When I was planning the photoshoot to Thailand and Cambodia earlier in the year I had an idea where I wanted to go, but I have also learned that wanting and doing are sometimes not the same thing.
My initial plan was to visit the various Khmer sites in N E Thailand, and after the stop in Bangkok I had a trip in mind to Phi Mai, Kamphaeng Yai, Phnom Rung and Ta Muen Thom, before crossing the border for Banteay Chhmar.
That looks like a great idea from an armchair, but once I realised how much traveling would be involved, I had to take into consideration how delicate my health was.
I therefore replanned it to something a little more moderate: a week in Bangkok, another in Ayutthaya then on to Banteay Chhmar for the final week. Well, that was more reasonable.
I had a contact in Bangkok with Ajahn Thiab for the first week and I had a contact with the Khmer monk Ven Dhammanando for the third week, but no one I knew was staying in Ayutthaya. Still it’s good to have faith 🙂
The most obvious thing was to see if Ajahn could put me in contact with someone in Ayutthaya. It was good timing: the very day I asked there was a meeting of senior monks from round the country, and he spoke to one from Ayutthaya.
Phra Ratcha Thanintarajan
Chao Khun Phra Ratcha Thanintarajan (Suchat Ṭhānissaro) is in charge of Wat Kasattrathirat, an ancient temple in Ayutthaya on the west bank of the Chao Phraya river, and we were kindly invited to stay with him.
My very good supporter Yom Namfon, who had previously brought me to Wat Pho from the airport, then agreed to help us find the temple, and drove us there the following day.
Chao Khun was very kind and helpful during our stay, but he didn’t know any English, so we were effectively put under the care of Phra Job, a newly ordained monk who had previously worked as an auditor, and knew some English.
This was very good fortune for us, as not only was Phra Job the very heart of kindness and consideration, he also turned out to be a very skilful recitor, and while I was there we recorded the Thet Maha Chat, a complete reading of the Great Vessantara Jataka in Thai, which I wrote about last week.
Wat Kasattrathirat also turned out to have very fine architecture and murals, and with the latter we were particularly lucky. I found the murals in a Dhammasala only around 10 metres form my room, and the day after we arrived the Dept. of Fine Arts came to repair the damage done to the Sala by last year’s flooding, which had badly affected the riverside temple.
One of the things they needed to do was move out all the furniture from the Hall, and that gave me a great opportunity to photograph the murals at ease. Over the next couple of days I got all the photographs I needed, which was just as well, because after that the Sala was effectively off-limits, while under repair.
The next thing we needed to do was to get round the historical remains in Ayutthaya itself, which is a large modern provincial capital, and used to be the country’s capital, so is quite spread out.
For a couple of days Wilhelm and myself went round by tuk-tuk, there being no taxis, at least as far as I could see. Tuk-tuks are normally OK, of course, but there is a special brand of the vehicle in Ayutthaya, which is very low in the back, and we were constantly being hit on the head by the roof.
But we were fortunate again to have help from Yom Namfon who took us round to some of the more distant temples one day, like Wat Phananchoeng, which has some fine Ramakien Reliefs on the wall surrounding the Temple.
On another day we had help from Pramoj Panmanee, whom I had met on Facebook a few weeks earlier, who took us to Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit and other places.
And one day Phra Job organised to take us to Bang Pa-In Palace and Wat Nivet Thamprawat, a Buddhist Temple with cathedral architecture, built by King Chulalongkorn in 1878.
A lot of the main temples from the Ayutthaya period were destroyed by the invading Burmese armies in 1767, and lay in ruins. I will say more about those next week. There was one that escaped, owing to an interesting circumstance.
The Burmese, led by King Alaungpaya, had previously tried to sack the city in 1759, and had set up cannons in Wat Na Phraname. The King decided to fire the cannon himself, and it reportedly blew up, mortally wounding him, and he died on the retreat to Burma.
When the city was finally raised to the ground in 1767, the armies did not dare destroy Wat Na Phraname, and it was the only major temple to in the city to survive the invasion.
To see some of these photographs you can either follow the links above or go to the Ayutthaya section of the Thailand page, where more links are provided. Here are some of the best photographs I have from the stay there.
Buddha Surveying the Temple, Wat Kasattrathirat
North and East Walls, Wat Kasattrathirat
Phra Ram, Wat Phananchoeng
Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit
Side View of the Temple, Wat Nivet Thamprawat
Buddha Face, Wat Na Phraname