Ayutthaya was a Siamese kingdom that existed from 1351 to 1767 which took over parts of the falling Khmer Kingdom. In foreign accounts, Ayutthaya was called Siam, but many sources say the people of Ayutthaya called themselves Tai, and their kingdom Krung Tai "The Tai country". Ayutthaya was friendly towards foreign traders, and was seen as an innovative multicultural society with Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Japanese and Persian traders, as well as Europeans later on. A trip to the capital, also called Ayutthaya, is nowadays very easy by bus from Bangkok - it's less than 2 hours, and it's a great opportunity to learn more about the Kingdom of Siam.
A bit of history
Ayutthaya, the capital, was founded in the beautiful valley of the Chao Phraya River. The name of the city indicates the influence of Hinduism in the region as it is the Thai pronunciation of the famous Indian city of Ayodhya. Ayutthaya began its hegemony by conquering northern kingdoms and city-states, also launching attacks on Angkor, the Khmer capital. Angkor's influence eventually faded from the Chao Phraya River Plain, while Ayutthaya became a great, new power. However, the kingdom of Ayutthaya was not a unified state like the Khmer empire, but rather a patchwork of self-governing principalities and tributary provinces owing allegiance to the king of Ayutthaya under The Circle of Power, or the mandala system.
Ayutthaya in the sixteenth century was described by foreign traders as one of the biggest and wealthiest cities in the East. The court of King Narai (1656–88) had strong links with that of King Louis XIV of France, whose ambassadors compared the city in size and wealth to Paris. By 1550, the kingdom's vassals included some city-states in the Malay Peninsula, Sukhothai, and parts of Cambodia.
Kingship of Ayutthaya Kingdom
The kings of Ayutthaya were absolute monarchs with semi-religious status. Their authority derived from the ideologies of Hinduism and Buddhism as well as from natural leadership, and the paternal aspects of kingship disappeared. The king was considered the chakkraphat, who through his adherence to the law made all the world revolve around him. According to Hindu tradition, the king is the avatar of Vishnu, destroyer of demons, who was born to be the defender of the people. The Buddhist belief in the king is as righteous ruler (Sanskrit: dharmaraja), aiming at the well-being of the people and who strictly follows the teaching of Gautama Buddha. The kings' official names were reflections of those religions: Hinduism and Buddhism. They were considered as the incarnation of various Hindu gods: Indra, Shiva or Vishnu (Rama). The coronation ceremony was conducted by brahmins as the Hindu god Shiva was "lord of the universe".
Wat Phra Si Sanphet
In 1765, a combined 40,000-strong force of Burmese armies invaded the territories of Ayutthaya from the north and west. Major outlying towns quickly capitulated. The Burnese were quickly conquered by the Chinese in 1768. The ruins of the historic city and "associated historic towns" in the Ayutthaya Historical Park have been listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Site and are still the number one tourist destination in the area. The three pagodas of Wat Phra Si Sanphet house the remains of King Borommatrailokanat, King Borommarachathirat III and King Ramathibodi II, and are wonderful to visit.
Wat Mahatat is a beautiful Buddhist temple complex, now part of the Ayutthaya historical park. The most photographed subject in the entire park must be the beautiful Buddha head overgrown by fig tree.
Wat Phanan Choeng
Wat Phanan Choeng is a Buddhist temple in the city of Ayutthaya on the east bank of the Chao Phraya River at the south-eastern side of the confluence of the Chao Phraya and Pa Sak rivers. Built in 1324, some 26 years before the city of Ayutthaya was officially founded, the temple has a large wihan, the highest building within the temple complex, and houses an immense 19 meter high gilded, seated Buddha from 1334 CE. Today, as part of the Ayutthaya Historical Park, the temple is a popular tourist attraction.
Wat Yai Chai Mongkon, also colloquially referred to as Wat Yai, is another interesting Buddhist temple of the Kingdom of Siam located in Phitsanulok, on the beautiful bank of the Nan River near the Naresuan Bridge. It was founded in 1357 by King Lithai of Sukhothai, and it is very famous because of its golden buddha image called Phra Phuttha Chinnarat, which is considered by some Thais to be the most beautiful buddha image in the country. The temple's large wihan has an immense main entrance with mother-of-pearl inserts donated by King Boromakot in 1756. Beyond the wihan is a Khmer style prang, the inside of which can be accessed via a stairway. The prang is said to enshrine relics of the Buddha.