12,077 km so far.
We were so charmed by our little guesthouse, Luang Chumni Village, that 10 minutes after checking in this morning, we had shifted our route around so we could stay an extra night.
The friendly welcome we received endeared us to the place instantly. Then the owner showed us around the traditional teak house, with its multitude of decks and stairs, comfortable guest rooms with tiny doors (watch your head), and high peaked ceilings.
Hammocks, sun loungers, a yoga platform, and a moat (!) sealed the deal.
We have stayed in relatively few really special places during our year of travelling, but this is definitely one of them.
I have been studying the history of the city, which is of particular interest to me because of its ties to Hinduism. Here is what I have learned.
Ayodhya is one of the great ancient cities of India, and the setting of the Ramayana, arguably one of the two most important Hindu texts (the other being the Mahabharata). It tells the story of Rama, a Hindu god.
In Thailand, beginning during the reign of the Sukhothai kingdom, the Ramayana began to gain importance. The text had been brought to the Thai people by Indian traders. Local repetition of the story saw it take some aspects of the Thai culture, and it eventually transformed into a local version, the Ramakien, which is now THE Thai national epic story.
The Thai version was first transcribed during the time of Ayutthaya, under the guidance of the appropriately named King Rama I.
Siam What I Am
With the importance of the Ramakien taking hold, King U Thong founded Ayutthaya as a tribute to the home of Rama. Its setting, a large natural island at the confluence of three rivers, the Chao Phraya, Lop Buri, and Pa Sak, was the perfect location for an easily defensible city kingdom. City walls were built at the edge of the island, creating a practically impenetrable fortress in a beautiful setting.
The city flourished from 1351 until 1767, when it literally WAS Siam, a country unto itself. We tend to think of Siam as having been the whole of Thailand, but it was essentially, for 400 years, this island country right in the middle of modern Thailand.
This was the seat of power. It was one of the biggest and wealthiest cities in the world and had grown to 1 million citizens. It was where anyone who was anyone resided. The rest of the country was there to provide for Ayutthaya.
In 1767, Ayutthaya’s luck ran out. The Burmese army crossed the rivers, broke through the city wall, and brutally attacked the city. The sacking of Ayutthaya left most of the city devastated, including its temples and its collection of literature, which included the original texts of the Ramakien.
Phoenix From the Flame
The Burmese were forced to flee Ayutthaya mere months after having taken the city, their war with China proving too costly. The forces retreated back to Burma to save their capital.
In their wake, the Chakri dynasty, who had come to power during the rein of Ayutthaya, regrouped, and moved the capital south. They have continued to reign in Thailand ever since.
With the support of the royal family, and UNESCO’s mark of excellence, Ayutthaya has become one of the most visited tourist sites in Thailand. Most visitors pass through on a day trip from Bangkok, an easy 70 km coach ride away, hoping to get a picture of the Buddha head sticking out of the fig tree, or a good snap for Instagram of a crumbling stupa.
A modern city has grown up in and around the temple ruins, and locals go about their daily lives as tourists wander past the crumbling brickwork of the ancient temples. The setting, with water flowing all around, and in close proximity to Bangkok, makes this a must-do stop on the tourist trail.
In some ways, our visit during the hottest time of the year is a blessing, as the streets are quiet and we have our choice of guesthouses. I have heard tales of the city being overrun with tourists, making it hard to enjoy the beauty that remains.
It may not compare to modern day Paris or London as it once did, but with the city’s provincial feel, laid back atmosphere, and beautiful ancient ruins, it is one of the most enjoyable stops we have made as we cycle through Thailand. ♥