Growing up in the United States, we don’t grow up with old. When a building is 200 years old, we’re all “Ooooohhhhh, can you imagine? This was built before great-grandma was born!” The oldest structures we have to oooohh and aaaahhh over are things like the Richard Sparrow House, built in 1640 and the Wyckhoff house built around 1652. Three hundred and fifty years old.
(In fairness, there are pueblos in New Mexico area that are 800-1000 years old, but I’m an east coast girl and those are almost 2000 miles away, a short 28 hour drive. So they didn’t have much of an impact on my paradigm growing up.)
Then, we start to travel, and we are introduced to old. To civilizations that were thriving and powerful, hundreds of years before our nation was born.
This is one of those days.
We headed out early from our Bangkok home base, and in just about an hour, we are in Ayutthaya. Founded in 1350, Ayutthaya was the capital of Siam, a cultural center and one of the most urban areas, until 1797 when it was raised by the Burmese. But even with that, the ruins are large, impressive, and there to be walked around and explored.
It takes a lot of getting used to, to go to these sites in a country like Thailand when we are used to US rules, regulations, & paranoia. Here, people are walking right up and on the wats and chedi. There are no safety rails as you do so, which, to our western minds means we are going to hurl off and break a limb at any moment.
Except, of course, we didn’t.
This also means, though, that we get to be up close and personal with the structures. We lean on them, we touch them, we climb up for a higher perspective on the whole layout of the area. It’s personal, and real, and weirdly disconcerting.
Time and again in Thailand I had to stop and try to absorb and adjust to how very different the architecture is. There aren’t blocks and squares and cupes, topped with triangular roofs. There are circular, pyramidal, and sloping cone shapes. It makes me wonder what fundamental environmental difference there was that pushed the different architectures in the directions they went. There is also a fantasy-ish flare with dragons and nagas. It made me think my dragon-loving KatieRose may have been born on the wrong side of the world.
For me though, the most memorable part of the day was when our group, in an unplanned, organic way, split, and we women wandered off in one direction, enjoying the peacefulness of the area to wander around the lake and bridges and talk and talk and talk. The men meandered in another direction, discussing deep questions of the heart, mind, and spiritual… or Star Wars, it’s hard to say.
We womenfolk had actually thought we had spotted our host up ahead of us. So much so, that our kids ran toward him calling to him. Of course, then it wasn’t him, which left everyone feeling a little awkward. Hello! Yes. Weird Americans here. Carry on!
During this time we were searching for a particular chedi that has been opened and allows visitors to climb the exterior, enter, and explore the inside. We were pretty sure we had the right place, but we were walking and walking and walking, and couldn’t find a gate in the surrounding wall to enter. So, yes, in the end, both moms and the kids did climb the wall and hop down inside, to explore. Again, kids, we’re teaching you so much this trip. (Seriously, I don’t blame you for questioning my parenting at times.)
I’m sure it’ll be fine!
I do feel I should point out that we were there at a time when there was no charge to enter any of the areas. So, while climbing the wall to get in was probably not a recommended practice, we were not skipping out on payment on anything.
As it turned out, we were not near the chedi we were looking for. But the kids had fun exploring the area, and I got this…
We walked and talked and explored so long, that when we wanted to get back together with the menfolk, we had to call each other, and realized we were a good 1.5 miles apart. So we headed out in a more purposeful walk back toward them – since they were the smart ones that moved toward – instead of away from – the car!
But one quick stop before meeting up with them…
There was one more area of Ayutthaya we wanted to see, but took time out for a leisurely and very authentic Thai lunch. I’ll post about that later, because it merits its own commentary. Preview: “Why would anyone eat that!” from the husband who has eaten silkworm larvae & octopus balls.
After lunch, we made our stop in the second area of Ayutthaya, to see the buddha head in the tree roots, and the open chedi.
The buddha head is just really cool. No one is exactly sure when and how the buddha head became entwined in the roots. The best theory at this point is that the head was part of one of the wats until Ayutthaya was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767, when it was lost in the rubble of the destruction. Ayutthaya was left in ruins until 1950 when the Department of Fine Art began trying to restore the area. Sometime after that is when the head was found as it is.
One of the most intact buddhas in Ayutthaya:
And my selfies with my girls…
We did finally find the open chedi we could climb up and in and explore. It was much higher seeming once we got up there, and while there was a metal scaffolding around some parts, other places there was just the mutual understanding you won’t be an idiot and fall.
And the interior steps were nearly ladder-steep, and quite high themselves. Even with the handrail, I felt like I was going to pitch face-first down them.
Going down the stairs was to see where the interior riches were stored, and to see the wall paintings.
These girls constantly crack me up!