|An election poster outside one of Ayutthaya's ancient temples|
© Andy Brown/2011/Thailand
In the three-part Thai epic blockbuster The Legend of King Naresuan, the eponymous hero rebels against Burmese rule and restores the Kingdom of Siam around Ayutthaya in 1590. He then expands the kingdom with the help of an army of elephants, ushering in a period of peace and prosperity that lasts until 1767, when the Burmese return to sack and burn the imperial city. They loot its treasures and wipe out its population, leaving the charred ruins to be reclaimed by jungle.
We went to Ayutthaya for a more prosaic reason than the Burmese – to escape the traffic and pollution of Bangkok for a weekend. The former capital is only 76 km north of the new one. It’s either a one hour drive in a mini-van from Victory Monument or two hours on a clapped-out old train, shambling down the out-dated railway tracks like an old man.
We travelled up by van after work on Friday, braving the disorganised scrum at Victory Monument marketplace to force our way into a vehicle, and arrived about 7pm. We’d managed to get a cheap deal at the Krungsri River Hotel, described by the Lonely Planet as the ‘plushest pad in town’. That may have been true but our ‘riverside view’ turned out to be mainly a motorway view and the hotel itself had the air of a mafia hangout. Scary looking Russians with shaved heads, tattooed arms and gold chains lounged around the swimming pool or at the bar.