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March 7, 2014

I never research our trips beforehand because I like to be surprised by what I see, and I had no idea Thailand (Siam) had a capital before Bangkok which, as it turns out, is not even three hundred years old, relatively new as far as world capitals go.


Near the Grand Palace in Bangkok stands Wat Arun, The Temple of Dawn. I’ve seen it depicted in dozens of Thai restaurants but I had no idea as to its significance. It turns out that King Taksin and his court passed this spot, a village known as Bang Makok, in boats after fleeing the destruction of their ancient capital at Ayutthaya by the Burmese in the seventeenth century. A small temple already marked the site. The King saw rays of light emanating from the old temple and took it as a good omen that this was a good spot to locate his new capital. The temple is covered in broken pieces of porcelain used as ballast on Chinese ships trading with the region.









In its day, the ancient capital of Ayutthaya must have been an awesome place. French traders reached the city in the sixteen hundreds and dubbed it the “Venice of the East.” They commented on its remarkable canals, two hundred gold temples, trade links as far as China and Holland, and a population of over a million—much larger than London at the time. Thirty-three kings left their mark here; in comparison only three kings resided at Versailles.


The greatest reminders of grandeur in the abandoned capital are the stone stupas where the ashes of kings were interred. Fortunately, the kings of Ayutthaya were not buried with treasures like Egyptian pharaohs or these incredible structures would have been pulled down. Still, after the Burmese dragged off most of the wealth, plundering of the city began and few works of art remain.




The impressive stupas of Ayutthaya



One of the few restored Buddhas


Thousands of Buddhas once filled the ancient capital, but nearly all were destroyed by thieves intent on selling statue fragments to collectors. One thief hid a head beneath a banyon tree and never returned. Over the years the severed head became entwined within the tree’s gnarled roots, as if the ancient capital was saying, “No one is hauling this one away.” 






Peek-A-Buddha! That looks like an awesome place.
By: PT Dilloway on March 7, 2014
What a truly amazing place!
By: Shelly on March 7, 2014
In lands much older than ours, you have an incredible talent in sharing their history. Wait... wait... I'm having visions of you as a history/art teacher!
By: Daniel LaFrance on March 7, 2014
wow- that shot of the rooted head is fantastic! Portland has streets that were paved with cobblestones once used as ballast from ships sailing in from the British Isles. Interesting how the Chinese used pieces of porcelain. What a marvelous trip you had!
By: Kathe W. on March 7, 2014
Fascinating stuff! I always like learning about Asian history because my history classes (probably yours, too) were always so Western-centric. But, the junior high school boy in me still giggles whenever he hears, "Bangkok." I'm giggling again.
By: Al Penwasser on March 7, 2014
ooh, freaky! :) the structures are amazing.
By: TexWisGirl on March 7, 2014
You and Mrs. C are fearless. I research the shit out of everything so A. I don't miss something and B. I don't get any surprises...especially relating to hotels. I love that picture of the Buddha head in the roots of the tree. What a great photo.
By: Cheryl P. on March 7, 2014
Ayutthaya looks wonderful, and I loved the descriptions of the "Venice-of -the-East" that it once was. So sad the city was plundered. Thanks for all the beautiful pics!! :)
By: Lexa Cain on March 7, 2014
Wow.. all so fascinating but I'm smitten with that last image. It looks surreal.
By: Hilary on March 7, 2014
It always saddens me to hear of beautiful old places that have been plundered and destroyed. It looks amazing still, though.
By: mimi on March 7, 2014
I will never cease to wonder at the fear of another's religion and the ugliness that it costs.
By: Tabor on March 7, 2014
love the pottery shard facade...incredible. Thanks for yet another learning opportunity. Great post. Oma Linda
By: Oma Linda on March 7, 2014
I am so glad you've taken us along on your journey. These posts are fascinating and beautiful.
By: Tom Cochrun on March 7, 2014
You are so wise to keep on traveling and so lucky to be able to do so. I enjoy your travelogues to the nth degree.
By: Franklin Bruce Taylor on March 7, 2014
I love the head in the roots. Very cool. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on March 7, 2014
I'll second the thought of you as a history/art teacher! I so enjoy your travelogues! We have one of those banyan trees just down the road from where I live (it's on the grounds of what is now Legoland).
By: Pixel Peeper on March 7, 2014
History in a different culture is fascinating.
By: red on March 7, 2014
Superb photographs of a fascinating place.
By: Bryan Jones on March 8, 2014
If the inside is as ornate as the outside, I'll bet dusting day was hell. :)
By: Scott Park on March 8, 2014
I keep thinking there should be some koan with the rooted head photo... But I think I will just enjoy it, instead... Cat
By: Cat on March 8, 2014
I envy your fantastic trip, Stephen! Wow. Such a cool picture of the buddha in the roots, too.
By: Kerry Bliss on March 8, 2014
What an interesting read!! LOOOOVE the broken pottery on the walls. And that buddha head! Wild!
By: Carrie on March 8, 2014
I love the root Buddha, and I never would have guessed those walls were covered with porcelain shards. Thanks for letting me see the world from my basement.
By: Val on March 8, 2014
Amazing post, I especially like the last image.
By: John on March 9, 2014
This was an interesting post. I was fascinated at the image of the Buddha's head in the tree roots. A bit creepy somehow. How graceful the other Buddha statue is.
By: Jenny WOolf on March 9, 2014
Incredible structures - beautiful.
By: jenny_o on March 9, 2014
That head entwined in the roots is magical. Thanks for sharing your experience of Thailand. It's a very popular tourist destination from here, but everyone simply goes south to the beaches where they take advantage of the low prices and the low-paid staffl.
By: Mitchell is Moving on March 10, 2014

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