Outside the Historic Park
When Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese in 1767, and the city population relocated elsewhere, most of the temples were forgotten and the land reverted back to swamp. King Chulalongkorn declared, in 1908, that Ayutthaya would be preserved as an archeological site and that nobody would be allowed to own property within the island city (Phulsarp 58). It wasn’t until 1938 that land titles could be issued for property inside the former city walls, but the majority still favored living by the riverside in raft houses. It was Field Marshall Phibun Songtham (1948-1957) who really pushed for change in the city infrastructure. Residents felt the impact of new roads, motor vehicles, and the Chao Phraya Dam – the latter completed in Chainat in 1957. Phibun set aside some land to be preserved as a national heritage site, and this territory would later be recognized by UNESCO.
However, nearly half the main island evolved into residential sites, business zones, and school districts. Hospitals, police stations, courthouses, and prisons opened up as well. New neighborhoods cropped up around ancient temples, factories sprouted from rice fields, and chedis punctured schoolyards at educational institutes. Some monasteries have become tourist draws within the Historic Park. The rest of the new city also grew up around ancient sites, and this is what fascinates me. How does the modern population relate to these ancient monuments? The main island is full of monasteries that have fallen into ruin (Wat Rang). Few people know about them, and even less can find them. The small village temples often tell no history. But, they are there lurking. It is sort of a game to find them by bicycle, like Hide-and-Go-Seek. I found that some temples have been re-activated, others have been saved by royal patronage, a few have doubled as schools, while dozens still hover in hiding. This chapter is about how a community relates to these places in modern times.
Name: The Front Palace (Wang Na)
Background: The Front Palace was built by Prince Naresuan around 1577. At that time, his father, King Maha Thammaracha was extending the city walls in the area and expanding the canal system. This construction project claimed land that had been less inhabitable before, and this converted territory was made into an islet. Coconut fields once lined the surrounding area, which gave name to a nearby canal (Klong Maprao). The Front Palace became the residence for the person who would next inherit the throne. During King Narai’s reign (1656-1688), the Phijai Sanlayalok Observatory Tower was built within the palace walls. Jesuit astronomers gave him instruments for stargazing at this site, along with the palace in Lopburi where King Narai observed an eclipse. The Front Palace was also damaged during the Burmese invasion of 1767, partially because of its close proximity to Mahchai Fortress where the city walls were breached.
The new city population reformed around this landmark, mostly due to rice trade, and the nearby market area became known as Hua Ror (“Floating Heads”). Government offices, municipal sites, and wooden shop houses were set up around it. In modern times, the Front Palace has served for several purposes. In 1902, Prince Damrong Rajanubhap advised Phraya Boran Ratchathanin to start the first provincial museum at this site. Ayudhya Museum later changed its name to Chandrakasem. The first modern prison was attached to the property. Prisoners sometimes worked in the orchids around the former Front Palace. Tourists have been visiting the Front Palace and its observatory tower since the 1850s.
Name: The Rear Palace (Wang Lang)
Background: It is not clear when the Rear Palace was built or what it ever looked like. There isn’t much trace of it visible today. The Dutch map by Johannes Vingboons (c.1665) shows an unusual octagonal-shaped pagoda. The multi-tiered structure is in the approximate location where the Rear Palace once stood. The same building has also appeared in wooden cabinets from the Ayutthaya period (Garnier 169). Could this have been the Rear Palace? Evidently, the Rear Palace predates the Front Palace. This former was upgraded in 1577, at the same time that the Front Palace was still under construction. It was not just used by nobility. Military leaders (Kalahom) sometimes resided there as well. For example, King Phetracha (1688-1703) lived in the Rear Palace before usurping the throne in 1688. The Rear Palace was destroyed during the Burmese invasion of 1767. There are stories told about how the Burmese fired cannons from Wat Kasatrathiraj, which is located on the opposite side of the Chao Phraya River. It is possible that Rama I or Rama III further dissembled it for the bricks needed to build a new capital city. There is nothing leftover to see. However, when U-Thong road collapsed and slid into the river during the flood of 2006, I observed that there were traces of brick walls underneath the ground. Maybe some of these once belonged to the Rear Palace.
