and a chance to soak in the country's past

TRAVEL
A place of history
At Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, the Chai Mongkhon stupa tower was constructed in remembrance of King Naresuan the Great's victory against Phra Maha Uparaja in an elephant battle.

Sometimes, when we take our eyes off the computer, we daydream of lounging by a river and letting the gentle wind caress us. This may be the reason why those looking to satisfy wanderlust but squeezed by time often choose to visit the historic town of Ayutthaya.

Amid nostalgic surroundings, visitors can easily spend one or two days touring the Unesco World Heritage Site indulging in an enticing traditional feast prepared with fresh river prawns and local fish, all within a one-hour drive of Bangkok.

Like many others, we decided to schedule a short weekday break to find inner peace. Arriving in the old capital of Siam late in the morning, we began our sightseeing tour at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon where we prayed for blessings to celebrate the Year of the Dragon.

Situated on the banks of the Pa Sak River, this historical temple was originally erected by King U Thong in 1357 to serve as the royal cremation site for Chao Kaew and Chao Thai, who passed away from cholera. Known as Wat Phra Kaew, it was also used to accommodate Buddhist monks who had undergone ordination in Sri Lanka.

Later, it was restored in the reign of King Naresuan the Great and Chedi Chai Mongkhon was constructed to honour his victory over the Burmese viceroy Phra Maha Uparaja in an elephant battle. The timeworn bell-shaped stupa tower rests on a large square platform and is encircled by a row of Buddha statues, while a lengthy stairway leads up to a small chamber that is believed to enshrine relics of King Naresuan.

From the peak, visitors can observe a destroyed viharn against a background of waterfront neighbourhoods. This will take you back in the time to when King U Thong established the capital at the convergence of the Pa Sak and Chao Phraya rivers. Thanks to its favourable location, Ayutthaya developed into a significant trading hub in Southeast Asia.

Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon was built by King U Thong, the first monarch of the Ayutthaya kingdom.

Following the collapse of the Ayutthaya kingdom, the temple was left abandoned until it was restored in 1957. A venerated statue of Phra Phuttha Chaiya Mongkhon still sits in its ordination hall and beautiful murals on the walls depict angels gathering to hear sermons and the elephant battle in Suphan Buri between King Naresuan and Phra Maha Uparaja.

A short walk from the ubosot is the ruined viharn of the Reclining Buddha built during the reign of King Naresuan. The statue was reproduced in 1965 after the original one was damaged by fortune hunters. Visitors can also pay homage to the King Naresuan monument by bringing flowers and a chicken-shaped figure.

Just a five-minute drive, our journey continued to Wat Phanan Choeng Worawihan which is surrounded by the Pasak River on the north and the Chao Phraya River on the west. According to the Northern Chronicle, King Sai Nam Phueng built this monastery on the royal cremation site of his Chinese bride Princess Soi Dok Mak.

The enormous 19m statue of Phra Buddhatrairattananayok, also known as Luang Pho To, was built 26 years prior to Ayutthaya being declared the capital city. It was originally placed outside until the viharn was built to shelter it.

According to legend, tears spilled from his eyes as a bad omen prior to the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767. During Chinese New Year celebrations, Thai and Chinese worshippers flock here to ask him for success in career and businesses, wealth and good health.

The monastery compound underwent multiple renovations and the ordination hall was erected to house a row of a gold Sukhothai Buddha statue, a gold Ayutthaya-style plaster Buddha image and a Sukhothai-style Buddha statue crafted from copper and gold. All come in the posture of Subduing Mara to showcase the finest craftsmanship. Astonishing murals on the walls portray angels assembling to listen to sermons and the Goddess of the Earth squeezing water out of her hair bun to drown demons.

Wat Phanan Choeng is home to the sacred 19m-high statue of Phra Buddhatrairattananayok.

At Wat Phanan Choeng, the smaller chapels sport a row of ancient Buddha images both in Ayutthaya and Sukhothai designs as well as astonishing murals that depict Lord Buddha's life and Thai-style offering tables.

