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Published: April 23rd 2009
Ancient Cities of Thailand
God, I’m almost prolific now. It just goes to show how good a purchase a computer notepad really is!
Okay, so I got to the British Consulate in Chiang Mai
, but not before getting taken around by a lady tuk tuk
driver and for company her pet dog too. More worryingly she didn’t seem to understand my address directions of number and street nor “British Embassy” - because she ended up taking me to a hotel and ended up asking her male tuk tuk
drivers for directions. I was getting a little perturbed, as I was sat under a hot sun in a roofless tuk tuk
and I wanted to get my passport sorted A.S.A.P. before any of the shouty Brits turned up demanding visas (or so imagined). Anyway, she got us there in the end and the nice well spoken Thai lady at the Consulate got me to go the bank around the corner for a bank draft, all quite simple really. I then got myself to the bus station (she got us there o.k.) and jumped on a bus to Sukhothai
- the ruined ancient capital of Siam (Thailand).
4 sweaty hours with a coach style fan that barely worked (this isn’t air-con I keep wanting to say to Thais all over the country) I got off with all the other farang
on the bus. This happened to be the Old City as opposed to the New City where I had planned to get off and seek accommodation. No bother, literally off the bus was the Vitoon Guesthouse and having checked the room, it was warm but with a fan and at 250 Baht (5 quid) I took it. It was a pretty convenient place to stay, lots of little restaurants nearby which I frequented and a bicycle hire next door. I took to the tour the next day with a vengeance, getting in the museum first to understand what exactly I was looking at. This from Wikipedia again:
Sukhothai was the capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom which literally means "Dawn of Happiness" with an area of 6,596 sq.km., is about 427 km north of Bangkok and was founded in 1238. Sukhothai was the capital of the Thai Empire for approximately 140 years. Today 193 temples are excavated and partly reconstructed.
Interesting Buddhist artifacts - just
a rubbihs lay out with reading material designed for people of 7 foot, which is ironic in a land of short arses. Anyway, I spent the rest of the day exploring the main historical park by bicycle and was really rather impressed by the ruined temples and Buddha statues, all well kept and landscaped. It’s a massive area too, so I got to cycle a lot and brown a lot too, and best of all, many of the places I had to myself. On the second day too, I went to the temples on the outskirts and I think I ran into one tourist, clearly the low season here. I did have abit of bother with my rented bicyle though, the chain cover had inexplicably bent upwards and was poking into the rear wheel spokes, making a terrific metal bang noise. Anyway, I had a fiddle around with it at a temple and had my pen knife to hand. Then a local on a motorbike saw me with teh bike upside down and decided to sto and help me out, very nice of him. After about 10 minutes and with the help of his machete we got the bloody metal
casing to get out of the way. Teamwork! Still not sure if he wanted anything off me as a token of appreication, mind.
On my last day I was in The Coffee Cup restaurant where I got chatting to two English expats the youngest of whom to my interest was able to chat in Thai to his owner wife. The other was a retiree from Watford, not the first I’ve met in Thailand, and if you know Watford, you’ll understand why, despite being generally helpful I was given another side to Thailand. They warned me about going out at night (despite having always personally felt safe in Thailand) and explained that there were many drug gangs and insisting you need a Thai person to keep you safe in Thailand. I thought this was all rather supercilious boasting to be honest and so they forewarned me about meeting and falling in love with a Thai woman….haha, different type of farang
I’m afraid. The gist of that message was told in a story of a friend of this old boy who had come out of the army, come to Thailand (obvious choice, right?), met a beautiful young Thai
woman, arranged to marry her, and pay a dowry of £14,000 to the family, then the both of them disappeared without a trace, Thai mafia apparently.
Changing my mind…
Anyway, I had a very pleasant and relaxing time in Sukhothai, lots of history, ancient and picturesque monuments as well as dusks (my favourite time of the Summer). The next morning I took a rickety old windowless bus at a tractor pace to the bus station with a view to taking an hour long trip to Sri Satchanalai
another historical park of the same period, but an hour northwards, then come back down and get a bus to the south. When I got to the station however, I gave up on the idea because it seemed like too much effort and the days are so hot here that more temples and red hot heat, meh
. So, I got another bus to Phitsanulok
which took about an hour and hoped to get a train south to Ayuthaya
, another ancient capital of Siam (of later date). With my full backpack on I took a ride with a motorbike taxi to the railway station. However, the man at the kiosk showed me
that the train was completely full that day, and it was standing-room only. Well, I thought to myself, I’ve liked the train journey I took In Thailand (an admittedly dodgy assessment based upon a singular overnight express journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai) so, I took the ticket and gulped at the five hours of standing I’d put myself through. Emboldened with the belief that that I could then claim to be a hardened traveler, able to withstand anything thrown at me. However the train was late by about 90 minutes and when it did turn up I clamored up into Third Class and balked - there was no visible place to stand. I’m not travelling light at the moment, carrying a heavy waterproof jacket, 4 extra items of clothes and a pair of trainers has my load pretty big and heavy, plus the notepad computer. Anyway, I literally jumped off the train and headed for the station exit, not before obtaining a refund (to my surprise) from the ticket kiosk. I then got on another motorcycle taxi and we sped off through the town, gripping as hard as I could, trying not to fall off the back of it.