Name: Wat Borom Buddharam
Background: This temple was founded during the reign of King Phetracha (1688-1703). He built this temple in his childhood home town. At this site was an ancient canal (Klong Chakranoi), which extended north toward Wat Phra Ram and branched off in the direction the Persian quarters. It was known for the glazed yellow tiles that once graced the roof of its ubosot, many of which can still be found in the nearby canal. Wat Borom Buddharam has undergone several renovations. King Borommakot (1733-1758) added doors to the ubosot, which were inlaid with mother-of-pearl. My students tell me that the doors are now hanging in a Bangkok museum. Wat Borom Buddharam is located at the Rajabhat University along with three other historical sites. The monastery’s Khmer-style prang was still broken into three pieces up to few years ago, but the Fine Arts Department restored it recently. The bricked bridge over the Klong Chakranoi has been reconstructed as well. It wasn’t visible when I first came to Ayutthaya in 2000. Wat Borom Buddharam is a pleasant ruin to visit. There is a beautiful and well-intact image of Buddha to view. This temple is getting gradually reactivated, even if no monks are quartered there. Many students go there to pray before tests. There are daily traces of burned incense, melted candles, and various offerings. The university community is reviving this place informally.
Name: Wat Chai Yapume
Background: This temple was constructed in the middle Ayutthaya period. It was named after a province in Siam. The site was located southeast of the Patan Bridge (in the Pratoo Chai District). Chao Yi and his military troops settled at this monastery before fighting his elder brother, Chao Ai, for the throne. Both brothers met their deaths in this battle. Wat Chai Yapume lied covered in jungle until recent years. Houses stood in front of it blocking the view. I tried to bushwhack my way to it in 2006, but vicious dogs chased me away. Six months ago I started bribing them with dog biscuits. They finally allowed me a peek. This monastery has a large reliquary tower with an entrance on the eastern side. There are traces of looting. There is also a fairly large face of Buddha surviving. Oddly, there is no body to go along with it. This is one of the few cases in which the Buddha head has survived intact, while the rest of the statue goes missing.
Name: Wat Horakhang
Background: This temple was build during the reign of King Narai (1656-1688). The temple is named after its beautiful bell tower, which can still be seen today. The temple was located beside the Makham Riang canal (formerly known as Klong Nai Kai). This temple sees plenty of motor vehicle traffic, but seldom do visitors go inside. The bell tower, a stack of Buddha parts, and a wall-less wiharn are all that survive. A number of Bodhi trees have sprouted from the foundations. A few residents still visit it from the apartments nearby. I’ve seen them do some maintenance projects on it.
Name: Wat Khamint
Background: This temple gets its name from the sound of crying crows. It is unclear when it was originally established, but Royal Chronicles mention that the Burmese fired guns at fortresses in front of this monastery in 1767 (Cushman 520). The walls caught fire and collapsed. Burmese troops entered the city that evening and ransacked it. Only a single bell-shaped chedi has survived. Yet, it has inherited its own legend. The first prison of the new city was established at this site, and the surviving chedi was used by prisoners within. The guard towers can still be seen. The local legend is that the temple received this name due to the execution of prisoners. The crows would screech whenever a convict was killed by the state. Supposedly, vultures also lived around this temple until recent times. The crows and vultures have gone, but the chedi remains behind. It is hiding isolated in a grassy field that few people ever look at.
Name: Wat Khun Muang Chai
Background: This temple may be older than the foundation of Ayutthaya. Its unique base is designed in the “Yok-ket” style, similar to Wat Ayotthaya. There are very few monasteries built like it in Ayutthaya. There is no record of the founding of this temple, but documents attest to this site being used for allegiance oaths. There are traces of restoration. The Fine Arts Department renovated the structure in 1969-1970 and once again in 2006. This site is worth seeing, especially at moonlight, but watch out: a number of locals mentioned ghosts in this area and I have personally seen a green viper escaping in the tall grass. There are remains of an ubosot and a wiharn on opposite ends of the main stupa. There is a preserved stucco Buddha image (standing) on the stupa’s eastern wall. A two-story building is located on the northwestern side, which is a type of structure associated with residential halls of highly positioned monks or members of the royal family. One of its smaller chedis is at an angle so steep that it appears to be falling over. It will be curious to see how this grand ruin evolves, since it is located among the heavy traffic on Rochana Road.
