Monday, April 18, 2011

Buddha Bicycling around Thailand's ancient capital

When we last left Rocky and Bullwinkle -- er, -- our intrepid blogger, he had just finished celebrating Songkran, the Thai New Year.

The new year's celebrations in Thailand tend to go on all week, at least it seemed that way while I was there. One of the common ways Thais express joy at the coming of a new year is by soaking their neighbors with buckets of water and/or super-soaker water pistols.

Some of the ruins at Wat Phra Si Sanphet
Believe it or not, those "water wars" actually stem from the ancient Buddhist practice of sprinkling water on your family, friends and neighbors to bless them. Somewhere along the way, people got the idea it was more fun to totally soak people rather than just sprinkle them. Being an old water gun warrior myself, I can certainly understand the mindset. 
However, I was certainly glad that when I received a blessing during Monday night's festivities near Wat Pho, it was just a sprinkling I received. (I was wet enough from sweat, anyways - this is the tropics, after all!)

The next day, blessed and drier, I was off to Ayutthaya to experience more of the Buddha nature of the country. Ayutthaya is the ancient capital of the kingdom of Siam. My visit here took the form of two different activities: bicycling and boating.
Reclining Buddha image

Cruising along the Chao Phraya River on an overnight trip between Bangkok and Ayutthaya has been one of my "bucket-list" items for about five or six years. There are several different ways to do the trip; you can do it one day, as it's only a journey of 80 km. You can leave Bangkok, sail to Ayutthaya and overnight there, returning the next day. My own trip involved driving to Ayutthaya to spend the morning bicycling to many of its ancients ruins and temples, then boarding a boat in the afternoon to float down to Bangkok with an overnight stop.

I cycled with Nutty's Adventures, guided on my own personal three-hour tour (no, Gilligan was not involved!) by a young lady named Neung. She proved to be an excellent guide, as we pedalled our way to some of the city's ruins and temples.

We began our tour at the Ayutthaya Historical Study Center, to get some of the historical context. Then it was off on our bikes.

Buddha head at Wat Mahathat

Highlights of the tour included a huge (37 metres long) reclining Buddha carved from stone, a stone Buddha head entwined in tree roots at Wat Mahathat, and the ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanphet, which was the old site of the royal palace.

The time went very quickly and it was soon time to begin the second leg of my journey between the capital cities, ancient and current, by trading in my bicycle for a berth on the Mekhala, a rice barge converted into a passenger ship that carries tourists up and down the River of Kings .

Anchors (or should I say "ankgors?") away!

(I know, I know, "Ankgor" is actually Cambodian - but we did see an example of Cambodian architecture in some of the ruins at Ayutthaya...)

No comments:

Post a Comment