Ancient Cities Of Southeast Asia
Turn back the clock and discover the time-worn majesty of Borobudur, Ayutthaya and Siem Reap
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”
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”