Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Thailand: Ayutthaya - The ancient capital of Siam

Ayutthaya  - full name Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya  is both an ancient capital and modern city in the central plains of Thailand, 85 km to the north of Bangkok.

The city was  founded by King Ramathibodi I (U-Thong) in 1350 on a island within a bend of the Chao Phraya river, which had been the former seaport city of Ayothaya. By the beginning of the 15th century, Ayutthaya was regarded as the strongest power in the 'Indochina' region. In the sixteenth century, the city was described by foreign traders as being one of the biggest and wealthiest in the East.

1686 French drawn map of Siam

Constantly at war with her neighbours, fighting off rebellions within her provinces, Ayutthaya was finally conquered and sacked by the Burmese in 1767.  Siam's capital moving south, first to Thon-Buri, then across the Chao Phraya River to present-day Bangkok.

Today only the ruins testify to the former splendours of the old capital. The modern day city being founded a few kilometres further east. What remains of ancient city, form the 'Ayutthaya Historical Park' being declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site since December 1991. And it is to here that I have come to visit.........

Having arrived by train, my first stop is to catch a ferry across the river -

Armed with a map, I had alredy decided which places I wished to visit.....


The Chantharakasem Museum

This is a National museum and was originally known as the Chan Kasem Palace, being the principle residence of King Naresaun established in 1577 when he was Crown Prince. The palace was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767 and remained in ruins until the reign of King Rama IV who, in 1936, rebuilt it as the museum we see today.


The remains of the Royal Palace

When King Ramathibodi founded the city in 1350, he ordered the building of a royal palace at the same time. Today, the only reminder that a building existed are a few remains of the brick foundations.

Wat  Phra Si Sanphet

The three bell-shaped chedis of Wat Phra Si Sanphet have practically become synonymous with Ayutthaya.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet was built by King Bromatrailokanat in 1448 and was reportedly one of the grandest temples in the ancient capital and is still on of the best preserved. The temple took its name from the large standing Buddha image erected on the site in 1503. Later when the image was smashed by the Burmese in 1767, King Rama I had the remaining pieces collected and placed in a chedi at Wat Pho in Bangkok.
The three chedis were built to contain the ashes of King Boromatrailokanat and his two sons, King Ramathibodhi and King Boromatrailokanat II. Surrounding these chedis was a large cloister with further smaller chedis placed near the outer wall.

The Temple was originally connected directly with the royal palace.

Despite the destruction all around them,  the chedis remain remarkably intact and must be regarded as the high point in my visit to Ayutthaya. They remain a testament to past glories and a symbol to a fallen city.



On the east side of the Royal palace lies the remains of Wat Phra Ram. The Temple was built in 1369 by King Ramesavara on the cremation site of his father, King U-Thong. Wat Phra ram is dominated by the central towering Prang, which, although badly damaged, still shows enough to gain an idea how rich in detail it must have been.


My final destination was to Wat Ratchburana.

The Temple was built by King Borom Ratchathirat II in 1424 at the place where both his brothers died having killed each other during a fight for the vacant throne of Ayutthaya, following the death of their father........



Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Thailand: Samut Prakan - 'Muang Boran', the Acient City

England has the 'Weald & Downland Museum', Siberia has the 'Talzy Museum' and Thailand has the 'Muang Boran', also known as the Ancient City.
What do they all have in common? They all display local buildings, some rescued from destruction, others reconstructed from original materials. In all they display the importance of architecture in a rural location.......

'Muang Boran' is located near to the town of Samut Prakan, 40 km south of Bangkok, close to the estuary of the Chao Chraya River. To get there, I took
Bus number 25 directly from downtown Bangkok to the entrance.

Taking the shape of Thailand, the museum covers 96 hectares (240 acres) and is considered the largest open air museum in the world with over 120 exhibits.
The inspiration for this 'wonder' was Lek Viriyaphant (1914-2000), also known as Khun Lek, an eccentric Thai millionaire, ( making his fortune as a Mercedes Benz dealer in Thailand) and patron of  the arts. Having been interested in art since childhood, Lek Viriyaphant was inspired to establish the Ancient City. Initially, he intended to build a Thai-map shaped golf course where miniatures of important national ancient sites were placed on certain spots within the area. He, then found that many ancient sites in Thailand had been left to decay. Thus, he changed the concept of the Ancient City from being a place of relaxation to an open-air museum.  My first visit here was in 1990 and I hardly recognised the place with all the new additions, all set within beautiful landscape gardens......

On displays are scale models, life sized replicas and one-third scale examples of ancient ruins, monuments and buildings, all providing an insight into the ethnic and cultural heritage of Thailand. In the main I have photographed those structures that have escaped destruction, have been restored having been found in a ruinous state in their original location or because I just like them......

The Stupa of Phra Maha That

This is a recreation of the great Stupa at Nakhon Si Thammarat,
one of the most ancient cities of Thailand, situated in the south of the country.
The original Stupa, containing the Buddha relic was built during
the reign of King Si Thammasokarat in 555AD.
This re-creation is one-third smaller than the original.

 The Scripture Repository

This restored repository was brought from Wat Yai, Bang Khonthi in Samut Songkhram Province. The original building, standing in a pond at Wat Yai, was much dilapidated. In the past, the scripture repository was normally raised on piles over a pond to protect the palm leaf manuscripts from ants and termites.


