The Magic of Television at Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Earlier this year, Wat Chaiwatthanaram received something unexpected: the starring role in a mega-hit Thai soap series. Buppaesannivas (Love Destiny), which captivated over ten million viewers nationwide, is set in 17th century Ayutthaya under the reign of King Narai. The light-hearted and entertaining plot portrays ancient Ayutthaya and historical incidents in the king's court. The show centers on a 21st century archaeological student who dies young, but is destined for rebirth in the Ayutthaya Kingdom in the body of a grown woman.
All aspects of the series created fan obsession—from Thai traditional costumes to the characters’ archaic Thai language, to Ayutthaya’s historical places. Wat Chaiwatthanaram, constructed under the patronage of King Prasat Thong, King Narai's father, is shown in its glorious, original form through computer graphic-assisted imagery. Its present condition as a ruin appears in a few scenes, even showcasing World Monuments Fund scaffolding in the background. Naturally, the show’s popularity generated a boom for Ayutthaya tourism. It is reported that approximately 10,000 people came to Wat Chaiwatthanaram during the height of the show, a significant increase from its typical less than 1,000 per day.
Many of the show’s viewers don't simply visit Wat Chaiwatthanaram. They visit in character, wearing traditional Thai clothing as if they were part of the series. While there is not much time or place in everyday life to put much loved traditional clothing in action, this soap series craze gave Thais a reason to dress up as much as they wanted. Aside from walking around the site with parasols, many spend time snapping photos of each other in costume. This coincides with another Thai love: social media. Thousands of pictures each week are circulated in posts.
The biggest fans though may just be the people who live near Wat Chaiwatthanaram. Spotting an opportunity, many acted fast in response to the phenomena. Dozens of new businesses, such as food stalls, car parks, and costume rentals emerged along the little street in front of the temple. Traffic became snarled from sunrise to sunset, all within a month after the soap’s launch. Wat Chaiwatthanaram and other sites in Ayutthaya are receiving a new love from the Thai people, and World Monuments Fund hopes their fondness also brings a renewed recognition to its preservation.