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On the Island Tour Guide

On the Island Tour Guide

Paul Arps

One of the best ways to see all the Historical Park attractions on the island is by a nice leisurely bicycle tour. The distance between attractions is never far, along relatively flat and quiet roads. Most guesthouses have bicycles for rent or will be able to point you to somewhere nearby that does. We have completed this guide which covers all the main attractions in a handy circuit with directions and information on each location. It’s essentially a loop so you can start from any location if you wish. Wat Mahathat Depending on where you are staying, a good place to start your bicycle tour is at Wat Mahathat, particularly if you are coming from the backpacker strip area off Naresuan Road. Located at the corner of Chikhun and Naresuan, Wat Mahathat is an excellent place to start the day as if you come at 8:00am (opening time), it will be cooler and the light will be good for photography. This large ruined temple is famous for the head of a Buddha image encased in the roots of a banyan tree, although there are many more fascinating ruins there for your eyes to feast on. Wat Ratchaburana When you've had your fill, cross over Naresuan Road and go to the nearby Wat Ratchaburana to see the ancient Buddhist frescoes inside the crypt. Wat Thammasikarat Next is stop is Wat Thammasikarat, which predates the foundation of Ayutthaya and is still used as a working temple today. Located a few hundred metres further down Naresuan Road and then a short ride north, the temple is signposted, and you will be rewarded by the sight of guardian lion statues and the massive brick ruins of an assembly hall. The highlight here is a revered reclining Buddha covered in gold leaf in an easy-to-miss wihan (a shrine hall that contains a principal Buddha image). Vihara Phra Mongkhon Bophit Back on your bike, continue riding west on Naresuan Road, shortly after the road takes a sharp left turn and veers south. Take a right turn onto the 'bicycle-only' brick lane that runs west to Vihara Phra Mongkhon Bophit. Here you will find an impressive 20th Century Thai-Style Hall, where the bronze Buddha image in the attitude of subduing Mara (touching the earth) is situated. It has a lap measurement at 9.55 metres and a height of 12.45 metres and is one of the most revered and largest Buddha images in Thailand. Somehow it survived the Burmese attack of 1767. Wat Phra Si Sanphet Just to the north of the hall is Wat Phra Si Sanphet, where you can walk around three graceful chedis, or stupas - as are also known - because they contain the remains of three Ayutthaya Kings. This is one of the outstanding highlights of Ayutthaya. Nearby to the north and west are the sprawling grounds of the Ancient Palace which contain countless headless Buddha Images to continue filling that memory card. Wat Phra Ram Next, head south on Naresuan Road and after a short ride, you will see Wat Phra Ram on your left-hand side. The grounds are very atmospheric, with footbridges over lovely ponds, and the area is dominated by Khmer-style prang (a tall, tower-like richly engraved spire.) Phra Ram Park is an ideal place for an afternoon picnic. It is very tranquil as not many tourists go here, even though the temple was established in 1369 and predates most other temples. The main prang can be climbed and you will be rewarded with a panoramic view of the Historical Park. One of the nearby sights will be elephants dressed in red and gold, waiting for their daily tourist rides. Be careful to give them plenty of clearance when riding your bike. National Museum Your next stop is the excellent National Museum. To get there, continue south on Naresuan Road and go straight ahead at the traffic circle at the junction with Pathon Road. You will soon see the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum complex on the left. Turn left on Rochana Road and you will find the entrance. By this time you will be feeling pretty hot, so the air-conditioned museum will come as a welcome relief. There are three large exhibition areas which display solid gold swords; an array of valuables discovered in the crypts of Wat Mahathat and Wat Ratchaburana; a massive bronze Buddha head discovered at Wat Thammasikarat; a complete traditional Thai teakwood house and an accompanying exhibition on how daily life was lived by the common people. Another section displays ancient Buddha images and other relics of Hindu/Buddhist art. TAT’s Visitor Information office When you have finished at the museum, go back to Rochana Rd and head back west, the TAT tourism centre is directly in front of you. It’s a distinguishable white building that was the old city hall. Here you can see an exhibition of Ayutthaya history and will be provided with maps and details of places to go. (Armed with all this information, you may wish to start your bicycle tour here) Khun Phaen Residence Now head back north to the traffic circle, turn left onto Pa Thong Road and a short ride will bring you to Khun Phaen's Residence. The house occupies a piece of land that once served as Ayutthaya’s prison. Many prisoners here had to endure horrific torture before being beheaded. The dwelling is based on a house owned by one of the main characters in Khun Chang Khun Phaen - a famous Thai literary epic that tells the story of two men’s 50-year fight over a woman. Polished teak floors and fretted walls with swing-open windows are set around a central open area. The house was constructed on thick teak stilts and fitted together without a single nail or screw. Wat Warapho Just a little further along the road is the Historical Park’s elephant kraal. Continue west on Pa Thon Road and take a right (north) onto Khlong Tho Road. Ride along this quiet leafy road for about 1km and just before you reach Uthong Road, you will see Wat Warapho on your left-hand side. This Wat is worth a brief stop, and you can take a good photo shot of a Buddha image through the front window of a roofless brick hall. Wat Lokkayasutharam Head back south along the small lane (on the other side of the canal), pass Wat Worrachettharam and arrive at your next stop-off point on your right, Wat Lokkayasutharam. The highlight here is a 42-metre-long reclining Buddha made of brick and finished with white plaster. The Buddha image is eight metres tall at the head, resting on a lotus flower, and his expression is a serene smile as if at the moment he enters Nirvana. Long branches reach towards the Buddha from nearby trees, making for some great photo shots. Chedi Phra Sri Suriyothai Now head west, away from the Wat along a lane that winds through some old neighbourhoods, when you reach U Thong Road turn left (south) and stop at Chedi Phra Sri Suriyothai. The site of this Chedi was first established by King Maha Chakkraphat to honour the legendary Queen Suriyothai, who was slain while attempting to defend the king in an elephant battle near Ayutthaya, in the Burmese-Siamese War of 1548. In the 19th century, King Rama V built a Chedi on the spot where it’s thought the queen was cremated. The gold-painted chedi is topped by a slender spire and rises from a four-sided white base. It towers over the large trees in a park across the road from the Chao Phraya River. Set in the small Sri Suriyothai Park with gardens, gazebos and shady trees, it makes a pleasant stop in the late afternoon if you are starting to feel hot and weary. Wat Chaiwatthanaram We suggest that the final stop in your bicycle tour is at Wat Chaiwatthanaram, just outside the perimeter of the Historical Park. This Wat looks particularly stunning in the late-afternoon light. From the chedi, you continue south 200m on U Thong Road and then cross the bridge over the Chao Phraya River, then take a left and head about 500m south until the wat appears in front of you. King Prasat Thong had the magnificent Wat Chaiwatthanaram constructed after returning victorious from an invasion of Khmer lands in 1630. The four spires and the central prang are in remarkably good shape. They make for one of the most stunning views in Ayutthaya when viewed from a distance. In the late afternoon, the sunlight brings out the rich tones of beige stucco and red brick. It is believed that relics of the Buddha are encased somewhere inside the main prang. (Note- you could also include this temple as part of your "Off Island bicycle tour")

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