I had a big day today, visiting Ayutthaya to check out the temples and ruins there. Ayutthaya is about an hour and a half north of Bangkok, so a pretty good distance for a day trip. Having explored the city for the last few days I was ready to get out of town and see something different.
There are a few ways of getting to Ayutthaya – bus, train, minivan or private car. With the exception of private car, the prices are comparable. I went with minivan because it seemed pretty easy, and is a direct trip without stops along the way.
I caught the train to Victory Monument where there is a big bus terminal, then weaved through the crowds trying to work out where the van would leave from. Most of the signs were in Thai with no English translation, but after a few minutes I spotted a sign which said Ayutthaya. The lady there pointed me down the road and yelled out to a man who stood up and waved me over. I joined a couple of people who were already there and sat down to wait. There was plenty to see as stallholders set up for the morning, and the time passed quite quickly.
From what I’d read it seemed the van waits until it’s full before departing, similar to Doi Suthep songthaew in Chiang Mai. After about 30 minutes there was a full van load waiting. It was also 9am so I’m not sure if it was scheduled to leave then anyway. We clambered on, handed over 60 baht and the van was off. We stopped once or twice on the side of the highway to let locals on or off, but they didn’t seem to be official stops (I have a feeling the driver pockets their reduced fare and makes some extra cash).
The trip took just over an hour. I was following our progress on Google maps and we stopped a short way from the main town where there were a lot of tuk tuks waiting. A man stuck his head in the door and said, “Welcome to Ayutthaya!”. I had read that there was a scam where drivers would drop tourists outside the town to catch an expensive tuk tuk into the main area, so I stayed seated, along with the locals, while everyone else got off. I was a bit worried at first that we were going to leave Ayutthaya behind, but 5 minutes later we stopped near the bike hire shops and everyone got off.
I wandered down the road and found a cafe for an iced coffee and chicken and ginger stirfry while I plotted out my plans on a map. Along the same road were a lot of bike hire places, all for 50 baht a day. I found one which was open till 10pm then was on my way. The bike was a bit old and clunky and made a bad squeaking noise when I braked, but it worked.
My first stop was Wat Mahathat. It was just across the road from where I hired the bike, but a pain to get to because I had to walk across the highway. For a moment I regretted getting the bike, but was grateful later in the day given the distance I ended up covering.
There were souvenir and drink stalls outside the temple, and a small booth selling tickets. Rather than buying a single ticket, I got one for a group of temples deciding it was better value for money when half of them were on my map. It was possible to hire an audio guide but I was happy to just walk around on my own.
Once through the gate, it was surprising the freedom you have to just walk around and explore. There are occasional signs saying to keep off the ruins, but no one there to enforce it. Parts were quite crowded where main tour groups were going, but it was also possible to find quiet corners and just take in the atmosphere.
One of the main attractions at this temple is a buddha head embedded in a tree. This part of the temple was particularly crowded.
In the end I was there for just under an hour. There was something special about walking through the centuries old ruins, trying to imagine what the buildings had looked like in their prime. Later in the day I saw some where they have done some restoration work which was interesting to compare against the ruins.
My next stop was a short ride away at Wihan Phramongkhon Bophit. Unlike my first stop, this was a functional building containing a large buddha statue. This building had an interesting history, having a been damaged on several occasions – once as a result of a lightning strike and another due to fire when the Burmese attacked. In both events the buddha statue was also damaged and repaired.
The brochure I had been given said this temple contained one of Thailand’s largest bronze buddha. I was surprised when I entered to find it was actually gold in colour. As I left, the large sign explained the statue had been covered in gold leaf to honour the 60th birthday of Queen Sirikit.
Next door to Wihan Phramongkhon Bophit is Wat Phra Si Sanphet. This was a larger complex than Wat Manhattan, and also less crowded. Something I found particarly interesting was where restoration work has been done and you can compare the ruins with the restoration. There was also a model of the original complex, which helped to visualise what it would have looked like.
I really enjoyed walking around this one, taking lots of photos and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere in the more quiet corners.
It started to rain at one point and unfortunately none of the buildings still have rooves. I sheltered under a tree with lots of other people for a few minutes until it passed – luckily it didn’t last very long!
