December 11-16, 2014
After spending a week in Bangkok, it was time to see a little more of Thailand. We decided to head to Ayutthaya, the former capital of Thailand. Ayutthaya is only about 80 km north of Bangkok, and tourists often visit as part of a day package. Once we looked at what Ayutthaya had to offer, we knew we wanted to stay longer than just a day.
We decided to take the train to Ayutthaya. We checked out of our hotel and grabbed a taxi to the train station for 150 Bahts (about $5.30 CAD). At the information booth we were told the next train would leave in about two hours, unless we wanted to take the train that was leaving in about 30 minutes, with only 3rd class tickets available. I was not sure if this was true, but who am I to argue with them. The young men recommended that we shouldn’t take the 3rd class tickets, because those seats are free for Thai people and are usually full, so usually many people have to stand. Well, I wasn’t interested in standing for 2 hours, and I know the kids would not have survived that. Then one of the young men asked me to follow him, so off we went to check the available seating in 3rd class. Once in the coach, he quietly walked up and down the aisle. Finally he sat down and told me to go get my family. Off I go. We return, he gets up from the seat that he had been saving for us and tells me to follow him again. Off we go to the ticket booth. He tells me what to say to the counter person. We practice it a few times and off he goes back to his booth. I purchase the four one way tickets for 60 baht in total (That works out to about $2.11 for 4 tickets.) and head back to the train seats, which by the way, the young man made sure were underneath a working ceiling fan, for fresh air. Wow, now that is tourist service!!
Speaking of tourist service, here I would like to add a tidbit about Thai people in general. They are very happy and friendly people. They have beautiful smiles and are often laughing. We have found Thailand to be a very welcoming destination and the help and assistance we have received from our hosts has been wonderful. Now back to our train trip.
We waited about 20 minutes before the train started to leave the station, and it was right on time for departure, right down to the minute. Third class tickets were perfectly fine for us. The décor of the coach was 1970’s green, with vinyl seats. We went clickety clacking down the tracks it seemed like forever, until we were out of Bangkok. It was pleasant to see some countryside, as all we had seen so far was urban big city. It was on this trip that we saw our first rice fields with locals tending to the crops. It was great to see this for the first time, as I’ve only seen in on television and in books. We made frequent but quick stops along the way and we arrived in Ayutthaya two hours later.
We piled our bags into a tuk-tuk and made our way to the Good Luck Guest House. We had a huge room with three beds all lined up in a row; a fridge, desk and table. We couldn’t complain since were only paid $38. Once settled in we went looking for food at night market. Walking in the direction our host told us to go led us nowhere so we turned back and found a restaurant near to our guest house.
The next day we got up and went down for breakfast. We were shocked at the prices. We had be paying 59 baht (about $2.08 CAD) and now we had to pay 180 baht (about $6.35). What a jump. We quickly decided we needed to find cheaper food for our stay in Ayutthaya.
Our first day out wandering the streets of Ayutthaya led us to Wat MahaThat and Wat Ratchaburana.
Wat Ratchaburana was built by King Borom Ratchathirat II at the place where his brothers killed each other in a fight to become the King of Ayutthaya. After both his brothers died, King Borom Ratchathirat II became the King and built Wat Ratchaburana. The prang was the centerpiece at the temple compound and had many vaults within it. Today, you can still see a few of the mural paintings depicting the previous lives of the Buddha. Len and the kids climbed up the steep stairs and into the prang. They reported back that it was filled with some murals, and many bats, but offered a great view. After hearing that I was glad I stayed down.
Wat MahaThat is an ancient temple built during the 14th century. In 1767, the Burmese army invaded Ayutthaya and reduced it to ruins. The temple was destroyed by the Burmese who also vandalized many of the Buddha statues in Ayutthaya by cutting off their heads.
Wat MahaThat is the site of probably the most recognized image of Thailand. The image of the Buddha head entwined within the roots of a tree has always been one of the prominent images that came to mind whenever I think of Thailand.
Okay, we don’t always read our guide books and if we did we would have known the Buddha head in the tree was at this Wat 🙂 Instead we were looking around the sites and came upon the Wat, decided to take a look, paid our entrance fee and started to walk around admiring the ruins. Following the path, we turned and noticed a small chain linked fence around a Bodhi tree. Intrigued, we went to have a closer look. There it was, the image I have seen in guidebooks and postcards for years. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but seeing it right in front of me was amazing. It was smaller than I imagined, but just so beautiful and mystical. The tree roots cradle the Buddha’s head in such a way that you would think it was always intended to be that way.
