Ayutthaya is a city an hour north of Bangkok and was the former capital of Siam. It is one of several day trips that visitors can take from Bangkok.
I wanted to visit the city via train and then renting a bike but it takes 2 transfers by metro to the train station. Being lazy, I just joined a tour and requested that they pick me up from the hotel. Unfortunately, that was going to cost me an arm and a leg, so I had to go to their office in Ayutthaya regardless.
I was staying some 10 minutes walk from Chitlom station, which made sense for me to walk there but I mistakenly thought Siam was the better station so I walked 30 minutes from my hotel to Siam, stopping for a 19 Baht Thai Ice Tea on the way.
My train was at 8:20 AM so I gave myself an hour to get to Hualamphong Train Station. I got to Siam Station then transferred at Sala Deang Station to the blue line. The distance from the BTS to MRT was a long one. Interestingly, it seems that at 8 AM, all the citizens stops what they are doing and stand to listen to the national anthem.
third class train ticket
Finally, I got to Hualamphong with only 10 minutes to spare, I went to the counter to buy a ticket and the guy at the counter sold me a seatless third class ticket for 20 baht!!! That was less than the amount I paid to go from Siam to Sala Deang Station…
I think there is a carriage I have to be on but I didn’t know, so I just sat anywhere that was available … the one I sat at might have been second class .. keke. I heard the locals can get on for free but I am not sure.
my little window to see the outside
The speed of the train was really slow as it passed through greater Bangkok. It literally cuts through people’s backyards and you see local people living really simple housing along the way.
As it leaves Bangkok (some one hour later), the train speed picks up and the scenery goes from urban to rural space. The train also passes through the Don Muang Airport, and judging by how slow it goes, I would not recommend taking the train to the airport.
In any case, I finally arrived at the train station. I walked to the office, which can be recognized by the photo of the office building they sent me, as there was no proper name on it yet.
My tour guide met me at the front of the office and told me I was a VIP today, only me on the tour!
After getting the bike and the gears all set, we were on our way. The first stop was a local elementary school, where all the local school children attended. Along the way is a nicely paved road surrounded by rural setting. We have yet to cross the river to old UNESCO Ayutthaya, so we were still in suburban Ayutthaya, basically where most people live.
The school is near a temple (as it usually is apparently) and I think she said there were just 4 teachers and each class is of mixed-aged group. Being an only child, I am not very good at handling kids but they seem to really like my tour guide, who comes by almost every day.
Later, we made our way to an English class and I got to have a small conversation with each of the students. I was caught my surprise, so the teacher gave me a conversation sheet to help get things started, which kind of went ok (but judging by videos from the previous visitors on the company’s website, I didn’t do so good).
Actually, I had my concerns when my guide said we were visiting a school because I visited one in Siem Reap in Cambodia. The Cambodian school had visitors coming to the school almost every 30 minutes and tourists were asked to buy candies from the administrator to give to the students. At the end, the tour guide also kindly suggested we donate money to feed them … However, it didn’t happen here so I was being a worry wart for nothing.
A short ride over is a temple …
From there, we took a ferry to cross over to the other side of the river to old Ayutthaya.
As we waited there, I asked if people around here fish because there are a lot of fish in the waters but the guide said that it is illegal to fish around temple premises. She also said the people around the river are decently well off and does not need to fish for food, as suggested by the type of houses they have.
Our ride finally came and crossing the river took less than 2 minutes. We rode through the rural area again and this time towards an elephant camp. Before that, we stopped by a convenience store along to way to get some refreshers.
Along the way were rice paddies and even a large yellow lizard crossing the road. From time to time we passed by houses where dogs and roosters roam. Cock fighting is still prominent in Thailand and that is what they are raised for.
Finally, we arrived at the elephant camp called Phaniat Royal Elephant Kraal. The place dates back to the 16th century where they trained elephants for warfare.
The white elephants are considered the highest and are used as royal elephants. Furthermore, the elephants here never retire.
