My mind was mulling over a quote from the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It goes like this, “A friend took me to the most amazing place the other day. It’s called the Augusteum. Octavian Augustus built it to house his remains. When the barbarians came they trashed it along with everything else. The great Augustus, Rome’s first true great emperor. How could he have imagined that Rome, the whole world as far as he was concerned, would be in ruins. It’s one of the quietest, loneliest places in Rome. The city has grown up around it over the centuries. It feels like a precious wound, a heartbreak you won’t let go of because it hurts too good. We all want things to stay the same. Settle for living in misery because we’re afraid of change, of things crumbling to ruins. Then I looked at around to this place, at the chaos it has endured – the way it has been adapted, burned, pillaged and found a way to build itself back up again. And I was reassured, maybe my life hasn’t been so chaotic, it’s just the world that is, and the real trap is getting attached to any of it. Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.”
I could have been at the right moment, right time and right place like that of Liz if only I was in Augusteum. But no, I was in Ayutthaya. As my mind digested the depth of the quote, my heart was filled with awe at the magnificence of Ayutthaya. I felt joy beyond words.
It is said that Ayutthaya means “invincible city”. One of UNESCO’s world heritage sites, Ayutthaya was the second capital of the Siamese Kingdom. It was founded in 1350. Within 417 years as the capital of Thailand, Ayutthaya had been ruled by 33 kings of 5 dynasties. It became one of Asia’s economic and trading hubs. It is surrounded with three major rivers, namely the Chao Pharaya, Lop Buri and Pasak. With its beauty as the ruins stand today, I could not imagine how magnificent it had been before the kingdom fell from the Burmese in 1767.
The first time I visited Ayutthaya was in 2011 with my cousins who came for a few days vacation. A few months after our visit, Thailand was flooded and unfortunately Ayutthaya was among the adversely affected areas. It can be reached after about 1.5-2 hours drive from Bangkok. There used to be an elephant show back then but we were told it was banned now. Good news indeed because I heard baby elephants suffer from torture while being trained to dance, paint, etc. There is also a small floating market about 15 minutes by car from the ruins. Tourists can also pay for an elephant ride at the floating market. The costs vary depending on how many hours you would like to ride.
I may not be in Augusteum but the splendid beauty of Ayutthaya that endured the ravages of time is enough to assure me that indeed, ruins can be a road to transformation. Even if things fall apart, there is still a chance to stand back up again, anew.