Name: Wat Khun Saen
Background: There isn’t a clear record of when this temple was originally constructed, but King Maha Thammaracha (1569-1590) persuaded two Mon aristocrats and their families to settle around this site. The two Mon elites were named Phraya Kiat and Phraya Ram. Royal Chronicles mention both these people in relation to their roles in the “White Elephant Wars”, in which Burma besieged Ayutthaya in 1569 and eventually turned it into a vassal state. This ruin is located on U-Thong road near Hua Ror market. The highlight is its large bell-shaped chedi. King Rama IV (1851-1868) ordered Wat Khun Saen’s restoration but he died before its completion, which left the monastery inactive. This is why the large chedi appears to be swallowing the smaller one on top. This view provides an idea about how these temples were sometimes expanded over preexisting structures. There are also interesting Banyan trees growing in the back. The small alley behind this temple doubles as a shortcut to the bus stop.
Name: Wat Kian
Background: This monastery is located on the northern part of U-Thong Road. Two stupas are so close to the traffic that passengers could practically touch them while driving by. They have turned black from the exhaust. There is also a shrine of white Buddha images. In front of this there is a smaller one that looks like a child. I wonder if this has something to do with the fact that there is a primary school nearby. I can’t find any foundation dates or historical information about it. However, this temple reflects a pattern. Many secular schools have been set up around abandoned monasteries. This is one way for a community to reclaim them. Buddhist monasteries doubled as education centers in early Siam. Consequently, King Chulalongkorn sponsored monastery schools as part of his educational reforms at the turn of the century. He tried to make elementary level education compulsory even at the village level. Civil servants learned skills in temples before teacher training colleges could arise. I do not know when Wat Kian became a school, but its location by ancient stupas is no accident.
Name: Wat Kok Ma
Background: This temple ruin is named after a horse stable that was once located at this site. Persian traders brought Arabian-bred horses to Siam as gifts. However, the Persians were appalled over the Siamese treatment of these domestic animals. One Persian envoy, Ibn Muhammad Ibrahim, writes that the Siamese cut the manes and tails of horses since because they were consider bad luck and forced horses into a submissive posture with their heads in between their front legs. The horses were not allowed to raise their heads (O’Kane 85). Siamese military troops had an awkward relationship with horses. Horses spooked the elephants, so they had to be separated a bit. Foreign mercenaries sometimes rode the horses into battle instead. These horses were bathed nearby at the Pasak River and Klong Maprao.
This small monastery is located on a side alley of “Farang Street”. Most tourists walk by it without ever knowing it is there. The only thing that remains is a single brick structure crowned with a Buddha image. A makeshift tin roof protects it from the elements. The ruin has been sealed off lately by private land owners. Some particularly feisty dogs patrol the side street as well. Several guesthouse owners have expressed interest in formally renaming “Farang Street” after this temple. I am inclined to agree, because “Thanon Kok Ma” is a much more respectful name. However, the actual ruin needs to be made accessible if they do. Tourists will be curious to see it, since it is so close.
Name: Wat Kok Muang
Background: This temple ruin is located east of Wat Mahatat. Its name refers to a small hill in a town. This temple is noted mostly for its bell tower, which stands opposite of a leftover mondrop. Many Bodhi trees are growing from the monastery foundation. The temple was established in the late Ayutthaya period. Not much is known about it. It serves as a landmark for Bangkok minivans and buses, which are located on block north on the same road.
Name: Wat Langka
Background: There is no record of when this temple was build. However, the Khmer-influenced prang and geographic location suggests that it was constructed in the early Ayutthaya period. It is located along the ancient canal Nai Kai (now called Makham Riang). This temple is close to “Farang” street (located directly across the street from the vegetarian restaurant). It is worth seeing as it is only a close walk away. You can enter a hole on the eastern side, since the main prang is hollow. A headless, sword wielding, stucco figure rests high above on the southwestern side.
