In the heart of Thailand, about 80 km north of the capital city Bangkok, is the historical center of the country, Ayutthaya. In the past, it was a powerful Thai commercial and cultural center, now it’s somewhat forgotten, but certainly worth of attention. The city was the capital of Thai people for 417 years.
Getting to know the province of the same name, it’s worth to try the local specialties. One of them is Roti Sai Mai, the Asian cotton candy wrapped in thin pancakes. Another culinary curiosity is a dessert consisting of sesame seeds, sugar, beans and rice, which you can buy in portions – it’s available in most stores.
Ayutthaya - a breath of the past
Full name of the city is Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya. Another term is Koh Muang, or "island city", which the city owes to its location. It’s surrounded by several rivers (Chao Phraya, Lopburi and Pa Sak), which in the past served as a natural moat protecting the city. Today, Ayutthaya is divided into two parts: internal, on the island, and outer, newer. Old Town in the majority is located in the inner part, and the historic ruins found there were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1991.
Wandering through the streets of Ayutthaya, we encounter traces of the past just as often as Buddha statues. The figure of the prophet nobly lying, praying or sitting can be seen in many places, giving them an atmosphere of calm and tranquility. We also quickly notice that there’s no need to rush. Not here. The ruins of temples and palaces show how powerful the kingdom was in the ancient times. The city's architecture is a peculiar combination of traditional native solutions with the style of Khmer buildings. Numerous towers are a great example of it. Their shapes resemble corns on the cob or cactuses.
A small lake Phra Ram and a historical park of the same name are located in the center of the town. There, we will find the most important temples of Ayutthaya, including the historic Royal Palace and the complex Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, the biggest sacred building in the city. Most of the treasures of Ayutthaya were stolen or burned during the war. Their remains, including bronze statues of Buddha, can be seen in the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum. In other, numerous museums we will learn about the history, the culture and customs of ancient people, who lived here. Thus, it’s worth to visit Chantharakasem National Museum and Ayutthaya Historical Study Centre.
Attractions of Thai national treasure
A large number of motorized rickshaws (tuk tuks) facilitate moving around the city. If we're going to get to know the local attractions more thoroughly, we can make an appointment with a specific driver and negotiate more favorable prices than in case in which we were paying individually for each part of the tour to another driver. More active tourists, wishing to spontaneously explore Ayutthaya, can rent a bike at a low price.
What to bring from a trip to the former capital of Thailand? Maybe a colorful palm fish suspended on a string or a hat made of palm leaves? It’s a real pearl of handicraft, inscribed on the UNESCO OTOP list (One Tambon, One Product), which include products made exclusively in a particular region of the country. Learning of hat making is tedious, takes a lot of time and requires manual skills, just like making of the bamboo fans. Handicrafts from palm leaves and bamboo is the specialty of the province, which is why you will find plenty of it at the stalls both in Ayutthaya, as well as in smaller towns.
As we’re in Thailand, in addition to exploring the temples we also have an opportunity to meet with the elephants. Royal Elephant Kraal & Elephantstay Village is a place really worth a visit. It’s located only an hour away from Bangkok. Phra Kochabaan Foundation takes care of the center and well-being of elephants staying here on the kind of retirement. Visitors can feed those giants and bathe them in the river. Not only do they learn about the habits of elephants, but clearly see what their money is spent on. For example, the cost of feeding one elephant per day is 600 baht.
After visiting the largest land animals in the world we gain another souvenir – a unique Elephantstay team member t-shirt. Such souvenir is a real pride.