December 12, 2009
We had originally planned to do a day trip to Ayutthaya but given we had done most of the stuff we wanted to in Bangkok we decided to spend a night in Ayutthaya. We got up fairly early and got breakfast at the hotel and then got a taxi to the station. The first taxi driver we spoke to wanted to know where we were getting the train to and offered to drive us there, complete with big grin on his face. Considering a trip in a taxi around the city costs around 50-100 Baht and Ayutthaya is about 70km outside the city, we declined and asked to just go to the station which he didn’t want to do. I was starting to get a bit annoyed with the taxi drivers here especially after yesterday trying to get back from Dusit. The hotel bellboy just flagged down a taxi for us and we got to the station for a cost of just 50 Baht. The train tickets were just 15 Baht each (less than $1 for us both!) so it was hard to see how we could ever have justified taking the taxi the entire way!
The train was mostly Thais to start with but just before it left the conductor came through saying something and all the locals hurried and left the carriage – I assume they were on the wrong train. The carriage soon filled up with tourists, mostly headed for Ayutthaya like us.
The train ride took just over 2 hours, stopping plenty of times along the way and sometimes seemingly in the middle of nowhere without a platform in sight. It took an hour to just get out of the city but after that progress was a bit quicker! The landscape was once again green and very scenic and it was nice to be out of the busy city.
We arrived at Ayutthaya around 11.30 and got a tuk-tuk to our hostel. The driver was really chatty and couldn’t resist trying to sell us a tour to the temples as we got out. I had thought about taking a tour as the temples here are a bit spread out and the price was about what I expected to pay so we agreed for him to pick us up in an hour to give us time to get into our room and have some lunch.
At the hostel, which I had booked last night, they seemed to have no record of my reservation so I had to log onto my email account to show the guy. From what I could understand from his broken English, he had given the room to someone who walked in off the street this morning but thankfully they had other rooms available.
We used the little hostel restaurant for lunch and I had a surprisingly good chicken fried rice and Elizabeth’s papaya salad was nice and fresh too. Even with two drinks our lunch came to just 120 Baht – under $4!
Right on time, our tuk-tuk turned up but it was the other driver’s wife who was to be driving us around. We had agreed a price for 3 hours and one for 4 hours and just decided to see how long things took and when we got to temple saturation point!
We started off at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, which is off the main island. The main attraction here was the reclining Buddha. I had seen some temples as we entered the train station earlier and it appears this was the one I could see, the main chedi being visible. There were over 100 Buddha statues here and they seemed to be everywhere.
Next, we crossed the river back onto the island and headed to Wat Maha That. The main tower here, known as the “prang”, was originally built in the Khmer style and even though it collapsed in the early 17th century the reconstructed and restored prang is in the same style but even taller than the original. You could definitely see the resemblance to the temples at Angkor in the style. At this site there is a Buddha head which is partially consumed by the roots of a tree. It was not as cool as the amazing tree roots we saw expanding across the buildings at Angkor but it was a funny sight although the stories behind how the head got there could do with a bit more fabrication to make them interesting! The first is that during the defeat to the Burmese, the Buddha was destroyed and the head fell onto the floor and since then trees have just grown on the site. The second is that a thief tried to steal it but it was too heavy and he left it under the tree where the tree has now taken over. Either way, the site is better than the fables!
Next up was Wat Ratchaburana. This temple was built to house the remains of two brothers who had killed each other fighting over who should succeed their recently deceased father as the head of the Ayutthaya empire. A third son built the temple on the site where the two brothers fought. Here we were able to climb up the main prang and inside were stairs which led down to the two-level crypt. However, due to looting around 50 years ago, the crypts were now empty of artifacts and these are now housed in the local museum. There were supposed to be murals on the walls down here but the only thing Elizabeth and I noticed was the smell!
Wat Phra Ram was the next stop. The large prang here is shaped like a huge cob of corn. By this point, all the temples seemed to be blending into one. Each site was pretty big and there were lots of buildings in each one, not just the main prang.
Finally, we stopped at Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit and Wat Phra Si Sanphet. As we drove there we saw a lot of tourists taking elephant rides around the sites and it was quite funny to see them trooping along the roadside. Inside the Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit was a large bronze Buddha covered in gold leaf and was apparently the largest sitting Buddha in Thailand. Once again, we weren’t sure if this claim was true but the Buddha was certainly big and very impressive. Wat Phra Si Sanphet is an example of Ayutthaya architecture and contains three bell-shaped chedi which taper off into descending rings. The site used to be the Royal Palace until the 15th century when it was converted to a temple and despite much of the site being damaged by war and general wear, the main chedis still stand tall, leaning slightly as the weight of the bricks takes its toll.
By this point, we decided that three hours was going to be enough as we didn’t think we’d last another hour and weren’t sure we wanted to see any more temples. Our driver bought us back to the hostel where we were pleased to find our nice air conditioned room nice and cold, a distinct difference from the blazing sunshine outside. I think today has been the hottest day we’ve had so far on our trip and we were certainly glad we were at least out in the countryside than in the stifling smog of Bangkok!
After cooling off in our room, we headed out for dinner, choosing a riverside restaurant called Bann Kun Pra. We were supposed to stay at this hotel but as they never responded to my email we had chosen elsewhere. However, our hostel’s range of food was not too appetizing (despite lunch being pretty good) so we headed down to the river. There we found a nice little riverside terrace and, thankfully, a few diners! The city seemed to be dead where we were and it was nice to see other people around! Unfortunately, the mosquitoes were out in force, too and by the end of dinner we were both covered in bites!
We ordered shredded pork and a Thai beef curry complete with rice and roti. The food was really good and we tucked into it. We didn’t hang around too long though as the mosquitoes were eating us alive!