Taking some time away from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok city, I bought B class ticket trains at the Hua Lampong station headed north, to Ayutthaya. When I was preparing for this research, the former capital of Ayutthaya kingdom was one of the destination list that I really wanted and had to visit. In the history record, the Ayutthaya kingdom was active in 1350-1767 and during its’ heyday it was said that there was a very close and friendly trading relationship with merchants from all corners of the world, like China, Vietnam, Portuguese, India, Japan, Korea, Persia, and continued on to Spain, Dutch, British, and France, indicated by the permission for these communities of merchants to build a settlement area outside the walls of the capital.
When I was reading several history books about about the Ayyutthaya kingdom I was really curious of what the soundscape would be like in the former capital, which was full of history of the past, today. Of course this was a distant exploration and stretch, because every Southeast Asian countries present, past, one hundred or one thousand years ago had their own kingdoms and dynasties, like the Borobudur temple in Java for example, or Angkor Watt, Champa, and so on. I really listened and observed the condition of the soundscape in the present Ayutthaya, especially this was my first visit there.
After a less than a one and a half hour trip, finally my train had arrived at the Ayutthaya station which was small but it had a unique and beautiful architecture, complete with wooden chairs that bends and acoustic station bells (not electronic) which was manually operated by the station officer as a sign for the train to come or to go. Next, I looked for motorcycle rental which was not from the station. Around one in the afternoon, I was able to get a matic motorcycle for me to use going around exploring Ayutthaya.
The first impression I got was I felt like I was in a time machine. The pavement road that I walked through brought me to the view of ruins or Buddhist temples which still stands on the right and left side, along with today’s resident housing. There were many Buddhist temple in Ayutthaya among them are Wat Mahathat, Wat Phanan Coeng, Wat Chai Watthanaram, Wat Ratchaburana, Wat Phra Ram, Wat Phra Si Sanpet, to the ones that were built before the Ayutthaya period like Wat Thammikarat and Wat Phuttaisawan.
So what sound was I looking for, between these historical temples? Of course everything had changed. I imagined, If in several SouthEast Asian cities the soundscape were getting louder each decade, at least based through text studies from humanist, historians, or even anthropologist, then what happened in Ayutthaya was the exact opposite (I could be wrong, so I really want to discuss this further). I imagined at the time the Ayutthaya kingdom was active, these temples would sure be alive and people praying in it, doing rituals with all its’ sounds of the crowd. Now, in several popular temples, again as tourists destinations, there were people visiting them and we could hear some noises there. But at most of the other temples, the situation was quiet. This reminded me of my pilgrimage to several unpopular temples in Yogyakarta, Java.
After spending a few hours visiting several temples while observing the surrounding sounds, I finally stopped at Wat Mahathat and installed my recording equipments there. It was almost dusk, and I was starting to get tired being exposed to the sun on my trip there. Finally I recorded the sound of the chestnut-headed bee-eater there which had beautiful chirping sounds and they were calling out one another. In this recording you could hear, in the distance, vehicle sounds like motorcycles and cars with their horns could still be heard, but not dominating. Then, because it was getting dark, visitors had started to leave the huge area of the temple. In the middle of recording, there were sounds of planes passing by quite often in the sky above Ayutthaya.
Of course once again the location of my recordings was very limited, I focused myself to observe the soundscape in an ancient former capital Ayutthaya, not in stations, markets, housing complex, or even on the side of a highway in this contemporary era. So I was not trying to do any kind of generalization of the soundscape condition of Ayutthaya at this very instance, but more on my interest to show one the soundscape portrait of today’s Ayutthaya around ancient temples which felt like time machines. In the midst of dusk in Wat Mahathat, when the same sun that had shone the earth with all its’ history took a step back, I sat alone accompanied by sounds and asked: what was the soundscape of Ayutthaya capital in its’ glory days like?