Beauty Before and After the Flood

Michael Yamashita Blog

At first glance, I thought I was looking at a scene from one of Thailand’s famous floating markets.  It was a picture of a street in Thailand’s former 15th-century capital and current World Heritage site, Ayutthaya, one of the more popular tourist attractions within two hours of Bangkok. It’s a place I know well, having photographed it on a number of occasions for several different clients, and I marveled at how beautiful and unfazed the giant reclining Buddha looked in the shot, in spite of being partially submerged and reflected in floodwaters as a small boat with three people, one holding a red umbrella, floated past.  In another picture, Sampo temple with its golden spires looked like a tranquil island standing sentry over saffron-robed monks wading past — through waist-high waters.

I quickly realized that these were not typical pictures of a tranquil temple town; it was Ayutthaya after being ravaged by the worst flooding the country has seen in decades. My admiration for the photographs soon turned to horror as I thought about the misery this unprecedented flooding has created and of the 350-plus people who have died in its wake. And when I came across a picture of an elephant and his mahout swimming in still waters, I began to think about all the goats, pigs and cows, who unlike that elephant, can’t swim. And even if they survived the rising waters, what would there be for any animal to eat when humans are being evacuated, homes and businesses flooded and fields underwater.

The dilemma of covering this kind of disaster lies in the danger that the photographs might make these scenes even more striking and dramatic than they would be during happier and drier times. The temples and the statues, which have presided over this land for centuries, have become beautiful, but silent witnesses to the forces of nature and time, belying the destruction around them.  Though the news is still not good, one can only hope that the waters will soon recede and that there will be no serious permanent damage to this “island” of temples.


Below:  Ayutthaya before the flood.  As of last week all these locations were underwater. We heard today the sun is now shining.  Now to get rid of the water.

©Michael Yamashita

Wat Chaiwatthanaram, 16th C ruins


©Michael Yamashita

The reclining Buddha at Wat Lokaya Sutha in Ayutthaya is covered in new saffron robes on Buddha's birthday each year.


©Michael Yamashita

Wat Phanoan Choeng, dedicated to Ming Dynasty explorer Zheng He is the most popular Temple in Ayutthaya, Capitol of Thailand in 15th C. Worshippers have bolts of orange cloth blessed, then thrown over the Buddha's shoulder and draped over their heads.

©Michael Yamashita

Monks of Wat Phanan Choeng dedicate their prayers to their god of prosperity, San Bao, as Zheng He is known here. He is also known by the names San Po ('three jewels') in Indonesia and Cheng Ho throughout southeast Asia.

©Michael Yamashita

Wat Phanoan Choeng, most popular Temple in Ayutthaya, Capitol of Thailand in 15th C.

©Michael Yamashita

Tourists ride elephants once reserved for kings.

©Michael Yamashita

The gilded ruins of Ayutthaya, like these at Wat Phra Mahathat, which was the capital when Zheng He visited in 1407, hint at its former grandeur.


For recent pictures of the Thai flooding please see National Geographic’s; Flood Photos: Water Submerges Thai Towns, Temples and Elephants

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