How did the Buddha head get there? From what I have read, there are a few theories that all sound plausible. One theory is that the tree grew around the Buddha head during the time the temple was abandoned and overgrown. Another theory is that a thief moved the Buddha head away from the main temple to hide it. After moving the stone Buddha head away from the temple, it is possible the thief never returned for his treasure, or couldn’t move it any further. Instead, the stone Buddha head was abandoned by, or fallen off, the wall where it can be seen today cradled snuggly in the Bodhi tree roots.
Another day we hired a tuk-tuk driver to drive us around to see all the sights that were too far to see by walking. We started with the floating market. We enjoyed the market so much that we knew we would have to come back to pick up a few souvenirs before we left Ayutthaya. I’m not sure I would call it a floating market, but we enjoyed looking through all the little shops.
On our stop at Wat Phutthaisawan we were greeted by a group of young children wanting to interview us. It was quite funny when we noticed the parents pushing their children towards us and they started to take pictures. At first we didn’t know what was going on. It turns out that their teacher had sent them to the Wat to practice their English by interviewing tourists. I was the first to be interviewed. I was asked simple questions like where I was from, what my favorite color was, how old I was, and so on. All the while the little boy was interviewing me the parents were snapping pictures and videoing it. We all had our turn at being interviewed (at least once). The kids were so darn cute and polite that it was hard to walk away from them; but we had to, as there was no end to the kids. We could have spent the whole day there being interviewed.
We spent the day visiting a number of Wats, including Wat Chaiwathaaran, Wat Lokayasutharam, and Wat Yai Chaimongkhon. Wat Yai Chaimongkhon was probably one of my most favorite of the Wats we saw. Some Wats were more preserved than others, some Wats appeared to have a more importance than others, some had more spiritual meaning than others, but all were beautiful in their own way.
We ended our sightseeing day at Wat Phukhao Thong. Again, Len and the kids climbed up the steep stairs to get a panoramic view. By the time they made it down it was late in the day, we were tired and hungry so we made our way home for supper.
On our last day in Ayutthaya we made another stop at the floating market to pick up a few souvenirs and have a bite to eat. When we were there earlier in the week we were in a bit of a hurry and couldn’t fully enjoy it. This time we took the time to feed the fish, stop in the shops and explore the nooks and crannies. It is a fun place and I’m glad that we returned.
Most of our days were spent exploring Ayutthaya, doing school work, relaxing and planning our next destination. We would go to the night market for supper, ordering yummy Phad Thai for 30 baht ($1) and a chocolate banana pancake for another 30 baht ($1) then we’d stop on the way home for a Slurpee from 7-11. Thailand, from what we have seen so far, is filled with 7-11 stores, they are absolutely everywhere!! We quickly learned what streets to walk down if you were planning to eat anything and which ones to avoid if you didn’t want to see fried spiders, cockroaches and grubs or smelly raw meat hanging above your head.
Luck was on our side because we just so happened be to in Ayutthaya during the Light and Sound Show. People came from Bangkok just to see the show, so of course we had to go too. This turned out to be one of our highlights of our time in Thailand.
The show was amazing. It was an outdoor evening show in the grounds of Wat MahaThat, which we had previously toured around. The show was a combination of lights, lasers, sound effects, comments (history, culture, art, etc.), music, actors in period costume, horses and the best of all live elephants (also dressed up) with a finale of fireworks. The actors played out history, culture and music of Thailand, and some of the historic battles (wars), which are remembered and commemorated still today. The show is to showcase the colorful and rich history of Ayutthaya as ancient Capital city of Thailand (1350 to 1767) and to celebrate the declaration of Ayutthaya Historical Park, by UNESCO in 1991. It was a great experience to see this show and get to learn some Thai history and culture. I would definitely recommend this show as a must see if you happen to be in Ayutthaya at the time of the show (in our case December).
We were enjoying the slower pace and being able to walk to most places. We only hired a tuk-tuk twice in the week we were there. We found our time in Ayutthaya inexpensive, allowing our budget to balance out a bit. Things in Ayutthaya picked up on the weekend when more tourists arrived, but during the week it was quieter.
We decided to take a mini bus (a van) back to Bangkok. We paid 60 baht per person and an extra 120 baht for our luggage (total cost $12.87). The ride was just over an hour, but unfortunately we had one sick person on the bus and she was not a very happy camper. Once back in Bangkok we checked into the Saphaipae Hostel, showered and got ready for our flight to Koh Samui the next morning.