Ayutthaya

We arrived in the ancient city of Ayutthaya on Wednesday 3rd December following a two hour train journey from Bangkok. It was the first train I can remember being on where the train stopped for vehicles at a level crossing! Once out of the station it didn’t take long for a tuktuk driver to pounce on us, offering to take us to our hour l hostel for 100BHT. We were prepared for this, having asked the hostel how much a tuktuk from the station should cost and were informed it should be around 50-60BHT, and turned down the 100BHT offer. We eventually managed to get a price of 80BHT, which we accepted. The drive to the hostel only took five minutes, by which time we were right in the heart of the old city. We checked in to our room and took the opportunity to map out all of the places on a map that we hoped to visit during our time here. Afterwards we booked onto a boat trip for later in the afternoon that would take in one of the temples we hoped to visit, plus a couple more. Pleased with our progress we then took the opportunity to go out for an early dinner before we had to be back at the hostel to be picked up at 1600 for the boat trip. We were taken by tuktuk to where we would board the boat for our two hour trip. When we got there l there realised that we would be going on a long-tail boat – a famous type of boat in SE Asia – so called because of the long drive shaft protruding from the back of the boat, with a propeller on the end.

Our long-tail boat

In total there were ten tourists (including the two of us) plus the driver. The boat trip was due to last two hours and take in three temples before dropping us back. The first temple we visited was Wat Phanan Choeng and was home to a 19m high statue of Buddha, whose eyes seemed to follow you everywhere you went. The second temple was Wat Phutthai Sawan and it took us all most of the time we had there to locate the actual temple. We wandered around the new buildings surrounding the temple before finally locating the large Prang that forms the centre-point of the temple. The third, and final, temple we visited as part of this boat trip was Wat Chaiwattanaram. We arrived just as the sun was setting and this lit the large temple complex with a beautiful glow. This temple was built in the style of Khmer temples and reminded us a lot of the temples and ruins we had seen during our time around Siem Reap, in Cambodia.

Wat Chaiwattanaram in the late afternoon sun

We enjoyed wandering around as the sun set and could only start to imagine how impressive it must have been in its heyday. It was then time to get back on the boat. We completed a full lap of the island upon which the ancient city of Ayutthaya is built before getting back to the starting point where we met our tuktuk driver. We were dropped back at our hostel and, after a quick pitstop, headed out to explore the night market. We had enjoyed wandering the night markets in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai and were looking forward to finding out how this one compared. It turned out that this was a very different kind of night market. It was very much geared towards the locals rather than the tourists, quite the opposite of the previous night markets we had visited. There were a lot of food stalls and there was such a mixture of smells – some pleasant and some not-so-pleasant! It didn’t take us long to explore the whole market and we were soon back at the hostel, where we spent the remainder of the evening writing our journals and updating the blog.

The Buddha from Wat Phanan Choeng

On Thursday morning we had decided to treat ourselves by not setting an alarm. We still awoke by 0800, however, but enjoyed a lazy start to the day. After breakfast in a nearby cafe, we didn’t make it out until shortly before 1100! Our plan for the day was to visit three more of the many temples that make up the ancient city. The three we had chosen all looked to be quite close together and so we decided that we would walk to each of them, however there were two factors we hadn’t really considered when making this decision. The first first factor was the heat – it was apparantly 35° and it quickly started to take its toll on both of us. The second factor was that the roads shown on the map we had did not really correlate with the roads on the ground, which made navigating our way around quite interesting! The first temple we visited was Wat Phra Si Sanphet, which had taken us 20 minutes to walk to. This used to be in the grounds of the Grand Palace and was used as a Royal Chapel, but was later used as a monastery before eventually becoming a temple – and was the largest temple in the ancient city.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

From here we walked the long way round (did I mention how bad our map was?) to the next temple, Wat Lokayasutharam. Only the foundations of this temple building remain, but the 37 metre long statue of the reclining Buddha that used to be in the temple building is still largely intact. There are a number of statues of the reclining Buddha that can found in Ayutthaya, but this is the largest.

The reclining Buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam

After gulping down a much-needed drink we set off to our final temple of the day, which was located opposite our hostel. Having now given up on the map completely, we managed to find a shortcut through a market and then a park to Wat Phra Mahathat. This temple is famous for having a stone Buddha’s head enveloped in a tree trunk, but used to be an important Royal Monastery. Along with most of the other temples in Ayutthaya, this is now in ruins after being destroyed in the war with Burma in 1766-1767.

Stone Buddha head at Wat Phra Mahathat

After wandering around the three temples, we were both now feeling quite exhausted and so returned to our room to rest in the luxury of the air-conditioning. A couple of hours later, and now feeling much better, we headed out for an early dinner in the cafe around the corner from the hostel. We then returned to our room before heading out again to watch the fireworks display in honour of the King’s birthday. The entire nation seems to come out to celebrate this event, and the streets were crowded long before the fireworks were due to commence. The display lasted more than 15 minutes and was amazing to be part of. As soon as the display was over, the crowds rapidly dispersed and we made our way back to our hostel for the night.

Fireworks celebrating the King’s birthday

The alarm went off at 0700 on Friday morning. We had an early start as we were due to return to Bangkok today and we were aiming for the 1028 train. We had breakfast at the cafe on the corner before returning to our room to pack and check out. We were taken by tuktuk to the train station at 1000 in preparation for our adventurous journey to Bangkok. Having deciphered the Bangkok public transport system during the two days we had there before arriving in Ayutthaya, we got the train to Don Muang airport, on the northern side of Bangkok and from there toom a shuttle bus to Mo Chit BTS station, which is the first station on the Bangkok metro system. From Mo Chit we took a BTS Skytrain to Saphan Khwai, the next BTS station. Our final mode of transport to get to our next hostel was our feet, walking the 1.2km to the hostel.

Photos from our time in Ayutthaya can be viewed below or at http://photos.andywicks.com/Ayutthaya

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