Ayutthaya. A City of Ancient Wonders.

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The allure of Ayutthaya is its history.

The ancient city is steeped in tradition and centuries old monuments, whose crumbling facades and cultural significance transport visitors back to a time of distant wonders.

Majestic temples dot the city and can be visited on foot, via tuk tuk, by bike or boat.

Ayutthaya is hot – always. The attendant humidity dictates a visitor’s schedule to early morning or late evening, which is also the best time to avoid the inevitable hordes of tourists. Large groups can destroy the serenity of your visit and find their way into THAT photo, of the Buddha ensconced in the tree at Wat Mahathat.

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Large groups can also prevent you from contemplating the lives of those who inhabited the more popular temples, although they do provide the opportunity for a free History lesson – if you just happen to walk behind the group in earshot of the guide.

Official, guided, multi-lingual tours are available at the entrance to the monuments and are a worthwhile choice for visitors who may otherwise question their passage through a pile of old bricks.

Cruising from Wat to Wat on a bicycle is popular and achievable in Ayutthaya, whose gradient makes it accessible to anyone with a reasonable level of fitness. Most bikes are in reasonable condition and can be easily hired through most hotels or close to the minivan terminal for those alighting from Bangkok. Just be ready to sweat.

Tuk Tuks are everywhere in Ayutthaya and can even be hired, for a negotiated price, to carry you to one site and wait for you before departing for the next temple on your list. Tuk Tuks alleviate the strain of cycling, but be mindful of this option if you are tall – you may need a Thai massage after a day hunched in the back of a TukTuk.

Afternoon and evening tours afford the visitor the opportunity to meander the river by boat, as the sun sets and the day cools. Tours typically visit three or four designated temples, where visitors are given sufficient time to stroll, contemplate, pray and photograph. Some tours may include a visit to Wat Phutthaisawan, although one wonders why. The stark, glass covered entrance resembles an auto parts shop and the resident guides take the form or underfed, mangy, threatening dogs. Completing the horror film tableau are the rows of menacing, child-like figurines, whose mocking eyes follow the visitor down the path like a frenzied Mona Lisa.

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Perhaps Wat Phutthaisawan serves to offset the next and final temple of the boat cruise, Wat Chaiwatthanram. The setting sun dances off the archaic, peaceful, weathered structures which are surrounded by lush green grass and are begging to star in your Instagram feed.

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Many boat cruises finish near the night food market – just in time for dinner. Try the famous Kuay Tiaw Reua.

Transport from Bangkok:

Minivans ply the route from Bangkok to Ayutthaya every day, leaving from Mo Chit Bus Station. They are reasonably inexpensive, easy to find – the touts will find you – and the journey lasts about 1 hour. The journey follows the highway, which reveals little more than Bangkok’s rapid urban sprawl.

Train: The rickety old train lurches from the charmingly rustic station in Ayutthaya and through scenery far more bucolic than the view from the window of the minivan. Trains leave from Hua Lamphong Station in Bangkok.

Boat: Many Bangkok based tour companies provide one day boat tours to and from Ayutthaya.

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Is it right for girls to fight?

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I saw teenage girls fighting Muay Thai recently in Bangkok, and I’m still not sure how I should feel about it.

The fight featured girls as young as 14 battling for glory in front of a healthy crowd of tourists at the end of the Muay Thai Live: The Legend Lives spectacular at Asiatique: The Riverfront in Bangkok.

The promise of authentic Muay Thai fights had lured many visitors who lacked the desire or means to attend a local Muay Thai event full of predominantly testosterone and alcohol charged men betting their life savings on their chosen warrior.

The tourist friendly show, in contrast, features real fighters throwing real kicks and punches, and spilling real blood, in the comfort of an air conditioned theatre complete with plush chairs, cup holders and popcorn.

My comfort was jolted when I saw the two girls emerge for the female fight. They were tiny. Both were short, slim, fit, athletes who looked more like junior marathon runners than fighters.

They’re going to fight?

Surely they’re too young, too small, too slim. They’ll snap in half.

While the girls performed the customary pre-fight ritual, I wondered how much they must weigh, and where they would be placed in boxing categories; featherweight, bantamweight, flyweight…?

Then my questions were answered. Look  ‘Supergirl’ Jaroonsak weighed in at just 48kg. The 15-yr-old would be classified as Mini Flyweight, and her opponent was actually shorter and younger than her.

The next shock arrived with the sound of the opening bell. The girls charged at each other, bouncing, kicking, clinching, kneeing and punching with the energy and freedom of a schoolyard brawl, which any school teacher would feel compelled to break up. The fights continued under the watchful eye of the referee and the young fighters’ natural athleticism, impressive flexibility and sharp skill created two very entertaining contests.

The pint-sized warriors didn’t hold back. The punches were real, the kicks were real and often well placed. The pain was real and so was the blood.

The fight didn’t last the distance, unfortunately. While ‘Supergirl’ lived up to her nickname, the fight came to a premature end when her opponent had to retire hurt. She was stopped not by the barrage of kicks to the leg or torso, not by the punches to the face or the elbows to her crown. Nor did she succumb to Jaroonsak’s  lethal knee strikes. No, she was stopped by a sprained ankle; the same injury she could easily sustain running cross-country or playing tennis or netball.

This incident reminded me that this fight was simply competitive sport for the girls, the officials, the coaches and even the families of the girls, who clapped their daughter upon victory or consoled her in defeat.

It was certainly a sport to Supergirl’s infant brother, who lapped the ring imitating his sister’s kicks and punches with great enthusiasm.

So, while one young girl limped out of the ring with an ice pack around her ankle, I began to think.

Why am I uncomfortable with girl’s fighting?

Would I feel the same way if the fighters had been 14-15-yr-old boys? Am I simply being sexist and conservative?

The girls appear to be fighting by choice and the hours of training had certainly kept them healthy. They demonstrated a high skill level and a genuine respect for the sport and its history, which had been outlined in the preceding stage show.

Is the sport as brutal as it looks?

Is my reaction the product of the safe, sanitised Western society in which I was brought up?

Would my opinion change if I stepped into the ring with them? They’d probably snap me in half.

Are the girls fighting for fun or for a future career?

According to a Thai friend with whom I spoke a few days after the fight, top Muay Thai fighters can earn very good money in Thailand, a country with limited economic opportunities.

Regardless of my doubts, one thing is certain. I don’t remember the names, ages or weight of any of the male fighters from that night, but I certainly remember ‘Supergirl’.

Image: http://www.fightland.vice.com