That’s how you say it. Scores of minivans are parked around Bangkok’s Victory Monument, and I’m trying to find the one going there. It doesn’t help that I’m saying EYE-yoo-TIE-yah. I get more confused stares than usual, until someone corrects my pronunciation and tells me that the van I want is 180 degrees around the roundabout (in other words, as far away as possible).

Beginning in 1350, Ayutthaya was the capital of Siam. And an impressive capital it was, ornate temples and palaces in a well-situated port location. Siam’s army beat back attack after attack, until that fateful day in 1767 when the Burmese finally put a win in their column. The Siamese slunk off to establish a new capital in Bangkok, while the Burmese celebrated by looting the city of most of its treasures. The temples stood in ruins for a couple centuries until restoration work began and UNESCO heritage status was bestowed.

What captured my imagination was an exhibit at the Museum of Siam: an interactive map that highlighted the parallels between Ayutthaya (the old capital) and Bangkok (the new capital). Perhaps Ayutthaya could show me what Bangkok would look like, if it hadn’t been paved over and choked with cars and rickshaws.

The minivan dropped me off at a busy intersection, where I evaded the legions of tuk-tuk drivers offering me a ride, opting instead to walk down the main street toward the Historical Park. Just as the heat was getting the best of me, I spotted a woman renting bikes on a lonely street corner- I grabbed her last ride and cycled into the park.

Indeed, I got my glimpse into the past, without the crowds and noise and pollution of the big city. While the heat did wear me out after a while, I toured several wats at a leisurely pace. Many of the ruins have not been completely restored, which is fine by me- I like to marvel at the textures of worn rock and cracked brick.