By The Nation
The TV series ‘Love Destiny’ has renewed Thais’ interest in the former Siamese capital
MINGLING ROMANCE, fantasy and history, Channel 3’s hit comedy series “Buppesannivas” (“Love Destiny”) has managed to bring classical Ayutthaya back to life. True fans are flocking to the old capital of Siam to dress in elegant period costumes and pose for pictures among the ruined temples and palaces of Ayutthaya Historical Park.
Fans of the television series can easily imagine Khun Sri Wisanwacha and Karaked paddling in a boat to the market.
The government’s Fine Arts Department recently organised a one-day tour for public and a media mob to the site in a bid to get folks better informed about the long history resting silently in its stones.
“‘Buppesannivas’ has inspired many more people to visit Ayutthaya,” said Anandha Chuchoti, the department’s director general. “Wat Chaiwatthanaram, for example, which is one of the main locations seen in the TV series, welcomed more than 30,000 tourists within three weeks of the show going on air.”
The department is developing a map of the key sites used in the TV show and incorporating QR codes that visitors can scan as they follow a designated route. Guides are also on hand to explain the architecture and describe the way of life hundreds of years ago.
“And next month we’re hosting a one-day excursion from Ayutthaya to Lop Buri to showcase the beauty of both cities during the reign of King Narai,” Anandha said.
Towering Petch Fortress is another point of keen interest, sitting at the convergence of the Chao Phraya and Pa Sak rivers. King Mahadhammaraja erected it in 1580, with eight apertures left in the brickwork for cannon. Here, merchants from China, Portugal, Japan, England and France once gathered.
Ayutthaya was known as “the Venice of the East” long before Bangkok inherited the description, said archaeologist Pathravadee Deesomchoke, who’s in charge of the department’s local operations.
“The old capital was completely surrounded by rivers and moats, making it an easily defended island. There were also 16 fortresses, and King Narai allowed only the Chinese and Persians to settle downtown.”
Pathravadee described the flourishing trade of 300 years ago. Diplomats were sent to France and Western innovations were adopted, such as using bricks and cement in construction rather than clay.
“Ayutthaya had many markets, both on land and in the waterways, each one specialising in a certain kind of merchandise. Talad Pa Lueng sold monks’ robes and Talad Chee Kun was where you bought jewellery.”
She pointed out that Bangkok’s original defensive walls were built with bricks salvaged from the ruins of Ayutthaya during the reigns of the first three Chakri kings. “So the Fine Arts Department has had to add new bricks to the ruins here to maintain their structural strength.”
Wat Thanon Jeen was unearthed just last year and reveals that a Chinese settlement was located there more than 300 years ago.
Wat Thanon Jeen was only unearthed last year. This is where the Chinese community and Talad Nai Kai were located almost four centuries ago. The ruins indicate the influence of Lanna culture. One pagoda resembling a medieval castle tower has a square base and a bell-shaped top. Sandstone statues of the Buddha statues discovered here are now displayed in the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum.
“The Klong Nai Kai community had one of the biggest markets in Ayutthaya,” said Veerasak Sansaard, another archaeologist. “It was famous for its fresh seafood and Chinese home accessories.
“We can’t specify when Wat Thanon Jeen was built, but we found a beautifully sculpted stone grave-marker dated 1766. The craftsmanship suggests that the residents weren’t too concerned about the Burmese army encircling them at the time.”
The level of craftsmanship is both stunning and surprising, as seen in the displays at the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum. The two-storey building, which opened in 1961, has three galleries. The current exhibition is “The Gold of Ayutthaya, the Traditional Heritage”.
Mainly it’s golden nielloware found in the crypts of Wat Ratchaburana and Wat Maha That. One gilded stone container in the
shape of a fish held relics of the Buddha. You can also see a miniature royal elephant adorned with precious stones, and a lady’s headdress woven from gold thread in floral motifs.
What’s on view from Wat Ratchaburana, though, is only one-fifth of the treasure that was kept there. Robbers made off with the rest in 1957.
The main hall features a huge bronze Buddha bust in the U-Thong style. It was made in the first half of 15th century. Also on display are gilded Buddha statues that were found in 1956 hidden within the torso of a gold Phra Mongkol Bopit statue.
There’s also a carved wooden gable depicting Vishnu mounted on his avian carrier, the Garuda.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet occupies the former grounds of a royal palace after which Bangkok’s Temple of the Emerald Buddha was modelled. King U-thong constructed this palace in 1350, but Somdet Phra Borom Tilokkanat preferred his palace to the north of what is now the historical park and the old site became a monastery.
Today visitors admire the ruins of three large bell-shaped pagodas that are believed to contain the ashes of Kings Borom Trai Lokanath, Borom Rachathirat III and Ramathibodi II. Alongside is the assembly hall, which, until the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767, housed the Phra Sri Sanphetdayan – a 16-metre-tall Buddha image that was coated with 143 kilograms of gold.
The Portuguese arrived in Ayutthaya in 1151 and established a settlement south of the island. It too has been excavated and now shares the story of Marie Guimar, who concocted recipes for several famous Thai sweets.
The European-style Catholic church is also a ruin, but you can still make out the mundane (like the toilet) and the divine (as in the ceremonial hall). In an adjacent exhibition are the skeletons of priests and other residents discovered beneath the church.
According to the TV series, Wat Phutthaisawan has a magical door through which Karaked accesses the secret military camp of Khun Sri Wisanwacha. We found the door, but it wasn’t magical. This temple on the west bank of the Chao Phraya was built by King U-thong and has a beautiful, long balcony lined with Sukhothai-style Buddha statues.
Saint Joseph Catholic Church, erected by the French, pays tribute to Bishop Pierre Lambert de la Motte, who landed in Ayutthaya in 1662. The original wooden structure was rebuilt with bricks in 1695.
During the second war with the Burmese, Siamese sheltered in the church, but the invaders burned it down with the rest of the city in 1767. Nevertheless, St Joseph rose again in 1888, with Bishop Jean Louise Vey overseeing its conversion to a more Romanesque style of architecture.
Fans of the TV show are most eager to see Wat Chaiwatthanaram, a monastery constructed in 1630 by King Prasart Thong on the land where the cremation of his mother was hosted before he ascended to the throne. It has a Khmer-style grand pagoda surrounded by prangs and cloisters, representing Mount Pha Sumeru of Hindu belief.
One of the visitors scouting for “Buppesannivas” locales was officer worker Chanya Srisuk, 53.
“It’s fun getting dolled up in beautiful traditional attire and taking pictures on the film set,” she said. “It makes me feel like one of characters of the series.
“The show is amusing to watch, but it’s also educational. And the story is easy to follow, so that I can easily picture the kingdom in the past.”
Apichai Santichatsak and his family were spending the weekend browsing around the historical sites.
“My wife’s family lives in Ayutthaya and I like taking pictures of the old temples. I love seeing all the tourists dressing in period costumes. It’s another way we can show respect to these historical places. The TV series also teaches us ancient Thai words we’ve never heard before. That’s a big selling point.”