Category: News @ Ayutthaya.

Ayutthaya, after the floods

Recovery and clean-up work under way for flood-affected areas in the ancient capital of Thailand

A group of French tourists were enjoying a buffet breakfast at the River View Place Hotel on U-Thong Road in Ayutthaya, a day after the floodwaters receded in the inner part of the ancient city, while hotel staff were packing food items for flood victims, which has become one of their routine jobs since the old capital of Siam was inundated.

The grounds of Wat Phra Si San Phet is almost completely dry and the Fine Arts Department will start the restoration process soon. Right now the site is only open during the day because there is no power to run lights. During the peak of the flood, many dogs found refuge in the area surrounding these ancient ruins. And when we visited the area, we spotted about 10 dogs. All of them were very thin and weak but still searching for food. Some of the dogs just looked at us from afar while others followed us around the site — but all of them wagged their tails, hoping we had some food to give them. As we continued our tour around the ancient temple grounds we discovered that the three pagodas still looked as beautiful as they did before the flood. However, a few areas were still in need of a quick clean-up before welcoming tourists again.

Tourists travelled from Phitsanulok to Ayutthaya, a World Heritage site, after they were informed the water had been pumped out of the old town.

“Since November 8, about 10% of Ayutthaya has dried up,” said Ayutthaya Governor Withaya Pewpong. The roads are now accessible to small vehicles and local officers have already started to collect garbage and clean up the city as of last week.

“We will spend the next 60 days draining out the water and reviving the city. We will bring normalcy back to the lives of the people affected by the floods by the end of this year as a New Year’s gift,” promised the governor.

For the past two months, floodwater has submerged 16 districts of the province, or about 90% of the land, including rice fields and five industrial estates, as well as historical sites and ruins.

“The flood losses total as high as three billion baht,” said the governor. However, there are seven key places that have been spared from the floods: Wat Phanan Choeng Worawihan, Wat Phut Thai Sawan, Wat Nivet Thammaprawat, the Queen’s summer palace, Bang Pa-In Palace and the Bang Sai Royal Folk Arts and Crafts. “They are part of the seven wonders,” he added.

While the governor waits for the post-flood recovery budget that was approved by the Cabinet, he outlined the expected time frame for repairing basic infrastructure and helping flood victims, in which each flood-hit household will initially receive 5,000 baht in compensation, as well as making sure the five industrial estates will be able to resume operations next month. “I will do everything in my power to ensure that at the very least a couple of factories in each industrial estate will be able to resume operations on December 16, and that the rice fields will be ready for planting by January,” he said.

As for the tourist attractions, the province has teamed up with local companies and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to encourage people to help restore various sites, mostly old temples, under a massive clean-up campaign called ”We Care for Ayutthaya”, as well as reviving visitor confidence.The campaign kicked off on November 10 at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhol, where 300 volunteers from Bangkok and local residents armed with brushes, brooms, shovels and hoses helped to remove the dirt and debris remaining in the temple grounds and on different Buddha images.

The TAT has also prepared a list of 500 religion-related places, including Thai temples, 41 churches, 61 masjids and 45 Chinese shrines, for those who wish to participate in the big clean-up activity.

”If any organisation, group or individual would like to make a contribution, whether to help clean or offer financial assistance, they can do so by contacting our office,” said Somchai Chompoonoi, the executive director of the TAT’s Central Region. The massive clean-up campaign will be promoted until the end of January. And next year, TAT will coordinate with related agencies to help organise monthly marketing activities to encourage more tourists to visit this ancient town.

”Although the floods have shown no mercy, the Thai people have shown their generous spirit and helped each other. I am impressed to see the level of cooperation among the people to help get Ayutthaya back on track,” said Qin Yusen, the cultural counsellor of the Chinese Embassy in Thailand, who also participated in a clean-up activity.

Yusen added that the Chinese government will extend a hand and send a troop of performers to Ayutthaya to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Ayutthaya being declared a Unesco World Heritage Site on December 13, as well as the Chinese New Year, which falls on January 23.

”Ayutthaya is ready for visitors,” said the cultural counsellor, adding, ”I give full moral support that Ayutthaya will soon be back on its feet and normal life will resume again _ and perhaps even better than it was before.”

The famous relic of the Lord Buddha’s head in Wat Mahathat is clearly seen despite the knee-deep floodwater, while outside the walls in front of a gate a parked car shows the peak water level. There was nothing near or inside the ruins but garbage. The Tourism Authority of Thailand will host a photo exhibition at every famous ruin in the ancient city to show visitors before and after images of these sacred sites.

About 14 monks live in Wat Koh Kaew although the flood was high during the past two months. They resume their routine after the water receded to knee deep. The monks leave the temple about 5.30am for people to offer them alms and return to the temple about 7am daily although not many people could offer them food.

