ayutthaya

The historic second capital of Thailand, then known as the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, was founded in 1350. Glorified as one of the biggest cities in Southeast Asia and a regional power for some 400 years, it reached its apex in terms of military might, wealth, culture, and commerce in the 16th century, when the Kingdom’s territory extended into and beyond present-day Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar. Ayutthaya had diplomatic relations with Louis XIV of France and was courted by Dutch, Portuguese, English, Chinese and Japanese merchants. Conquered by Burmese invaders in the late 18th century many of the city’s magnificent structures were almost completely destroyed and the ruins which remain were abandoned after a new king liberated the Kingdom and moved the capital to Thonburi, across the river from modern-day Bangkok. A UNESCO’s World Heritage site, the ruins of Ayutthaya are today one of Thailand’s archaeological highlights, with three palaces and over 400 temples strategically located on an island surrounded by three rivers connecting the city to the sea. The architecture is a fascinating mix of Khmer and early Sukhothai styles. Some cactus-shaped obelisks, called prangs or reliquary towers, denote Khmer influence and look something like the famous towers of Angkor Wat. The more pointed towers, called stupas, are ascribed to the early Sukhothai influence. And everywhere you look there is praise to Buddha.

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it’s good to be the king

Especially if you happen to be Bhumibol Adulyadej, more commonly known as Rama IX. The king of Thailand – no Yul Brenner jokes, please – has reigned since June 9, 1946, making him the world’s longest reigning current monarch and the world’s longest serving head of state. (The Thai monarchy has been in continuous existence since the founding of the Kingdom of Sukothai in 1238.) Today is the king’s 85th birthday and for the past ten days I’ve been greeted by billboard-sized photos of his majesty everywhere I go. This little shrine outside my hotel was the most demure example I could find.

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