IN SWELTERING heat at Ayutthaya Historical Park north of Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, a bevy of beautifully clad ladies strut ostentatiously in their silky traditional costumes, known as chut thai. They are among thousands who visit daily to have their pictures taken amid the scenic ruins of the old city of Ayutthaya, destroyed by Burmese invaders in 1767.
Many of the tourists are not really there for the remains. Ayutthaya is the setting of a television series called Buppesannivas or “Love Destiny”, which has broken audience records in Thailand and stirred the nation into a frenzy of sartorial nostalgia. It is a time-travel love story about a woman in contemporary Thailand who is reincarnated in ancient Ayutthaya. In front of an old royal temple, Wat Chaiwatthanaram, half a dozen women dressed in the protagonist’s iconic pink chut thai wait their turn for a professional photo shoot. The temple’s periphery is plastered with posters depicting scenes from the soap.
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These days the park receives 18,000 visitors daily, up from just a thousand when the series began in February (it finished in April, but is being re-run). Most visitors are Thai, but there also many foreigners—the soap is also being screened elsewhere in the region, including Vietnam, Laos, China and Russia. Some ruins have been damaged by the sudden surge of visitors. Sukanya Baonoed, the site’s director, says visitors have been climbing on ancient structures and taking “inappropriate photos”. In March a picture of a woman (not in chut thai) sitting on the lap of a Buddha statue caused fury among social-media users.
Mania for the show is widespread. Ayutthaya-era dishes have been added to the menus of Thai eateries. Hair salons offer styles seen on the show. It is a distraction for a country that has been plagued by divisive politics for more than a decade. “The show serves as escapism for Thais who imagine a…