I made my way back to the bike and checked my map to work out how to get to my next stop. Unfortunately the road I chose was closed, so I had to back track and go a longer way. It wasn’t a problem though because the roads were fairly flat and riding along created a cooling breeze. The next temple was down a series of side streets. It was really nice riding along there and I stopped briefly at a smaller temple along the way.
My next destination was Wat Lokkayasutharam. The reason for stopping here was to see the giant reclining buddha. Not as large or shiny as the golden buddha at Wat Pho, this was still an impressive statue lying in the middle of a mostly empty field. Given its current condition I think a fair bit of restoration work has taken place. Behind it are some small remains of the buildings which would have surrounded it. I found a friendly tourist to take a photo of me there.
I was starting to feel hungry and got my hopes up when I saw an ice cream sign at a nearby shop. Unfortunately that’s all they sold – ice creams and drinks. So I continued on, not sure where to go next. My choices were both across the river and I wasn’t sure if I could be bothered going that far. I started in one direction, then 5 minutes later changed my mind.
I ended up crossing the river and going to Wat Chai Watthanaram. It was definitely worth the stop. Overall it was quite in tact. There were a lot of damaged buddha statues but also quite a few which had been restored. It was interesting to see them in various states and get an understanding of how they’re constructed underneath the smooth finish.
In the centre of the complex is a tall structure with stairs leading up each side. It’s possible to climb to the top and look out over the rest of the complex. Although a little scary climbing back down, it was worth it for the view.
I grabbed a water and some donuts here because my tummy was starting to grumble. So far I’d had a great day, but at this point I was a bit ambitious and aimed for a temple on the other side of town. This meant crossing back over the river, following the main road around the outside of the town, then crossing back over the river.
I thought there was a ferry crossing, but when I got there I couldn’t find it. Having come that fair I decided to go a little further around and cross the bridge. Once over the bridge I couldn’t find a way to get to the road I needed, and I ended up walking around for 15 minutes trying to get where I wanted, crossing the road a number of times and generally getting lost.
At one point some stray dogs wandered a bit too close for comfort, and around another corner there were some people hanging around who made me feel a bit uncomfortable. At that point I decided I’d had enough, so rode back over the bridge and along the main road into town to drop off the bike and find food.
Just after returning the bike it started to rain. I headed towards the bus area in search of food, thinking I’d at least get closer to home along the way. The rain became progressively heavier and I was struggling to find anywhere to eat. In the end I stopped at a cart serving chicken noodles. There was undercover seating behind it, and about 8 locals sitting and having dinner. I ordered and sat down, feeling a little self conscious being the only foreigner there. The soup was really nice though and the people were very friendly.
The lady helped point me in the direction of the buses and I continued in the still heavier rain, dashing from cover to cover. I thought I was closer to the buses than I actually was. It turned out I was a block out in my calculations. It was still raining heavily and starting to get dark when I found the shop selling tickets. I was surprised and a little concerned when the lady told me the last bus to Bangkok had already left!
She then told me the minivans were still running until 6pm (it was now 5.45pm) and they leave a block further down the road. I half ran and walked, at this point not so concerned about the rain. I found minivans, only to discover the Bangkok vans were another 200 metres down the road. Fortunately there was a van waiting, already three quarters full. I handed over my 60 baht, and settled down to some music for an almost 2 hour ride home. At that time of night the traffic through Bangkok was very heavy.
Back at Victory Monument the market I’d seen setting up earlier was in full swing. There were stalls everywhere, mostly selling clothes but also CDs, DVDs and other bits and pieces. There was also a lot of traffic with buses coming and going and people going I’m all directions. I was getting tired and didn’t want to shop, so caught the train towards home. I got off one stop early to get mango and sticky rice (so yum! Definitely worth the stop) before heading home to a much needed shower and bed.
Despite the stressful end to the day trying to find the bus in the rain, overall I had a great day and was glad I went. It was really special to be able to explore an area with so much history and such ancient ruins. I’m interested now to learn more about Ayutthaya and the various powers which have ruled over the kingdom – something I’ll have to look into when I get home.