Name: Wat Minangchi
Background: This small stupa is hiding on the corner of Rochana Road, next to Wittayalai school. I could not track down any information about its history or foundation date. Its style suggest the late Ayutthaya period. The only item visible is its redented stupa, which has niches on each side where Buddha images might have been – now all of them are gone. Wat Minangchi was located on Klong Pratu Khao Pluak (the canal that once ran in front of Wat Mahatat). It has remained a ruin ever since the fall of the city. A small building is located beside it that has painting of Ayutthaya governors, which has been surprisingly difficult information to find in English.
Name: Wat Pasak
Background: This temple ruin was originally built in the early Ayutthaya period and restored in the late period. If you look closely you can see it from Rochana Road. It is located on Wittayalai school property, by the Chalerm Phraket building (marking the 60th birthday of the queen). A chedi at this site was recently excavated in 2001. A Buddha image was found situated inside, as well as a variety of pottery. There appears to have been some holes dug in the chedi afterward by subsequent looters. The reliquary tower is crumbling and eroded. Metal girders prevent it from toppling over. I have never seen students at Wittayalai use it for ceremonies.
Name: Wat Prasat (also called Wat Priyat)
Background: This active monastery is located north of Chao Prom Market on U-Thong road. Apparently, it was built on the site of an earlier temple. Students from that neighborhood talk about an old graveyard that was dug up to make room for modern real estate development. It might have been reactivated when Chinese rice traders moved into the area after the 1855 Bowring Treaty with England was signed. This Buddhist temple has a clear Chinese influence even today. In 1969, Jane Bramley described Wat Prasat as a small temple, comprised of older monks who were organized into small groups (khana). The abbot emulated some practices of the Thammayut monastery down the road, known as Wat Senasanaram (Bramley 158). The modern city has expanded tightly around the monastery compound, so that it is now obscured from view. Klong Maprao is located behind the temple property, but this dry canal has been sealed off and it is now filling up with trash. The neighborhood has many wooden shop houses, some of which could be as much as 100 years old.
Name: Wat Prasart II (The Hospital Chedi)
Background: This temple ruin lays on the property of the Ayutthaya hospital. The exact foundation date and historical information are unknown. Its bell-shaped chedi reflects the middle Ayutthaya period. It was built on a street that the French cartographers called “Rue du Barcalan” – the district used by the Siamese Minister of Trade, known as the Phra Khlang. Wat Prasat appears on the map by Sieur de La Mare, though unnamed. There are still traces of a moat surrounding it. At some point, the chedi broke in half and the upper spire landed on the ground beside the foundation. It remains that way today. There were at least three monasteries on this hospital property at one point. I am not sure what happened to the other ones. There is a brick well on the west side of the hospital. The local legend is that this well was a secret tunnel underneath the Chao Phraya River, which some Siamese used to escape the Burmese. The hospital maintenance crew takes care of the property around the chedi very well. Hospital patients and their families often visit the site to make offerings.
Name: Wat Rachapraditstan
Background: This temple was build by King Chakkraphat (1548-1569). He became a monk at this temple prior to accepting the throne. The reactivated monastery can be seen from U-Thong Road, near one of the main bridges that crosses Klong Muang. It is worth visiting just to see some of the unusual chedi structures and the bricked remains of an ancient city gate (Pratu Khao Pluak). There are a number of cave-like shrines, an odd five-pronged stupa, a brown-tiled mondrop, rows of beautiful white mediating Buddha statues, and a Lanna-style tower with some standing Buddha images still intact. The main ubosot is noted for its twin sema stones (eight encircle the building and one is buried inside). While exploring this temple I stumbled onto some type of abandoned residential building. It was heavily cluttered with trash, broken glass, and graffiti; but a Buddha image still existed in one of its wall niches. The city gate is also loaded with garbage and discarded debris. At the same time, there is a peaceful pond and a clean lawn. I once saw an ordination ceremony at this temple that included alcohol consumption and coyote (sexy) dancing by guests. There is an odd asymmetry to Wat Rachapraditstan. It combines old and new, filth with cleanliness, and tranquility with the noise of motor traffic.