A lot of the elephants were missing on the day I visited because they were still away for ceremonies for the King’s passing. Those that were here, gets to chill out, eat leaves, and get bathed by tourists and volunteers. It costs about 150 baht per camera to take photos
Leaving the elephants behind, we rode to another temple called Wat Na Phramane. The site is important because in 1563, a war broke out for essentially 2 white elephants between Burma and Siam and this was where they settled for the peace treaty.
It was the only temple that the Burmese did not destroy because they had used it as a military base. It was also said that the Burmese King fatally injured himself when he released a canon from the temple towards the Grand Palace in Ayutthaya. King Tama III later had restored by King Rama III but this would be the most intact old temple I would see all day.
The right side of the temple is also the vihara where a buddha sat. The sitting position of the Buddha is unique so some say that this Buddha may have been brought here from elsewhere else or created from a different period. The walls also have paintings from the time of King Rama III but much of it is faded now. Nevertheless, one can still see bits of images from people of that time. Interestingly, there is also a monk sitting in a corner and after he and my tour guide exchanged a few greetings, I was asked to sit in front of him where he proceeded to spray holy water on me and then smack me on the head with another item just as holy.
With that as a blessing, we made it to the ordination hall where a golden-crowned buddha sat. There was a poster of the past kings of Thailand and my guide kindly pointed me to the more important kings following the fall of Ayutthaya.
As a precursor to what is to come, we passed by a very minor site.
The next stop was lunch, where we went to a restaurant by the Chao Praya River. The river is quite long and it flows straight into Bangkok. For lunch, we had curry and just discussed topics at random.
After lunch, we entered the UNESCO site of Ayutthaya, the old ruins of the capital city that most people come to see. The old city was founded in 1350 and in its hay day, around 1700, one study estimated that it was the most populated city in the world, with an inhabitant of 1 million people. All of it came to an end in 1767 when the Burmese invaded the city, leaving it for ruins.
The first site we visited was Wat Wara Pho. It is a minor site with various brick foundations surrounding a Buddha. All of the Buddha are a replica of the original, as the original was most likely destroyed.
My guide went into a little bit of detail about how almost every male in Thailand served at least once as a monk in their lifetime. That is done so that the family can get good luck.
We got back on our bikes and headed towards Wat Lokkayasutharam, where there is a large reclining buddha in the front and possible another temple behind it. This too is a replica of the origin.
Grabbing our bikes again, this time, we went pass a local market towards one of the bigger sites in Ayutthaya, Wat Phra Si Sanphet or the temple of the holy.
Originally, this site was built as a royal palace by King Ramathibodi I, the first to name Ayutthaya the capital. His successors continued to expand on the site until King Borommatrailokanat built a new site north of here and this was converted into a holy site. The royal chapel along with a 16-meter gold plated buddha was also built here. However, in 1767, the Burmese destroyed many of the temples in the area and only the three main chedis remained.
We got back on the bike once more and traveled through a gorgeous garden between the sites.
Our final stop was the famous Wat Mahathat, where it is famous for the head growing in the roots a tree. It is almost located at the center of Ayutthaya and is where the leader of the Thai Buddhist monk resided. There are also said to have some buddha relics in the temple.
The story goes that someone tried to steal the Buddha’s head but the nose had fallen off and therefore was abandoned on the floor because it was worth-less
The temple here would have more destroyed Buddhas, with its head removed.
A walk around the old ruins and we were back on our bikes and heading towards the office. We took a ferry across the river again and then rode back. The lady here collects the money. The boat transfer is just across from the train station entrance.
On the train, I was able to take the same third class train with no assigned seats. The wait was a bit long on the train tracks but alas the train came. Similar to coming in, the train moved really fast as it left Ayutthaya but slowed down when it reached Bangkok.
At night, many people were home already so we can actually see through the windows and into their backyards. It was quite an interesting scene, though I did feel like I was invading their space.
Finally, I grabbed dinner and met up with my friend who just got in from Australia!