Published: July 4th 2012July 3rd 2012
Ayutthaya (stresses on second and fourth syllabes, or no one will know what you're talking about) was the old capital of Thailand, before it was destroyed by a Burmese invasion. It's only about 2 hours north of Bangkok, so it makes for a good day trip or stopping point between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. The train ticket from Hua Lamphong rail station is dirt cheap -- only 20 baht (60 cents) to sit in an old, smelly car with no air con.
It took close to an hour to walk from the tourist ghetto at Khao San Rd. to the train station -- probably just about as long as a taxi would. I arrived in Ayutthaya at around 10, took a 4 baht ferry to the island (the center of town, surrounded by rivers), and walked toward the ruins. There are some tourist shops and touts ready to pounce on you when you get off the boat, but the city isn't very difficult to do independently.
The city itself (at least during the low season -- I was there in July) has a much more authentic feel to it than the islands or the tourists ghettos of Bangkok. The
Me on Elephant
Officially, they charge a ridiculous 300 baht for a digital photo that a man on the ground takes, but once we were on the trail, the driver gave my camera to one of the others, and he took my photo for 40 baht. The elephant is definitely posing in my photo, and his trunk reached toward me afterwards; I put the money in his snout, he made his noise, and gave it to the other driver.
markets here are mostly directed toward locals, and there were far fewer tourists about. It took maybe 20 minutes to walk to the ruins, and there are plenty of places along the way to pick up a tuk-tuk or to rent a really crappy bike.
The ruins of the city are concentrated in the middle of town, and are surrounded by fields, trees, and ponds (it was initially a swamp, and the area still seems to flood often). Many rent bikes to tour the area, but I decided to walk.
The first Wat I visited was Wat Ratcha Burana, simply because it was the first one I saw from a distance. It costs 50 baht to enter, or you can purchase a ride all day pass for 220 baht. Like most of the other Wats here, it was built in the late 1300s. After walking around the rest of the ruins, though, this was one of the more impressive ones, with a huge corn-cob shaped tower (chedi). Inside, you can climb down (literally, with ropes) a very steep staircase, where there is apparently very little that you can see in the darkness. Exploring the rest of the area
Me and Buddha Tree
A tree has grown around one of the fallen statues in Wat Maha That. This is the main attraction here.
is interesting, and enough of it remains that you can picture what it might have looked like during the Eurocentrically named "Dark" Ages. Already it was worth the trip. I didn't really have enough time to visit Ankor Wat in Cambodia, so I was happy to get a good taste of it; apparently, this city was once the largest in the world.
After lunch at one of the bland restaurants lining the border of the ruins (I would have found better food at the market if I had any energy), I went to Wat Maha That. This was a royal monastery with a very good Buddha statue outside. Much of it had collapsed and was robbed by looters, but parts have been restored. Certainly the reason this Wat costs 50 baht to enter is the Lord Buddha's head in the tree, an image that shows up in travel books and brochures of Thailand.
After that, unless you have quite a lot of knowledge about Buddhism and Wats and architecture, it all starts to look the same. It might have been different if I had a tour guide, rather than a 20 baht pamphlet, to explain everything to me.
Phra Mongkonbophit looked interesting, but similar to what I toured in Bangkok. Some of the sites across the river seemed worth a visit as well, but being a day trip, I opted to focus on the central area.
It's possible to go on a twenty-minute elephant ride as well, but it's more for the sake of being on an elephant than seeing anything different or substantial. I searched the grounds and found the elephants; riding one is something I wanted to try before leaving the country. The option is everywhere, and I would have rather done it on a proper trek through the jungle, but a 20-minute walk around the ruins sufficed. It was much easier to climb aboard and to keep balance on the ride.
The train to Bangkok was two hours late, so I didn't make it back until 7 PM -- an exhausting day.
There are more photos below