Name: Wat Ratanachai (Wat Jian)
Background: This active temple is located east of the Riverview Hotel. It has been nicknamed Wat Jian because many Chinese migrated around it while the new city was still reviving. It is not particularly stunning to look at, but it seems to be very popular among locals. A number of these monks walk by my home when doing alms rounds, so I occasionally offer them food. I am told that they have followed the same begging route for over fifty years, though at one time it included paddling boats along the Chao Phraya River. I was curious about alms giving in my neighborhood, because a cluster of temples could be placed in competition with each other. However, alms collections involve a complicated arrangement between various monasteries. The routes have been established since the olden days by some community leader (Bramley 168). There are many beautiful houses in the secluded neighborhood behind this monastery, and I am told that these residents often make donations. Wat Ratanachai is located near the site of an ancient fortress called Racha Clu. A pointed vault gate, Pratu Chong Kud, is one of the few to be preserved in the city. It remains in good condition. To see it, you must go inside the school that is attached to the western side of this temple.
Name: Wat Sam Jian
Background: This temple ruin was once connected to a chain of three Chinese pagodas. The Chinese Gate (Pratu Chin) was located nearby, which fed into Klong Pratu Khao Pluak (the canal that once ran in front of Wat Mahatat). It isn’t clear when Wat Sam Jian was originally founded. The Chinese pagodas seem to appear on the French map of Sieur de La Mare (1751), so perhaps the late-period. However, there was an early settlement of Chinese in this district for maritime trade. All that is left of these three temples is a square tower and some layers of its foundation. It is still unexcavated for the most part. There are plenty of roof tiles scattered around. Many of them are from the period of King Narai.
On a personal level, this ruin is important to me. I had lived next to it for nearly four years without ever seeing it. It goes to show how pervasive and isolated these temples can be. An apartment building concealed it from my view and the only way to reach it is from an unmarked alleyway. The reason that I found it was because I was hunting for Constantin Phaulkon’s house on the same map. In fact, I had mistaken this pagoda for the Greek adventurer’s home because of its unusual tower, which is a completely hollow structure that probably had a staircase leading to the top. A colleague suspected that it was a Muslim prayer tower instead. However, Governor Praya Boran Ratchathanin’s map suggests otherwise, and there are remnants of Buddha images all over the property (could they have been added afterward?). I spent hours exploring this temple before some children informed that cobras had built a nest inside of it and they were woefully right. This is precisely the type of information that I would have liked to know prior to traipsing around. Later, I enjoyed the idea that Phaukon had taken over 300 years of reincarnations to advance to the level of a snake. I was actually disappointed to learn that it never was his house.
Name: Wat Senasanaram
Background: Wat Senasanaram is located on the site of an ancient temple called Wat Sua (Tiger temple). It was reactivated as a monastery due to royal patronage. King Mongkut (1851-1868) rebuilt and renamed it in 1863. He was a reformist who founded a strict sect of Buddhism known as Thammayut. His son, Prince Wachirayan, become the Supreme Patriarch of this sect during his reign. Wat Senasanaram became the first and only temple in Ayutthaya to practice Thammayut discipline. One component of these reforms was education. Monastery schools were set up across the provinces and monks were encouraged to learn modern pedagogical methods. Provincial nobility served apprenticeships at these schools in order to qualify for jobs as civil servants. Government officials helped Thammayut monks by helping with correspondence, distributing textbooks and handling money; since monks of this sect are not allowed to touch it (Bunnag 180). King Chulalongkorn (1868-1910) continued with national reforms and modernization. He added further renovations to this monastery in 1884. Eventually, the Ministry of Education took over the role of scholastic administration.
In the meantime, Ayutthaya became the provincial center for education and administration. The hospital, police station, courthouse, and prison were all within walking distance from this monastery. Wat Senasanaram was an important school during the transition. Children studied here at the primary and secondary levels. The monastery was also used for teacher training before the city college could take over the role in 1902. Wat Senasanaram remains a very active temple today and it still receives royal patronage. A healthy supply of donations help it to remain in top condition. The highlights are a large reclining Buddha image, a number of mural paintings, and some golden bell-shaped chedis. The temple courtyard is impeccably clean. It remains the only monastery in Ayutthaya for the Thammayut strict Buddhist sect.
