Ayutthaya’s ancient ruins and awful guesthouse

We arrived at Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok where we found it very easy to purchase tickets for travel up to Ayutthaya. We had done research to find the timetable and fares available (http://www.railway.co.th/checktime/checktime.asp?lenguage=Eng), so we knew roughly when the train was leaving, and that we wanted to go, third class, as this was much cheaper and easy to put up with for only a couple of hours. We were greeted by English speaking helpers at the entrance to the station who pointed out which specific train we wanted and then pointed to the ticket counters to purchase tickets. At the counter, we just had to say that we were going to Ayutthaya, the time of the train and that we wanted to go third class, where we were given our tickets. Train travel in Thailand is known to have many delays, particularly as the day goes on so we opted for a train at 11.20am which cost us 15 baht (34p) each for a two-hour train journey.We were pleasantly surprised when our train arrived at the platform on time and departed on time too. Third class was very minimal with very hard seats and a toilet but absolutely fine for a two-hour train ride. It gave us the opportunity to see the lovely changing landscape going through Bangkok and out to Ayutthaya.

We arrived at approximately 1.05pm on Sunday into Ayutthaya station. There were many tuk-tuk drivers waiting outside to take tourists to their accommodation if they were not sure where they were going. Ayutthaya’s many guesthouse and sights are located on the island in the middle whereas the train station is located off of the island. To get there we walked down a small street selling food and had bikes for rent directly opposite the station where at the bottom there was a small pier with a boat that takes you across the river to the island for 5 baht.

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Us waiting in the sun for the ferry.
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The ferry doesn’t go far.

From there we had a short walk to where we were staying at the end of the main bar strip (Naresuan soi 2) at Brick House guesthouse. We had booked this guesthouse as it was cheap for a private double room, the photographs looked nice and the reviews were very positive about the place, it’s location and about it having a good atmosphere. However, as we found out you cannot always trust the reviews! We had our own room, however, the bed was very lumpy and uncomfortable, it smelt of sewage and all you could hear all night/ early morning was the sounds of dogs. The place, like we found with Ayutthaya, also had no atmosphere. Unfortunately, we booked two nights there as well so we didn’t have to rush our time there. We also found out that this was way too much time in Ayutthaya.

Outside of brick house guesthouse

On first arriving, we walked around the main area of Naresuan road and the market in the hopes of finding some food. The place, however, seemed dead and there did not appear to be very much open so we had to settle for going to Tony’s place for food one of several westernised guesthouses on our road. The whole of our first day we got a very strange vibe from Ayutthaya and were not really impressed with it.

We booked a two-hour afternoon cruise through Tour with Thais for 200 baht so that we could see some of the temples and ancient ruins that are dotted along off of the island. This was very touristy but we enjoyed it. We were taken from the office via tuk-tuk to join the longtail boat that took us up the river. It was lovely to enjoy the scenery alongside the river and showed us a different side to Ayutthaya. We stopped at three places and were only allowed to stay for approximately 20 minutes. This allowed time for a quick wander around and to take a few photos. We saw Wat Phanan Choeng which had a huge ornate gold Buddha statue in it. It was very crowded here with many people trying to look through the doorway to see and photograph the Buddha. We then took the boat to Wat Phutthaisawan which contained both a modern temple and Khmer-style prangs and ruins that are well preserved. This is somewhere we could have spent a bit more time exploring if it wasn’t for the deadline of the boat. After this, we finished the tour at Wat Chaiwatthanaram. This was by far the most impressive, set along the waterfront with the sun setting over a large site of ancient Khmer ruins. On returning from the boat cruise we went out for drinks at the Chang Bar, one of only a few on the “main bar strip” where we met a couple from America and spent the night chatting to them about their travels.

People trying to see the Buddha at Wat Phanan Choeng
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Our Boat for the evening.
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Always like seeing the world go past in a boat.
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One of the impressive structures we saw on our small ride.
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The fish are used to be feed, can’t you tell.
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The evening was setting in as we enjoyed the views.
Sun setting at Wat Chaiwatthanaram

After an uncomfortable and awful nights sleep we set out to explore the main attraction of Ayutthaya it’s UNESCO historical park which is full of countless ancient ruins spanning a huge area. In order to get to the historical park and to get around it easily we rented a bicycle each for 50 baht for the day. This was definitely the best way to explore the historical park, aimed with a map it meant that we could tour the sites we wanted to in our own time. We ended up exploring about five different sites of ruins as after walking around them and between them we were satisfied that we had seen enough. However many people try to spend the whole day exploring as many of the ruins as possible. Usually you would either pay a fee for each site or you can get a day pass for about 200 baht. However due to Thailand’s king passing away recently the major attractions were free until the end of January to honour him. We first visited Wat Ratchaburana which had stunning Khmer-style prangs, the main one which you can climb as well as going down the steeps steps into the old crypt. Just across the road we then visited Wat Mahahat which has the famously photographed Buddha head located inside a banyan tree routes but also boasts a host of other spectacular ruins.

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We stopped off at Wat Thammasikarat which we paid 20 baht entrance fee but it was well worth it. It houses some beautifully detailed lion statues, a reclining Buddha and the ruins of an old assembly hall. We headed next to Wat Phra Ram which was a site full of brick ruins and featured a central prang that you can climb to get amazing views of the historical park. It was one of the quietest places we visited and had a great atmosphere.

Wat Thammasikarat’s Lions

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View from the main prang at Wat Phra Ram

We ventured to Wihaan Phra Mongkhon Bophit which had an impressive driveway up to it but was unfortunately under construction. Next to it though was Wat Phra Si Samphet which had three spectacular chedis and was definitely the highlight of the park. We did not spend too much time exploring here but actually sat for a while just enjoying the view and watching hundreds of people take the same photo up on the stairs of the chedis. Along from Bophit is actually elephant walking street where we witnessed elephants walk up and down the road giving rides to people. It was amazing to be that close to an elephant and witness their size and grace, even if it was sad to see them being ridden.

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We biked along towards the hospital area as we wanted to try the local delicacy of roti sai mai. This is threads of twirled palm sugar wrapped in round unleavened bread and served at room temperature and due to it being just sugar is very very sweet. It tastes a bit like sugar hay. After exploring for the day we went in search of food at the night market. We were pleasantly surprised by Ban Lan night market it was vibrant with life, food and great smells. We sampled various snacks and then had some dinner before chilling out at our hostel. We spent the following day jumping around using the free wi-fi in bars to research Chiang Mai as we waited for the night train at 9 pm.

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Rare life in Ayutthaya!

 

Overall Ayutthaya’s historical park is well worth a visit on bicycles but there is not much to the place itself. We would only recommend coming for a day or for one night as there is not much to do after this.

Alex

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