Tour 2: Central Thailand, Sukhotai and Ayyutthaya

Thai History: From Sukhotai to Ayutthaya

As stated in the previous tour, the Thais started out in the north, China, and moved southward, first as scattered bands and individuals, and, later, as organized groups in the wake of the Mongol destruction of their Nanchao kingdom on the Yunnan Plateau in southern China.

When they arrived in central Thailand, the Khmers, based in Cambodia, ruled most of modern day southern Thailand and Laos. The destruction of Burmese Pagan left a string of small Mon city-states stretching from Burma on to Thailand.

The Thais began their quest for power in the area by defeating the Khmers at Sukhotai, the Khmer's northeast regional capital. Reinforced by refugees from Nanchao (who knew the Chinese arts of war), the Thai set up their first state at Sukhotai.

The Thai, over time, had converted to the Thervada Buddhism of the Mons. However, like other Southeast nations, they adapted various beliefs from the Khmer and Funan in the near-divinity of their kings. Their Buddhism distinguished them from the Khmers (Hindu) and from the Confucian Chinese, their previous mentors.

While Sukhotai reigned for a time, another Thai principality started further south. Again, the Thais needed to carve their territory from conquered Khmer lands and subdue (and eventually absorb) the local Mons. In this case, this new city located at Ayutthaya, further down the Mekong into more fertile land. Eventually, Ayutthaya conquered Sukhotai (1360), Chiangmai, and parts of the Lao lands.

Under the Ayutthaya kings, the country flourished. They made Buddhism the official religion and heightened agricultural production. To the east, they continued to push the fading Khmers, to the south the various Malay states. Flourishing trade (dominated by Chinese) and ample food made Aytthaya a rich country.

Unfortunately, for the Thai, the Burmese made a come-back, subduing their own Mons and then invading and conquering Ayutthaya itself (1559-1600). For awhile, they even ruled Thailand through puppet rulers, but lost control again.

After their withdrawal, Ayutthaya entered a Golden Age, which lasted to the end of the city. The arts, literature, etc. all flourished. The Thai continued to chew away at Cambodian territory as Cambodia and Lao became vassal states of, depending on the ruler, Vietnam and Thailand. Then, Ayutthaya, named after a Golden City in Hindu legend, merited its name.

The Burmese, again, caused the end. An aggressive Burmese dynasty invaded Thailand after conquering the Thai-related Shans in Burma proper. Three armies converged on Aytthaya and, after a lengthy siege, burned and sacked the city, leaving Thailand in chaos. To continue this story, go to tour 3: Bangkok.

I remember when I first visited Thailand I noticed that the statues always depicted the Burmese as black. The amazing thing I discovered upon entering Myanmar is that most Burmese have lighter skins than the Thais. Then the historical reasons behind the artwork became clear.

This shows the remains of the Royal Palace.

This shows typical chedae.

This honors the first king of Sukhotai, who's
considered also the "first king of Thailand."

This shows the city walls.

Buddha images abound.

A seated Buddha shows the typical Thai style.


I took this from the side of a temple.

The Burmese did a lot of damage to the city.

This shows the central chedi of the prime temple.

When the Portugese visited the city, it contained
more people than any European city except Rome.

The Khmers built this older chedi.
Note the more rounded appearance.

Buddhist art can only depict Buddha in certain ways and with certain features. Yet note how this differs from the Japanese Great Buddha of Kamakura.

The base of this features Burmese style.

Note the fine details.

This shows a temple interior with "gifts."

Another temple in Khmer style resembles a space ship. Was this a Chariot of the Gods? Where's Erik Von Danniken when you need him.

This shows a much better interior shot. Like other Buddhists the Thais give Buddha various "presents,"
but flavor flowers over beer (which the Japanese prefer).

I think we need to leave Buddha to his devices and the temples to the spaceman
and go onward before the sun sets slowly in the east.


Related tours:

Back to Thai Tour # 1: Changmai and the North
Forward to Tour # 3: Bangkok
Onward to Laos
Read The Thin Red Line.

Other places:
Back to Virtual Tours
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