An­cient Cities Of South­east Asia

Turn back the clock and dis­cover the time-worn majesty of Borobudur, Ayut­thaya and Siem Reap

Expatriate Lifestyle - - Contents - Pho­tos by istockphoto Words by Caramella Scarpa

Ayut­thaya, Thai­land

Not many peo­ple know that ap­prox­i­mately 80km away from Bangkok lies Ayut­thaya, the an­cient cap­i­tal of what was then called Siam. Dur­ing the 14th cen­tury, Ayut­thaya was con­sid­ered one of the most ad­vanced – diplo­mat­i­cally and tech­no­log­i­cally – cities in the world. Strate­gi­cally lo­cated on an is­land and con­nected to an in­tri­cate net­work of wa­ter­ways and even­tu­ally the Gulf of Siam, it was an im­por­tant and highly suc­cess­ful trad­ing post.

In 1767, the Burmese at­tacked and de­stroyed the city. The cap­i­tal moved to Bangkok, Ayut­thaya was never re­built and what ex­ists to­day is a gen­uine ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site and a UNESCO World Her­itage zone. It’s nowhere near as ex­ten­sive as Angkor Wat but makes for a great day trip from Bangkok.

Most vis­i­tors who come here for the day usu­ally do so on a river cruise tour. Book this in Bangkok and you will be of­fered the choice of ei­ther go­ing to Ayut­thaya by road and re­turn­ing by boat in time for the sun­set or the other way round – morn­ing boat there and re­turn by road. Ei­ther way, the jour­ney on the Chao Phraya River is al­ways very in­ter­est­ing. If you want to spend a night, there is ac­com­mo­da­tion but it is quite ba­sic and be­sides the ru­ins, there ac­tu­ally isn’t much to do, so one night will suf­fice.

Head to the his­tor­i­cal park for a wan­der through Bud­dhist monas­ter­ies, tem­ples and the rem­nants of what used to be a thriv­ing an­cient cap­i­tal once stood. Climb the stu­pas (a word of warn­ing: they’re nar­row and steep) and imag­ine what it must have been like at its peak.

Ai­ra­sia and MAS have sev­eral daily flights to Don Mueang and Su­varn­ab­humi air­ports. From Bangkok, it’s ap­prox­i­mately over an hour’s drive to Ayut­thaya.

Head to the his­tor­i­cal park for a wan­der through where Bud­dhist monas­ter­ies, tem­ples and the rem­nants of what used to be a thriv­ing an­cient cap­i­tal once stood”

Borobudur, In­done­sia

Boro­bo­dur is lo­cated in cen­tral Java and was built in the ninth cen­tury. It is also a UNESCO World Her­itage Site and is re­garded as a Bud­dhist shrine and place of pil­grim­age. Vis­i­tors mostly stay in Yo­gyakarta and join day tours, or live in ho­tels nearer to the site. The best time to see Borobudur for the first time is early in the morn­ing at sun­rise where you’ll be greeted by two mil­lion stone blocks, huge bell-shaped stu­pas and 504 stat­ues of Bud­dha de­pict­ing the dif­fer­ent lev­els to at­tain Nir­vana.

Ev­ery­one who vis­its does the pil­grims’ walk which starts at the eastern gate­way. Fol­low a clock­wise di­rec­tion (al­ways do this around Bud­dhist mon­u­ments) and ob­serve the elab­o­rate carv­ings on the walls de­pict­ing an an­cient queen, Bud­dha and white ele­phants with six tusks; then climb up to the top of the tem­ple and take in the in­cred­i­ble views. It’s a good idea to get a guide for the day so you can get to know the real his­tory of the com­plex.

Book tick­ets to the Ra­mayana Bal­let show which is based on the an­cient Hindu epic and per­formed against the back­drop of the tem­ples. The im­pres­sive Pram­banan tem­ple com­plex is nearby and tes­ta­ment to the great Hindu civil­i­sa­tion that also ex­isted here.

Yo­gyakarta it­self is an in­ter­est­ing city with good shop­ping and the palace com­plex of Kra­ton; and if you want to do a re­ally touristy ac­tiv­ity, hire a tra­di­tional horse and cart for a ride around the area.

Ai­ra­sia flies di­rect twice a day from KLIA2 to Adi Su­cipto In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Yo­gyakarta, from where it’s a one-hour drive to Borobudur.

The best time to see Borobudur for the first time is early in the morn­ing at sun­rise”

Siem Reap, Cam­bo­dia

One of the most recog­nis­able an­cient cities in the world is Angkor Wat and no mat­ter how many times you see this in pic­tures, noth­ing pre­pares you for the real thing. Most vis­i­tors base them­selves in Siem Reap where there’re many lev­els of ac­com­mo­da­tion from back­packer hos­tels to beau­ti­ful five-star re­sorts. There’s shop­ping, night mar­kets, cheap street food (the deep-fried in­sects are a must-try) and craft cen­tres where lo­cal ar­ti­sans ply their trade.

Angkor Wat was built by the Kh­mer King Suryavar­man II in the 12th cen­tury to pay homage to Mount Meru, a holy moun­tain range revered in Hindu, Bud­dhist and Jain cos­mol­ogy. This awe­some col­lec­tion of monas­ter­ies, tem­ples, reser­voirs, canals and royal build­ings is the largest re­li­gious mon­u­ment in the world and will take you a cou­ple of days to cover. Vis­i­tors must get sin­gle or multi-day per­mits which are rea­son­ably priced and go to­wards the up­keep of the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal park, which is a UNESCO World Her­itage site.

The most fa­mous tem­ples here in­clude Ta Keo (ded­i­cated to the Hindu god, Shiva), Ban­teay Srei (made from pink sand­stone), Ta Prohm (famed for the trees grow­ing out of the ru­ins) and the Bayon Tem­ple (with 200 huge stone faces fac­ing in ev­ery di­rec­tion).

Ai­ra­sia flies di­rect to Siem Reap dail y.

Angkor Wat was built by the Kh­mer King Suryavar­man II in the 12th cen­tury to pay homage to Mount Meru”

FROM LEFT: AN­CIENT STU­PAS SCRAPE THE SKY AT AYUT­THAYA; A STATUE OF BUD­DHA TAKES PRIDE OF PLACE AMONGST THE RU­INS OF A TEM­PLE; AN AERIAL VIEW OF A BOROBUDUR TEM­PLE IN IN­DONE­SIA

FROM TOP: NA­TURE AND CIVIL­I­SA­TION MEET IN HAR­MONY AT ANGKOR WAT; THE MAJESTY OF ANGKOR WAT IS FUR­THER EN­HANCED AGAINST THE BACK­DROP OF A BEAU­TI­FUL SUN­SET

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