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NORTHERN THAILAND'S HIGHLIGHTS

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Ayutthaya is one of the most famous historical and cultural cities in Thailand. Founded in 1350, it was the second capital of Thailand after Sukhothai. In 1767 the city was attacked and burnt down by the Burmese army forcing the people living there to abandon the city. Filled with historic sites, this city is one of the top attractions in Thailand. As it is located just 90 km. north of Bangkok, it is a popular day-trip destination. The Ayutthaya Historical Park, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, comprises many ruins of temples and palaces of the capital of the ancient Ayutthaya Kingdom. The followings are some highlights of this historical park which are popular destinations:

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

This beautiful ancient temple is regarded as the symbol of Ayutthaya province and is also a significant historical site. It served as a model for the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok.

Situated within the royal palace grounds, Wat Phra Si Sanphet is the royal monastery and therefore there are no resident monks in this temple. However, in the Ayutthaya era, the temple served to conduct ceremonies within the royal court, such as the ritual to drink an oath of allegiance.

This royal monastery plays an important role in history of art and archaeology. The remaining debris evidently portrays how glorious the country was. At the heart of the temple, there are three adjacent Ceylonese or bell-shaped chedis (pagodas) situated on rectangular platforms. The three chedis are one of the landmarks and also one of the most photographed sites of the Ayutthaya Historical Park.

Wat Phra Mongkhon Bophit

This famous temple is situated on the south of Wat Phra Si Sanphet. Its large bronze seated Buddha image or Phra Mongkhon Bophit is one of the largest bronze Buddha images in Thailand with its measures of 9.5 meters across the lap and a height of 12.5 meters. The Buddha image is seated in the position of Subduing Mara. During the second fall of Ayutthaya, the building and the image were badly destroyed by fire. The present Vihara and Buddha image have been reconstructed and renovated in the reign of King Rama V (1868 – 1910). The open area located east of the Vihara was formerly Sanam Luang, where royal cremation ceremonies took place.

Wat Mahathat

The temple is believed to be built during the 14th century A.D. (the early Ayutthaya period). The main prang at the center of the temple collapsed in the early 17th century, but was restored. A large number of viharas (assembly halls) and chedis were added during the reign of later kings. When the Burmese invaded and destroyed Ayutthaya in 1767, the Wat Mahathat was set on fire. The central prang collapsed again in the early 20th century and has not been restored.

During excavation works in the temple in 1956 by the Fine Arts Department the crypt in the central prang was discovered. Inside was a large hollow stone container in which relics and precious objects such as votive tablets, gold ornaments, ancient Buddha images were contained. These artifacts are on display in Chao Sam Phraya National Museum.

The highlights of Wat Mahathat include the octagonal pagoda, and the medium-size Prang with mural paintings about the life of the Buddha, and other smaller Viharas. The most prominent landmark of the temple is the head of a sandstone Buddha image entwined in the roots of a Bodhi tree. It is one of the most photographed trees in Thailand.

Wat Chaiwatthanaram

Wat Chaiwatthanaram is one of the most impressive temple ruins and most visited historical sites in Ayutthaya. It rests on the bank of the Chao Phraya river, to the west of the city island. The temple was built in 1630 by the command of King Prasat Thong, featuring the architectural style influenced by Angkor temple in Cambodia. Its unique feature is a 35-metre tall central prang (Khmer-style pagoda) surrounded by eight smaller prangs, symbolizing Mount Sumeru, the gods' mountain according to Hindu belief. This temple is also a popular place to view a beautiful sunset; watch the sun slowly set behind the ancient pagodas.

Wat Phanan Choeng

Wat Phanan Choeng is located in Khlong Suan Plu subdistrict, on the south bank of Pasak River opposite the main city.

Although Wat Phanan Choeng had been built even before the establishment of Ayutthaya as the capital city, there is no clear record about its founder. According to legend Phra Chao Sai Nam Phung, a King who ruled before the founding of Ayutthaya, wanted to marry the daughter of a Chinese emperor. When the Princess named Soi Dok Mak arrived by boat the King was not there to welcome her. After having waited in vain a long time for the King, the Princess was so sad that she killed herself by holding her breath. When the King finally returned he was stricken with grief and built the Wat Phanan Choeng on the spot where she was cremated.

The assembly hall (vihara) houses a majestic Buddha image cast in B.E. 1324, 26 years before the establishment of Ayutthaya. It was built of stucco in subduing Mara posture and was magnificently lacquered and gilt. Its walls are lined with hundreds of niches containing small images of the Buddha. The ubosot or ordination hall enshrines three very old Buddha images seated on a raised pedestal. All three are in the subduing Mara posture.

Near the river bank stands a small, colorful Chinese temple adorned with dragons. The ground floor of the building is dedicated to Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of mercy who is often depicted with many arms. The top floor contains the shrine for Princess Soi Dok Mak with her statue.

Wat Phanan Choeng is very popular among Thais. It is an active temple where people from all over Thailand go to make merit especially on Buddhist holidays.

You can visit all these temples in one day as they are not far from each other. But if you want to have a leisurely trip and enjoy taking photos, we recommend two days to visit them. For package tours of Ayutthaya province, please contact Alex Holiday, click www.alexholiday.com,
Email: info@alexholiday.com, tel. +66 (0)8 1818 3805.

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