Saturday, 13 March 2010

Alive in Ayutthaya

There's nothing quite like walking through centuries-old ruins to help you realize just how small you are on this planet.

After spending three busy days in Bangkok, we took the train just over an hour north of the city, to Ayutthaya. Our goal was to get that small-town experience in Thailand's old capital, while taking in the sights of this ancient city with a colourful past.

My main purpose for this leg of the trip was to see the Wat Mahathat in person. I remember flipping through issues of National Geographic as a child and seeing spreads dedicated to these ancient ruins. I knew I'd find myself among them someday; I just never knew when. And now, a few months after living in the Land of Morning Calm, I can gladly say that they're more majestic in person than any photograph or painting I've encountered.

In Thai, "Wat" means "temple". Wat Mahathat simply means, "Temple of the Great Relic". If you're curious as to what that great relic is, check out the photo below.

Famous Buddha head trapped in a Banyan tree

Yes, this is the Great Relic, dating back to the 14th century -- the head of an ancient sandstone Buddha statue, trapped in the roots of an old banyan tree. You've probably seen this photo in magazines, on TV, or even in posters. But please, if you ever get the chance, try to go see it in person at some point in your life. It was one of the most humbling and beautiful experience I've ever had.

The story goes, the statue, built in the style of the ancient Ayutthaya period, broke off during the many wars and conquests during Thailand's past. Over time, and despite bad weather, the banyan tree began to grow around it, safely enclosing the head in its roots. Now, whether this was done on purpose or by accident is something we might never know. But it's a fascinating story, isn't it?

The roots of the tree continue to grow a little more around the head, with each passing year. When you choose to take a photo with the relic, you're asked to crouch down so that your head is lower than the Buddha head, as it's a sign of respect and tradition.

There are several other statues around Wat Mahathat - all Buddhas, many, with their heads broken off. There's security personnel everywhere to ensure that people, regardless of being tourists, continue to respect and honour these sacred grounds.

At Wat Mahathat, Ayutthaya, Thailand - 2010

As I wandered around in awe, taking in these fragments of a time long gone by, I couldn't help but count myself blessed for having had the opportunity to encounter history face-to-face.

I hope that someday, you'll have the chance to as well.



  1. I like it. Since you mentioned that there were security personnel everywhere, I was just wondering what kind of trouble would tourists get into?

  2. Hi, thanks for your comment!

    Well, one of the main problems tourists fall into at the ruins, is placing their heads on top of the Buddha statues and taking photos. There's actually signs posted everywhere saying that's strictly not allowed.

    Another issue is with the the tuk tuk drivers. Before you get into a tuk tuk, whether in Bangkok or Ayutthaya, make sure you negotiate a price that is reasonable and that you and the driver agree upon.


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