At the bus station I jostled with the Bangkok -bus companies about getting to Ayutthaya, so pretty quickly I got on another “air con” VIP double-decker bus - and got myself to Ayutthaya
Hanging out in Ayutthaya
So, after a sweaty 5 hour bus journey southwards (so much for air con - asthmatic fan nozzles more like) the bus stopped at the side of the motorway at about 8pm and I jumped off. A bunch of motorcycle taxis were hanging around and so I got on the back of one and off we sped into the night, trying my best not to fall off again.
I got to Tony’s Place Guesthouse and settled in for the evening, hoping their free wireless would come in handy. It didn’t, because I couldn’t get on it and no where else on the farang street had it either. So, I went to a bar and had something to eat, went back to the room (basically a wooden yellow painted shed with a mattress on the floor). First thing I noticed was that the bed had rather a lot of bugs. I didn’t think that much of it until I saw them
in my bags too.. They seemed to come from the pillows so a bit grossed out I popped on over the road to the reception, but as it was late, no one was there. I decided there and then that I wasn’t staying there, a bed infestation was not something I am into. So, packed up my bags and went around the corner to the big old fashioned hotel called, yeh, you guessed it, Ayutthayan Hotel. Anyway, a single room at 650 Baht, it wasn’t exactly cheap on backpacker budget, but it air conditioning, a TV, hot water and even had a swimming pool and so I took it. The next morning I returned to Tony’s Place (I wondered to myself if there ever was a Tony) complained a bit about the infestation in my , no one being at the desk to change rooms, no wireless - and hey presto, got myself a refund. To be honest I was marginally more pissed off by the lack of wireless.
The rest of the day I chilled out in my most chilled out traveler way yet, this is what paying for a bit of luxury must do to you. But
first, a bit of history about Ayutthaya and this from Wikipedia:
The kingdom of Ayutthaya. (Thai: อาณาจักรอยุธยา, RTGS: Anachak Ayutthaya) was a Siam kingdom that existed from 1351 to 1767 until it was overtaken by Sukhotai the current Thai kingdom. Ayutthaya was friendly towards foreign traders, including the Chinese, Vietnamese (Annam), Indians, Japanese and Persians, and later the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and French, permitting them to set up villages outside the city walls. In the sixteenth century, it was described by foreign traders as one of the biggest and wealthiest cities in the East. The court of King Narai (1656-1688) had strong links with that of King Louis XIV of France, whose ambassadors compared the city in size and wealth to Paris. Before Ayutthaya fell to Shukotai attack from Burma in 1767, its vassals included the Northern Shan states of present- day Myanmar, Lanna (Chiang Mai, Yunnan & Shan Sri (China), Lan Xang (Laos), Campa Kingdom, and some city- states in the Malay Peninsula.
So there you have it, a pretty interesting place I think you’ll agree, and loads of ruins to explore, but not by bicycle. This is an ancient city with a city in on
itself (between the ruins), that coupled with the fact that I'd be cycling in the hot sun again, didn’t appeal for a second time. Moreover, the excellent museums here were all closed and so I opted for the easier yet more expensive and to be honest, lazy route of exploring the sights instead. I hired a tuk tuk
for three hours and was driven around all the major temples and ruins. Many temples actually charge you a 40 - 50 Baht Foreigner entrance fee. However, I managed to pay nothing at a few places through unintentionally following coach parties full of tourists into temples. So, there were only a few places I actually walked around and saw up close, one temple stupa and chedi is quite similar to another when you’ve seen enough of them and when you count my time in Myanmar, I have seen plenty thanks.
Anyway, the tuk tuk
driver was pleasant and talkative his wife who was sat in the back even bought me bottles of water too. Upon our return to the hotel, I got him to take me to his pal at the market who made me some really delicious seafood soup.
That evening I went for a wander to the riverside to maybe check out one of the floating restaurants, I didn’t get there as I got lost. Anyway, didn’t matter I popped into a restaurant and spent the rest of the evening eating and drinking with the owner and his waitresses. He kept giving me his 100 Pipers Whisky to drink, lots of ice too and then water. Didn’t really like it much, but it was free booze. We ended up talking about the King - toasting the king and our queen, the “Reds” who have most recently been protesting out on the streets and sometimes violently, oh and of course Muai Thai boxing. Usual boy stuff. Anyway, a good time was had through hand gestures, pidgin English and a bit of Thai thrown in. Unfortunatley he didn’t have a business card and/or was too pissed to remember his email addy so I could email him the pics we took. Anyway, he got me to agree to return the following morning to jot it down. I didn’t of course, just one of those little “moments” you have whilst travelling. The guy then hailed down a motorbike taxi
and I headed back to the hotel and walked into my room like a bloody drunk - then proceeded to sleep it all off.
So, I’ve been travelling solo since I left Chiang Mai and no one else is around, it’s just me for company and I have to say I am enjoying the freedom. It’s of course a cliché but also very true that travelling in a group is mostly frustrations that are internalized. Now, I decide what time I wake up, when and where I eat and all of the decisions you totally take for granted but which are generally taken out of hands in a group. So, I feel pretty liberated right now and I’m finally enjoying the travel part - I’d forgotten how travelling alone tends to make you meet people more. So, I have become the captain of my voyage once again.
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