Next door is a smaller chapel, home to a gold Ayutthaya-style statue and vibrant murals that illustrates a variety of Thai-style offering tables influenced by Chinese culture. Outside, the Chinese-style shrine of Phra Nang Soi Dok Mak recalls the tragic legend of Princess Soi Dok Mak who held her breath until she died.

Here, pilgrims offer prayers for happy families and soul mates, while 108 Chinese deities and Guan Yin bestow upon them wealth, prosperity and protection. On the other side, people born in the Year of the Dog, Dragon, Ox or Goat must engage in a ritual at the shrine of Cai Shen (God of Wealth) to ward off bad luck.

It was getting closer to lunchtime as the temperature rose and our bellies grumbled. We went to House of Kin, a delightful Thai restaurant with a contemporary flair tucked away in Centara Ayutthaya. Following that, my travel buddies and I had some freshly prepared pastries, a strong coffee and a quality matcha at the newest branch of Summer Coffee.

It is in the heart of the lobby and guests can have freshly brewed coffee as they check in. Travellers with pets are welcome to spend time in the shady courtyard, which is quickly gaining popularity as a laid-back place to unwind throughout the day.

Under the Land and River concept, this 20-storey hotel's architectural design incorporates water-like elements to represent Ayutthaya's distinct scenery.

Launched in mid-December, it features 224 luxurious rooms and suites that range in size from 30m² to 63m². Although none of the rooms have balconies, the floor to ceiling glass windows provide natural light, a view of the historic city as well as modern comforts. With convenient access to Central shopping mall and a 15-minute drive to the Ayutthaya Historical Park, visitors can get around easily.

The Chinese-style Shrine of Phra Nang Soi Dok Mak.

I stayed overnight in a 36m² Premium Deluxe room, which is adorned with wood elementsand a marble-like floor to create a clean and cosy look. The space is made complete with a huge comfy daybed, a coffee table that can double as a temporary workstation and stable Wi-Fi. The king-size bed is always a terrific spot to relax and enjoy entertainment by linking your mobile phone to a large smart TV.

In the morning, the all-day-dining House of Kin serves a variety of Thai and Western-style breakfast options such as noodles with pork or chicken balls, crepes filled with various Thai-style custards, and freshly baked pastries paired with homemade jam, custard and butter.

We followed the hit TV series Bupphesaniwat (Love Destiny) to Wat Phutthaisawan, which is located outside of Ayutthaya island. Visitors can act like Karaket, who used a portal to travel back in time to the Ayutthaya era.

Three years after ascending the throne, King U Thong built this temple on the site that had housed his Wiang Lek Royal Mansion along with a temporary community until the capital was erected at tambon Nong Sano in 1350. In 1935, the Fine Arts Department added it to the list of National Historic Monuments.

Three Ayutthaya-style Buddha sculptures can be seen in the ordination hall, and the grand Khmer-style stupa stands in the heart of the monastery compound to represent Mount Meru, while a huge reclining Buddha statue is located in the ruin of the smaller viharn outside the enclosure walls.

Visitors have the opportunity to explore the Thai-style residence of senior monk Somdet Phra Phuttha Khosajarn. Inside, the walls are covered in archaic murals depicting 10 Jatakas, Himmapan animals gazing around the Anodard pond, and Somdet Phra Phuttha Khosajarn's pilgrimage to Sri Lanka to worship Lord Buddha's footprint.

Wat Phutthaisawan is home to the ancient Khmer-style stupa and a ruined viharn of a reclining Buddha statue.

Travel info

  • Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon is on Soi 3, Khlong Suan Plu subdistrict, Ayutthaya. It's open daily from 8am to 5pm. Admission is free for Thais and 20 baht for foreigners.
  • Wat Phanan Choeng is in Phra Nakhon Sri Ayutthaya district. It's open daily from 8am to 5pm.
  • Wat Phutthaisawan is in Samphao Lom subdistrict, Ayutthaya. It's open daily from 8am to 5pm.
  • Centara Ayutthaya is at 129/4 in Phra Nakhon Sri Ayutthaya district. For more details, visit centarahotelsresorts.com.

Ancient paintings at Somet Phra Phuttha Khosajarn's old residence illustrate his journey to Sri Lanka.

Centara Ayutthaya.

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