Thailand: Ayutthaya

Think of traveling to exotic places and what comes to mind?  I for one cannot come up with a place that is more exotic than Thailand, formerly known as Siam. Located at the center of the Indochina peninsula in Southeast Asia, the country is bordered to the north by Burma, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia to the east by Laos and Cambodia, and to the west by the Andaman Sea.

Ayutthaya whose full name is Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, is both the former ancient capital of Siam and the trading capital of Asia, making it the most prosperous cities in the 17th century.  The city is well known to tourists due to its countless temples characterized by the prang (reliquary towers).  Located just 53 miles north of Bangkok, it is a popular day-trip destination for travelers. The city’s historical significance was recognized in 1991 when it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The few remains that one encounters today only give a glimpse of the impressive city it once was.  Most of the remains are temples and palaces, as those were the only buildings made of stone at that time.

With the city being situated at the convergence of three rivers: the Chao Phraya River, the Lopburi River and the Pa Sak River, its Floating Market is one of the largest tourist sites in and around the Ayutthaya province. With over 200 shops offering food and merchandise, visitors can enjoy shopping and sightseeing from 50 paddleboats available to escort you.

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Located near the Floating Market is the Ayutthaya Elephant Camp, where visitors can go on a 20-minute elephant ride around ancient Wat Maheyong and enjoy the elephant shows.

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Just 10 minutes away is Wat Phra Si Sanphet, the largest temple in Ayutthaya. Housed within the grounds of the former royal palace, the temple was used only for royal religious ceremonies. It once housed a 52-foot high Buddha covered with 750 pounds of gold, however the Burmese set fire to the statue to melt the gold and destroyed the temple in the process. The royal palace can also be accessed from the same entrance at Wat Phra Si Sanphet, but it only has a few free standing buildings remaining.

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