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Previous attempts had ended several times in failure and once in the city falling under Burmese control.

Often the arrival of heavy seasonal rains cut short the warring season as the land around Ayutthaya became saturated.

In the Thai floods of 2011, the water actually engulfed the ruins at one point.

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Tens of thousands of prisoners were taken back to Burma, and gold Buddha images were melted down. But the Burmese, under attack from the Chinese to the north, didn’t even stay through the end of the year. Under a new leader, they founded a new capital downriver in Thonburi in 1768, and moved it across the river to Bangkok in 1782.

The fallen capital is now a popular day trip from the modern one.

Now, rather than soldiers mounting elephants to fright the souls of fearful adversaries, tourists climb aboard them to tour the ruins and have their photos taken.

AYUTTHAYA, THAILAND—Before Bangkok, there was Ayutthaya, a stately capital of an empire, and one of the largest cities in the world in its heyday.

Images of the Buddha, wrapped in bright yellow silk, still sit in the lotus position among towering reliquaries, staring sightless out over the muddy waters of the Chao Phraya River.

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