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THAILAND | Saturday, 8 May 2010 | Views [808]

Once the two most prosperous cities in Siam (Thailand), Sukhothai and Ayuthaya exist today as minor civilisations and a tribute to their violent history in the form of crumbling ruins that sweep their respective landscapes, like scars on an otherwise beautiful place.

Sukhothai ('Dawn of Happiness') lies 427 kilometres north of Bangkok in the valley of the Yom River on the lower edge of the northern province. Covering 6596 square kilometres, Sukhothai was the first truly independent capital in Siam (now Thailand) during Khmer rule.

Until 1180 Sukhothai was controlled by the Khmer power until two brothers, Po Khun Bangklanghao and Po Khun Phameung took the kingdom back in 1239. Bangklanghao took over as ruler of the kingdom, and by the end of his reign, the kingdom has spread to cover the entire Chao Phraya valley.

Traditional Thai historians consider the foundation of Sukhothai as the beginning of their nation as little is known about the kingdoms prior to Sukhothai. Modern history studies demonstrate that Thai history began before Sukhothai, yet its foundation is still a celebrated event.

As well as broadening the area under Sukhothai's power, King Ramkhamhaeng developed aspects of Thai culture; propagating Theravada Buddhism, invented Thai script, characterizing the governance style in which the king's considered "father" and the people "children", and encouraged free trade.

The golden age couldn't last though. After the death of Ramkhamhaeng, and his succession by his son Loethai, the tributaries under Sukhothai liberated themselves: Uttaradit in the north, Laotian Luang Prabang and Vientiane in the east, Mon in the west and Suphanburi in the south.

At the same time, Ayuthaya rose in strength and King Thammaracha II had to submit to and be absorbed into Ayuthaya in 1378.

When Ayuthaya succeeded Sukhothai, it became the new ruling kingdom of Siam. Prior to this, the town was Khmer outpost. The city is named after Ajodhya – Sanskrit for ‘undefeatable’. This prophecy would soon become false.

Since its conception, Ayuthaya flourished, becoming a centre for commerce, not only through trade with its neighbouring nations, but also Europeans as they transverse the Silk Route through Asia.

A string of thirty-three kings reigned Ayuthaya until it fell to the Burmese in 1767. During its prosperity, Thai culture and international commerce flourished, with Ayuthaya being courted by Dutch, Portuguese, French, English, Chinese and Japanese merchants. Ayuthaya’s population had reached one million by the end of the 17th century and virtually all foreign visitors claimed it to be the most illustrious city they had ever seen.

But in the 1760s, a new and powerful dynasty emerged out of Burma. After numerous conflicts with the Burmese and a 14 month long siege, Ayuthaya was captured in 1767.

The invaders ransacked the city, looted the golden treasures, desecrated the temples – most evident in the heads and limbs of the Buddha statues being lanced off – and the remaining buildings burnt to the ground.

With there now being no Thai capital, competing Thai factions struggled for power until General Taksin united the territories, establishing Bangkok in 1770. The Burmese eventually abandoned their conquest and Ayuthaya developed into a provincial trading town.

Now Sukhothai and Ayuthaya exist asUNESCO Historical Sites, dominated by their glorious but bloody past. Sukhothai Historical Park comprises what remains of the ancient kingdom, spread out over 70 kilometres. There are 193 ruins, including the former royal palace, twenty-six temples, shrines and tombs. Ayuthaya is just as haunting to explore with its blackened Buddha torso's.

As a tourist, it is not the cities illustrious past that stays in your mind long after you have moved on, but the remaining ruins and their testement to power and plunder.

Tags: ayuthaya, buddhist, ruins, sukhothai, temples, war

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