Roof detail of the Repository

Probably dating to Ayutthaya times, the exterior of the building would have been originally covered with murals depicting the life of The Buddha.
These have long faded.

The Bell Tower

Located close to the Repository,
the Bell Tower came from the same Wat

The City Pillar

A Lak Mueng or City Pillar is found in most cities of Thailand.
Built to house the city spirit diety, who is much revered by the citizens of the town.....

Village homes from the Central Plains

Here a group of traditional Thai houses made of panelled teak, have been re-erected.


Originally they would have housed the local farmers
who live in the central plain area of Thailand.

The Shrines

These old wooden shrines or spirit houses are a symbol of the belief the Thais have for the supernatural. These 'houses' are a way of paying respect to these forces. The belief is that these shrines are home to the spirits who protect their homes and community from any harm.


The Floating Market

A traditional Thai floating market had been removed
from the original site and rebuilt here....

including a number of 'traders'
selling products from their boat.....

quaint village homes.....


and an artist's studio.

A traditional Thai fishing net

The Dvaravati Wihan

The Dvaravati 'Kingdom' existed between the 6th to 11th centuries AD, encompassing most of what is now present say Thailand. Centred around Nakhon Pathon, the Dvaravati was heavily influenced by Indian culture and played an important part in introducing Buddhism to the area.
The reconstructed Dvaravati wihan here, represents the
influence the 'kingdom' had on Thai history.

This "onion-domed' bridge leads to an island garden
with an array of wonderful coloured orchids


and this one has a juvenile 'Praying Mantis' on one of the petals


The Dvaravati House

This re-constructed traditional Thai house was built by a wealthy 'noble' family and is referred to as being the 'Dvaravati House' as the gables are similar to that of the 'Dvaravati Palace' in  the Province of Kalasin in north-east Thailand.
The house is made up of a group of eight separate house/room units, all facing onto an open-air veranda. Each house had a particular purpose: a chapel, bedrooms, a day room and a bird-room.

Interior views -


The Dusit Maha Prasat Palace

This is a re-creation of the Dusit Maha Prasat Palace forming part of the grand Palace complex in Bangkok.
Built in 1806 during the reign of King Rama I, as Audience Hall, renovations carried out during the reign of King Rama III completely changed the original design. The Palace here in Muang Boran was built according to a number of original architectural drawings and old photographs.

Seen across the lake, the Palace is an inspiring sight and a fitting end to an interesting museum........

Monday, 21 September 2009

Thailand: Bangkok - Pak Klong Talat

Every week or so, I pay a visit to Pak Klong Talat, regarded by many as the 'Covent Garden' or 'Les Halles' of Bangkok. Normally when I sniff the air on the streets of the city, my nostrils are filled with the acrid smells rising from the many drains that run throughout the city. Here, though I am assailed by the  sweet scents of jasmine, rose, lily and marigold...... The market is indeed a floral feast and whenever I visit I come away with a bundle of newspaper wrapped roses and armfuls of fragile orchids that are a feast to behold and come in every colour and shade imaginable. Compared to home, the prices here are miniscule, my roses a mere 30 baht and my orchids between 20 to 40 baht (there being about 50 baht to one English Pound!).

Pak Klong Market is located in the "Old City", close to the Chao Phraya River, with Wat Pho not far away to the north and the Memorial Bridge to the south. The main market is located on Chak Phet Street and spills over to several side-streets on both sides. From home, I have the choice of two direct buses, whose journey can take as little as 45 minutes to over 2 hours, depending on the time of the day.... Another option is to take the Chao Phraya River Bus,which is fun too, but means a journey on the MRT and Skytrain as well.......

The market has a long history. During the reign of Rama I (1782–1809), a floating market took place on the site of the modern Pak Khlong Talat By the reign of Rama V (1868–1910),this had changed to being a fish market. This, in turn, was eventually converted to today's produce market, existing for over 60 years. The market's focus has shifted from produce to flowers as the Talat Thai market on the outskirts of Bangkok has become a more attractive site for wholesale produce.

Most of the flowers sold in the market are delivered from Nakhon Pathom, Samut Sakhon, and Samut Songkhram provinces, though flowers that require cooler growing temperatures come from as far away as Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.

Taking the ferry across the Chao Phraya River to Pak Klong Talat

Yours truly on board the ferry

Chak Phet Street 

Coming from the Memorial Bridge, the first part of the Market is devoted to stall holders stringing and selling phuang malai, flower garlands, surrounded by sacks of jasmine and marigold blossoms. These are given as offerings when visiting a temple or kept for receiving gold luck





An over flowering bucket of  jasmine buds

A bag of red clover blooms


A poster in the Market showing marigold blooms,
a reminder that October is the month that celebrates
the End of Buddhist Lent and the 'Retreat of the Rains'.

Admiring Marigold garlands

Lotus Lilies buds destined for a Temple

 Pink Lotus Lily Buds wrapped in leaves

 Bowls of Lotus Lilies used for 'offerings'


Admiring some exotic flowers

 Proud of her roses.....

A wonderful array of 'newspaper wrapped' roses

Good looking Market cat.......

and cute little puppy......

Lilac coloured orchids .........

and a happy stall holder with yours truly.....

Balloon creation......

and this funny fellow.....

Vase of orchids in my apartment.......

Many thanks again to Bruce for taking many of the photographs

Khob Khun maak I mah noy