Name: Wat Singharam
Background: There isn’t a clear record of when this temple was established. Its architectural style is from the middle Ayutthaya period and there is evidence of late-period renovations (most likely by King Borommakot). The wiharn was decorated with stucco and Chinese porcelain, but the only trace of this pottery today is the broken shards in the nearby canal. Two bell shaped chedis are located on the side. Both show signs of looting. There is also a small mondrop to the south, but it is empty. Wat Singharam was once aligned with Klong Chakranoi, across from Wat Borom Buddharam, so it may have played an important role for traders. There is evidence that it had once been burnt in a fire. This small temple is located at the Rajabhat University for those that want to see it.
Name: Wat Suanluang Kangkao
Background: There is no clear record of when this late-period temple was established. It is loosely associated with King Narai (1656-1688). Wat Suanluang Kangkao is located within the boundaries of King Phetracha’s childhood home, so he might have also played a role in its development. The name of this temple implies that it was a royal monastery frequented by bats. Therefore, it is interesting to note that a large number of flying fox bats still live in the area, though not directly inside the temple anymore. The large bats can easily be seen flying over it at night. Wat Suanluang Kangkao is located at the Rajabhat University by the Chakranoi canal (now cut of from the Chao Phraya River and dried up). This temple is in shambles. It once had a very large wiharn that has crumbled to its basic foundation. Its largest stupa looks like it has been heavily plundered. In 2001, it was heavily covered by jungle. The Fine Arts Department made recent effort to improve conditions, but it still tends to be thick with overgrowth, so walk around this remote grassy area with caution. Ayutthaya does have many poisonous snakes.
Name: Wat Suanluang Sobsawan (Chedi Queen Suriyothai)
Background: This monument reportedly contains the ashes of Queen Suriyothai. According to Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, she is the famous wife of King Chakkraphat (1548-1569) who died in a heroic battle on elephant back. As the story goes, King Chakkraphat and two of his sons were leading an army into a fight against the Burmese. Queen Suriyothai, fearing for her family’s safety, secretly dressed as a male soldier and rode an elephant into battle. When her husband’s elephant stumbled in a clash with the Burmese general, Queen Suriyothai sacrificed her own life by intervening. She was struck instead by the general’s weapon. After her death, Queen Suriyothai’s body was taken to the rear palace (Wang Lang) and later cremated at Wat Suan Luang Sobsawan. The stupa was built to honor her heroic sacrifice on behalf of the nation. A well-known Thai movie portrayed this historic event in 2001.
In fairness, I should point out that at least one researcher doubts this story. Michael Wright believes that the main stupa was actually built sometime after 1765 to enshrine relics brought by Sri Lankan monks, and that the famous elephant duel was fought instead by a 16-year-old princess named Phra Boromdhilok (Warren 156-157). It is actually King Chulalongkorn who is credited with naming this site – centuries after the battle took place. Both the Rear Palace and the monastery are long gone, but the heroism of Queen Suriyothai has survived in public minds. Many Thais come from all over the country to see it. Yet, the entrance on the northern side never seems to be open for some reason. This monument is a popular site on most boat tours. The large gilded stupa is quite beautiful when seen from the river, especially at sunset when it radiates golden light.
Name: Wat Suwan Chedi
Background: This large bell-shaped chedi might have been partially gilded with gold at one time. It was build in the middle Ayutthaya period, and later restored during the late Ayutthaya period. No exact dates or historical information are known. It is located behind Wat Rajaburana on the property of a technical school. It is fenced off to discourage vandalism, but tourists can see it anyway just by walking through the school grounds. There isn’t much left of the monastery. There are traces of foundation, some pillars, and parts of surviving Buddha images. The students at the technical school don’t seem to be interested in it. There are seldom offerings made at this site, but sometimes a yellow cloth is wrapped around the main chedi.
Name: Wat Suwan Dararam
Background: Wat Suwan Dararam was formerly known as Wat Thong (Golden Temple) in the late Ayutthaya period. It was renamed by King Rama I (1782-1809) after his father who had originally established it. Wat Suwan Dararam was one of the first monasteries to receive royal patronage after the fall of the city in 1767. A small village formed around this reactivated monastery, which became one of the first seeds for growing a new city. This temple continued to be beautified by subsequent Chakri Dynasty kings: King Rama III restored all of the murals during his reign; King Mongkut started construction on its chedi and wiharn; King Chulalongkorn completed this construction and restored the ubosot; King Vajiravudh added glazed tiles to the roofs; and King Rama VII ordered the famous artist, Phraya Anusart Jittakorn, to paint historic murals on the wiharn (which were completed in 1931). Wat Suwan Dararam also survived as a temple because it had a widely respected monastery school. Its educational facilities attracted many monks and young novices from all over the country.
