The history of Ayutthaya and Angkor are intertwined in the 14th century as the two capital cities represented the two great Southeast Asian empires at that time: Khmer and Siam.
As I learned from my blog earlier about Angkor, the Khmer Empire was at its peak when the great Khmer King Jayavarman VII was ruling the empire in the 12-13th century. The Ayutthaya Kingdom was formed later in the 14th century based in the Valley of Chao Phraya River. The kingdom’s hegemony began as the country conquered northern kingdoms and city-states like Sukhothai, Phitsanulok, and so on.
Conflicts arose between the two countries in the 15th century and the collapse of the Khmer Empire was deeply connected with the great Thai migration. At that time, the Thai Kingdom, or Siam, was under pressure from the north when the Mongols conquered China (later almost half of Eurasia), the migration toward the south was intensified. As the Ayutthaya continued to grow, they began to attack and annex imperial territories. First, the Khmer fell under Ayutthayan suzerainty. Then, the Khmer rebelled against the Siamese authority, abandoned Angkor, and migrated south to another city Longvek. Today, the name of the city “Siem Reap” means “Siamese Defeated”, which is quite ironic as Thai ultimately controlled Siem Reap and Angkor until the 19th century, before the French took over, and discovered the magnificent capital in the past.
The Ayutthaya Kingdom hence became the new great power. The city was a major trading hub in the region and one of the most populated cities in the world at that time. However, the kingdom came under repeated attacks by the Burmese since the mid-16th century. The Burmese-Siamese War finally ended in 1767 with the Burmese invaded Ayutthaya and ransacked the city. Ayutthaya was burnt down and the Buddha statues were beheaded. Again in the 19th century, the Burmese were defeated by the British Empire army and became part of British India. Birth… Rise… and finally, collapse. See how history (interestingly) keeps looping itself?
Ayutthaya or Sukhothai?
There were questions about whether visiting Sukhothai or Ayutthaya – both of them are the ancient capitals of the Siam Kingdom. For me, I would say both of them worth seeing as they have their own stories and features. Generally speaking, Ayutthaya is much easier to get to, as it’s closer to the city of Bangkok. It would be a better choice for a short trip to Thailand, but that means we have to expect a lot of crowds and busier traffic in the historical park. Sukhothai is located in northern Thailand, about a 4-hour drive away from Ching Mai. It is a larger site that closer to the scale of Angkor, it takes much time to get there and probably need a few days to complete all the sights. The upside – visitors could enjoy the serenity and spirituality of the heritage. More, the temples and sites are better to preserve in the Sukhothai historical park.
Today, the Ayutthaya historical park (yet another Unesco World Heritage Site) is only an hour (85 km) away from Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, which makes it perfect for a day trip. The park, wrapped by the Chao Phraya River, actually has numerous sites for visitors to see, and it’s nothing wrong to stay in the city for a few days to visit them all. Like Angkor, (On a smaller scale, though), the ancient capital of Siam has left spectacular ruins of palace and monasteries, Buddha statues, and temples. All of these were built under the ruling of 35 kings from 7 dynasties.
First, we visited the Bang Pa-In Palace. It is not part of the historical park but on the course along the Chaopraya River. It is a well-preserved summer palace of King Rama IV, the palace was built in the 17th century and expanded over time. Today, the complex has kept an interesting mix of Thai, Chinese, and European Architecture, like Gothic statues, Thai temples, and Chinese-style residence. Today, the site is infrequently used for state occasions.
Afterward, we moved on to Wat Maha That and Wat Chaiwatthanaram. These are the classic temple ruins of Ayutthaya (After the sites were ransacked and almost completely destroyed). One of the most recognized attractions would be Buddha’s head entwined in a Bodhi tree root. Here, the temple design referenced the Khmer architectural style with a hint of the structure of Hindu temples. The foundation size and the remaining towers manifested the significance during its time.
Another important site is Wat Lokayasuttharam. The Temple is where the largest reclining Buddha of Ayutthaya located, which is 8m high and 42m long.
After the trip, we traveled down to the city of Bangkok on a cruise down the Chao Phraya River, which visitors could see the boathouses, the roof of the imperial palace, Wat Arun, and more.
After a short day trip, we traveled down back to the city of Bangkok on a cruise trip down the Chao Phraya River, and enjoyed views interesting and famous places like boathouses, imperial palace, Wat Arun, and more!
Later we went to the Soi 38 for dinner – amazing street food. A normal guy could eat 4 dishes of chicken rice, easy. I guess it’s the beauty of the night market and street food. Just let loose, and then let go, and enjoy.
This video reminded me of how magical the chicken rice was…