Bangkok - Off the beaten track
Ancient City (Meuang Boran), south of Bangkok, is billed as the largest open-air museum in the world. Over 100 of Thailand's most impressive monuments are rendered slightly less impressive in this 80-hectare (200-acre) collection of scale models. The grounds follow the basic shape of Thailand itself and the monuments are placed accordingly.
If you're an architecture buff on a brief stay, or just a lover of these sorts of educational theme parks, Ancient City is well worth the trip out of town. The attraction is south of the Thai capital, near the coast of the Gulf of Thailand. Depending on traffic, it can take as long as two hours to make the trip.
The 16th- to 18th-century temple ruins at Ayuthaya, 86km (53mi) north of Bangkok, date from Thailand's most illustrious period. Ayuthaya was the Thai capital from 1350, and 33 kings of various Siamese dynasties reigned here until the city was conquered by the Burmese in 1767. The old capital was, by all accounts, a splendid city which was courted by Dutch, Portuguese, French, English, Chinese and Japanese merchants. By the end of the 17th century, Ayuthaya's population had reached one million and virtually all visiting foreigners claimed it to be the finest city they had ever seen.
Ayuthaya's scattered temples and ruins have been declared a World Heritage Site. The forbidding list includes the 14th-century Wat Phra Si Sanphet, the largest in Ayuthaya in its time, which once contained a 16m (52ft) standing Buddha that was covered in 250kg (552lb) of gold. Unfortunately the Burmese conquerors felt obliged to melt it down. The 16th-century, fortress-like Wat Phra Meru escaped destruction in 1767 and boasts an impressive carved wooden ceiling, a splendid Ayuthaya-era 6m (20ft) crowned sitting Buddha, and a 1300-year-old green-stone Buddha from Ceylon, posed European-style in a chair. Wat Phra Chao Phanan Choeng was built in the early 14th century, possibly by Khmers, before Ayuthaya became the Siamese capital. It contains a highly revered 19m (62ft) Buddha image from which the wat derives its name. A restored Elephant Kraal brings relief for those tired of temple-trudging. The huge wooden stockade, built from teak logs planted in the ground at 45 degree angles, was once used during the annual round-up of wild elephants. The king had a special raised pavilion built so that he could watch the thrilling event.
There are frequent buses to Ayuthaya from Bangkok's northern terminal during the day. They take around two hours. Trains are slightly faster and leave frequently from Bangkok's Hualamphong railway station.
In the middle of the Chao Phraya River at Bangkok's northern edge is Ko Kret, one of Thailand's oldest Mon settlements. From the 6th to the 10th centuries, the Mon people dominated Thai history and culture, and their ancient crafts still draw visitors from around the world. Pottery is the main claim to fame of the Mon and visitors to the island can visit the Ancient Mon Pottery Centre, which displays a wide variety of local earthenware. There are also plenty of opportunities to watch potters go about creating these fine examples of traditional handicraft.