On this year’s tour we opted for staying one night in Ayuthya instead of making it a day trip as in the past.  Great decision and one to be repeated on all future tours.  We saw so much more and had better opportunities for photographing.  The strategy allowed us to add two temples to our visit which we saw first and last.  The first, Wat Phu Khao Thong , actually built by the Burmese, was finished off by Narasuan, a great Siamese king from the 16th century.  It boasts a huge, square base and a striking, sharp prang.  It cuts an impressive profile rising above the flat plains of the region. Narasuan’s patron animal was the rooster, so the entrance to the temple is “guarded” by huge, brightly-colored roosters.  Its quite a sight.  Thais wishing to venerate him bring rooster effigies as votive offerings.  Next we crossed over the river to the island section of Ayuthaya Historical Park and visited Wat Si Sanphet with its three distinctive stupas.  In the adjacent vendor “village” Ae explained and treated us to Roti Sai Mai, a favorite Thai sweet.  Sweet crepes are filled with strands of spun sugar, all made by hand.  We also “bought” caged birds to be released.  Buddhists can make merit by releasing captured animals.  A veritable cottage industry has sprouted up around temples - selling turtle and fish in bags, birds in cages, and bread for feeding fish (another way to make merit).  Like last time we had a pleasantly cool rice barge lunch on the river.  Gently drifting by modern wats, local homes, and stately Wat Chai Wattanaram.  Next was classic Mahathat with its iconic Buddha head enmeshed in the roots of a tree. The icon is greatly revered by Thais - it is the perfect physical metaphor of the blending of ancient animist beliefs and institutional Buddhism.  Buddhism reveres images of the Buddha and animist folklore the spirit of trees.  The blending of the two make for a powerful and poignant mystical symbol.  I noticed for the first time how impressive the root system itself is.  We get so caught up in the Buddha head we fail to see the amazing way nature has completely overwhelmed and subsumed the man-made wall in this spot.  Just as impressive I think. Each time I visit this large temple complex I find something new to catch my eye.  This time I found an evocative Buddha figure with only a hand remaining on its knee.  At the end of the day we made our way my favorite stop:  Wat Yai Chai Monkhol.  This wat is famous for its bright white reclining Buddha and a courtyard of 100 sitting buddhas.  Our guide Ae showed us how Thais rub gold leaf (bought from the nuns on site) on the Buddha for good fortune and as a supplication for illumination.  They also try to stick a coin on the recliner’s feet - also for good luck.  I succeeded with a coin, but I’m not sure licking it was technically allowed :).  The reason this temple is so popular is that all the buddhas have saffron colored sashes - symbols of veneration and respect.  From an aesthetic point of view the bright colors make for an electric scene, especially at the end of the day.  The compound also sports a towering stupa (also sash wrapped) and picturesque and fragrant plumerias.  I had deliberately designed the day to finish here and we had great light for photographing.  Although the group was tired after a long day, the energy of this last colorful temple lifted everyone’s spirits.  The beautiful pool at the hotel didn‘t hurt either. Later that night, the “photo club” rallied for night shots.  We hired a sungthaew for a couple hours and got good shots of Mahathat, Ratburana, and Si Sanphet.  In the morning we rallied for sunrise shots of Chai Wattanaram before heading to the airport, bound for Chiang Mai.  All in all, an excellent stop.