I think my body forgave me for my few days of excess because I woke up on the morning of the 2nd bright and early and raring to head off to Ayutthaya. First off though, we had to get in touch with Claudia, an old friend of both Samantha and myself, who was arriving in Bangkok to being a 4 month study period ina town south of Bangkok (the name escapes me now). Claudia was flying in from Holland with basically no idea of where she was going or when she was getting there and our planning for her arrival was just about as well planned. We had booked a room for Claudia but had no idea when she was arriving and had no means of getting in touch as our mobiles didn’t work and hers would obviously be off because she was flying. We had told reception that somebody may or may not be coming to take a room at some point during the day and our plan was to wait atthe hotel until about 10am at the latest and if there was no news, leave a sorry note at reception and head off. Besides, we couldn’t lose out last day in Thailand waiting for somebody who might not even make it, right? That was how I was justifying leaving our friend alone in a Bangkok hotel anyway. Luckily, it didn’t come to that and while we were getting ready to head down for breakfast, our room phone rang with Claudia on the other end so we grabbed some food while she got ready and headed off for a little adventure.
There are several ways to get to Ayutthaya from your typical Bangkok hotel/guest house. Most hotels offer a car service that will drive you there and back. One shifty looking gent offered to drive us to Ayutthaya and wait for the day before driving us back to the tune of 2000 baht. We laughed and headed off because I knew we could get there for a fraction of that price (even though a driver for a day for 50 euros is hardly unreasonable…). We chose to travel by bus from Bangkok North/Northeastern bus station in the north of Bangkok and it set us back only 35baht each. The buses run from early morning through to around 7pm and are clean, air conditioned and fairly pleasant. Our bus even had a TV which was showing showing some strange show where a giant lizard fought with a huge millipede. It was brutal to say the least. Alternatively you can travel by train for even less (15 baht…thats right 25pence for a 2 hour train journey…) which turned out to be how we decied to come back. That is a story in itself, though. There are also boat tours that can take you up there but they were well out of our budget. I seem to remember prices being around the 6000 baht area for a full day cruise and tour guide etc but that sounded not only excessively expensive but also a bit dusty and boring.
A bit about Ayutthaya
Most people we mentioned this part of our trip to pretty much all responded the same way: “Where?”. Well, I am no historian but I figured I would write a little about why we would jump on a bus for 2 hours to some place nobody seems to have heard of instead of spending more time in the wonderful Bangkok. So here goes, Joe’s history of Ayutthaya:
The kingdom of Ayutthaya (Thai: ??????) was a Thai kingdom that existed from 1350 to 1767. King Ramathibodi I (Uthong) founded Ayutthaya as the capital of his kingdom in 1350 and absorbed Sukhothai, 640 km to the north, in 1376. Over the next four centuries the kingdom expanded to become the nation of Siam, whose borders were roughly those of modern Thailand, except for the north, the Kingdom of Lannathai. Ayutthaya was friendly towards foreign traders……………………..
Okay! Okay! I don’t know how much more I will bother to put here before you realise I am just copy and pasting this all from Wikipedia. Just go read the rest here if you really give a damn. On with my story.
What we did!
Our day in Ayutthaya was easily the cultural highlight of the trip (unless you call getting hammered on the Khaosan Road a cultural experience). The historical park area of Ayutthaya is incredible and there is so much to see you could never fit it all into one day so we thought it best to just hit the ‘must sees’ as highlighted by my Lonely Planet. On arriving we jumped into a Tuk Tuk so I could fulfil a little promise I made. One of my Christmas gifts to Samantha was an IOU note saying: “IOU one elephant ride around Ayutthaya” so it was off to the Ayutthaya elephant kraal with my fingers crossed that things were back up and running since the flooding of Ayutthaya a few months back. Before heading out I had sent several e-mails first to the elephant camp where the working elephants live and to Eleaid, a charity based in the UK, that are devoted to spreading awareness about Asian elephants and the many problems surrounding them. Instead of going into a long rant about the abusive treatment of many elephants in Thailand (and other parts of Asia) in the name of the tourism industry, I will simply provide a few Links (here, here, here) where you can find out more information. In the mean time rest assured that the kraal we travelled to was recommended by Eleaid and even the camp invited us to go and visit sometime. For 20 baht you can buy baskets of food for the elephants and feed them yourself. The younger elephants are walking freely around the place while the elephants ‘saddled up’ are behind a barrier but seem to be pretty practiced at stealing food with their trunks while you are not looking. The ride itself was great fun and despite not being able to see much of the temples up close (the elephants can’t enter the temple grounds) it was a really enjoyable way to see the area. Besides, I was sitting on a massive elephant, I didn’t really care.
They say that when you have no plans then nothing can really go wrong, and that was definitely true of today. We set out to visit some of the larger temples in the area, browse a few markets and get some sun on our pasty limbs and we did just that. From the impressive ground of Wat Phra Si Sanphet to the famous buddha head wrapped in a Banyan tree at Wat Mahathat we strolled (or Tuk Tuk-ed) around Ayutthaya catching up with Claudia (I hadn’t seen her in over 5 years!) taking in the sights and sounds and generally having a great time. We had a really pleasant meal by the river and got the ferry over to the train station to head back to Bangkok as the sun set on a wonderful day. The train, however, was a different story. At first we thought we wouldn’t make it on as it was so overcrowded, and when we finally did, we realised that we would be spending the next 2 hours standing uncomfortably between other passengers, drink vendors and sacks of rice. It was worse than the Hong Kong MTR at rush hour, and a lot longer too. I apologised to the girls for bringing them back this way (of course the train was my idea…) but we made it eventually back to our hotel. I felt like one of the elephants back in Ayutthaya, tired from a long day of walking around in the sun and craving a good watering and a feed.
What I got was a VERY good feed and plenty of watering (i.e. more Thai whiskey…). We headed out to town at around 2am to see if anything was still open, but were greeted with nothing more than deserted streets. It was the first time we had truly registered the impact of the bombings and it made me feel almost guilty for having so much fun. A cab driver tried to convince us that the only place to party on a night like tonight was Patpong, Bangkok’s notorious sleaze street, and we fell for it. I have seen Patpong in full swing, and despite the sleaze and crust, it still holds a strange sort of charm in the same way the Red Light District of Amsterdam does. It is Bangkok institution and everybody goes at some point. However, tonight was a different story. I would seem since the bombing, the ‘sensible’ tourists had returned home or stayed in (as we should have) and only the lowest of the low were out on the prowl. I mean transexuals are part and parcel of the Bangkok experience and really don’t weird me out or even make me turn up an eyebrow, but tonight the street was littered with the sort of Ladyboys that give Ladyboys a bad name. They in turn were surrounded with the sort of people that give people a bad name. In short, it was disgusting and one look at the road led us straight back to the cab and back to the hotel where we made the decision that sleeping is for losers. Instead, we drained out minibars and when sunlight came around felt very silly for doing so, because out flight home was in an hour or two. So we negotiated our way to Bangkok airport in a bleary eyed mess and somehow found our way back to Hong Kong.
I guess the story ends there.
Photo’s on my Flickr as Usual!