Wat Suwan Dararam is a well-kept monastery. Its wiharn and ubosot murals are some of the best in the city. There are many bizarre Jatakas to look at: battles with mythological figures, attacks by wild tigers, animals with human faces, giant serpents, and so forth. There are also paintings of Portuguese mercenaries, war elephants, and King Naresuan. One could spend an entire day looking at these murals. These paintings could be easily used to educate people about Buddhism and Thai history. The wiharn sells copies of the map done by Phraya Boran Ratchathanin in 1926, which is how I found out about its existence.
Name: Wat Suwandawat
Background: There is no record of this temple’s construction date or its role in history. However, according to architectural style, this monastery probably dates back to the early or middle Ayutthaya period. It was located near the Royal elephant school and some coconut forests. The temple was restored by King Mongkut (1851-1868) during the Rattanakosin period. All that remains now is a bell tower, some foundation, and bell-shaped chedis. It is located near U-Thong road, just north of Wat Plabpla Chai. It is one of those places that tourists will stumble into by accident.
Name: Wat Tewasthan
Background: This temple ruin is an example of a place that you wouldn’t know it was there unless somebody pointed it out. It is located at a busy traffic intersection (Pathon Road and Shi Khun Road). A provincial police station is nearby. I walked by it for years before realizing that a mound of soil and brush seemed out of place. On closer inspection, I could see some type of brick wall and foundation peeking out. There was also a headless and armless image. A Bodhi tree grew out of the center of the abandoned monastery. Somebody managed to wrap a gold cloth around the tree. There was also the standard spirit house for the ghosts on the property. It looked like it hadn’t been excavated yet. One map hanging at the Ayutthaya Historical Studies Center shows that some activity existed in this area prior to the founding of the city. A guidebook produced by the Fine Arts Department in 1957 suggests that this is the location of some Brahmin shrines. It is difficult to guess what lies beneath that soil. People are using the area for storage. I noticed that some equipment was leaking oil on the monastery ruin.
Name: Wat Tha Maa (Women’s Dormitory Shrine)
Background: This site is located on the southern side of U-Thong Road. I once had a Japanese girlfriend who lived in this women’s dormitory. She informed me that unexcavated sites existed on this property. The problem was that I was not allowed to see them since men were forbidden to enter. I could glimpse part of a shrine from U-Thong Road, which made me even more curious. The female residents didn’t know anything about them. When I returned to Ayutthaya a second time I resolved to see the sites. The method I employed was “the stupid tourist technique”. Basically, I pretended to be lost while looking for Wat Suwan Dararam. The dormitory guards had the patience for this strategy for 15 minutes before kicking me out, but I figured out how to work them in shifts. I was able to confirm one site with stacks of Buddha pieces. There were no observable walls of foundations. The shrine that could be seen from the road consisted of one fully intact Buddha image with a decapitated head lying in front. A tin roof protected both of them. To this day, I haven’t been able to learn anything about these abandoned monasteries.
Name: Wat Tuk
Background: This temple is located on U-Thong Road in the northwest corner of the island (Hua Lam district). It was built during the reign of Luang Sorasak (1703-1709), better known as King Sua. It should be said that King Sua was a particularly ruthless leader. He had a number of princes executed in order to inherit the throne, and a series of others just to maintain his power. He was a big fan of Thai kick boxing. The land was used earlier by him during the reign of his usurper father, King Petracha. Supposedly, King Sua watched boat races from this location.
Wat Tuk survived in modern times due to support from donors. There seems to be a connection between Wat Tuk and the military, but I haven’r been able to pin it down yet. In the late 1960s, an influential community leader was able to amass 40,000 baht for the Kathin ceremony, then a lot of money (Bramley 191). There are a number of statues of King Sua in the temple. However, one of the most interesting sites at Wat Tuk is the preserved buffalo Cyclops. The one-eyed calf’s body floats in a fish aquarium next to the temple. Some locals feel that it brings luck.