About 300 volunteers armed with brooms, shovels and hoses joined forces to clean up Wat Yai Chai Mongkhol on Nov 10. The event kicked off the beginning of the three-month long campaign asking tourists to contribute their time and effort to sweep away dirt throughout the ancient city as the floodwaters receded. Mingkwan Chitbanchong, one of the volunteers, said that when she heard about the Ayutthaya clean-up campaign she and her friends decided to join immediately, even though their houses in Bangkok were flooded. ‘‘It is time we help each other,’’ she noted.

The second clean-up activity will be organised on December 5 to sweep out dirt at nine temples, nine churches and nine masjids [mosques], said Somchai Chompoonoi, the executive director for the TAT’s Central Region. ‘‘The clean-up activities will be promoted until the end of January,’’ he added.

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These pieces of paper are left with a purpose for reselling as reused paper. We accidentally met with one man who carried a big stack of wet books. Although he did not have an idea what the books were all about, they could help him earn something during these tough times.

The panorama view of Wat Phananchoeng where the Pasak River is higher than the river bank, but the temple ground is still dry because it was heavily protected by ten thousands of sandbags barriers.

The confluence of the Chao Phraya and Pasak rivers, Wat Phananchoeng is spared from the floodwaters thanks to its heavy protection of a hundred thousands sandbags stacked up about 2-3m high and as wide as a one-lane road. The ancient temple was built during the Ayutthaya period, or 26 years before the rise of the Ayutthaya era. Its praying hall is highly respected 19m-tall seated Buddha image built in 1324 AD, or during the Ayutthaya period. Many Thais believe that if they make merit by offering a long saffron robe to the giant Buddha image they will live a wealthy and long life. Surrounding the Buddha image are 84,000 smaller Buddha images in a seated style, which were kept on the walls of the four sides to represent the number of Buddhist teachings.

Phukhao Thong is the name of this baby male elephant born on October 13 when Ayutthaya was inundated. The newborn was raised with the mother in a temporary camp at Thung Phukhao Thong, an open field that is 1km from the King Naraesuan Monument. Ninety-eight elephants have lived on this field for two months now, said Romthongsai Meepan, wife of the owner of the Wang Chang Ayutthaya Lae Paniad elephant kraal. Unfortunately, though, there are not many big trees in the area to give them adequate shade. The heat can have a negative impact on their mood and emotions, so we were warned not to walk too close to these elephants, especially if their mahouts were not around. The mahouts and their families have also lived in the same area as the elephants in temporary tents with some of them camping out on footpaths. There is no electricity, but at least it is a dry area where they can cook their food and hang their clothes to dry. ‘‘All 70 mahouts still stay with us. We did not leave anyone behind,’’ said Romthongsai, adding that the living conditions over the past two months has been tough and monthly spending has amounted to about 1 million baht. ‘‘The cost is too high and this has forced us to be ready for the service as soon as we can. Our plan is to offer elephant rides to visitors to see the ruins by November 15,’’ she said. Although the elephants looked a little thinner than they were before, they still had enough heart for a show. When there were photographers around, mahouts commanded three elephants to pose with their two front legs up in the air for the cameras. Indeed, performing is in their blood.

Palm leaf fish mobiles are one of Ayutthaya’s most popular souvenirs. Business has resumed after the inner part of the city has dried. Benjawan Panpen and her friend sit in their own shop called Sala Pla Thai, on U-Thong Road. Luckily their shop was spared from the floodwater but their houses are still under twometres of water and so they have lived in the shop for a couple of months. A day after the road was dry, they started the work. ‘‘We do not yet have any orders at the moment, but we keep doing what we can do best. It is our job,’’ she said. It is believed that hanging a fish mobile on a window or door will bring wealth to the house, while hanging the fish mobile over a baby’s sleeping bed will bring the child good health.

Jomjam walking pass the Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit. She said when the area was submerged, the floodwater was smelly. Luckily, it did not reach inside the hall but her house is still submerged. ‘‘My school is about to open, but I do not have any books. They are all gone and damaged by the floods,’’ she said.

A tricycle rider is able to offer his service in the inner parts of the ancient city, while about 90% of Ayutthaya is inundated by flooding. Governor Withaya Pewpong expects to drain all the floodwater out within two months.

The flood levels at the reclining Buddha in Wat Lokayasutha (Wat Phra Non) is now only ankle-deep compared to almost two metres deep in the past weeks. Wat Lokayasutha was built in the early Ayutthaya period (1350-1767 AD) but renovations were made in 1954 which changed the original shape and incorporated a regal style. A week ago, the temple was accessible only by boat, but the water is quickly receding.

Roti sai mai shops opposite Ayutthaya Hospital and along U-Thong Road opened for business once the road had dried. The sweet treat is a famous Muslim dessert that all tourists must try when visiting Ayutthaya. Made from melted sugar, the candyfloss comes in various colours and is wrapped in a piece of lightly salted roti to make the snack even tastier.

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Category: News @ Ayutthaya