Ayutthaya (pronounced ah-you-tee-ah, not ah-you-tie-ah as we originally thought), the old capital city of Thailand, is a city built around tons of ancient wats, or temples. It’s similar to Rome in that way, though of course, on a much smaller scale. In Rome, you can be sitting and eating a delicious slice of pizza and then all of the sudden you’re like, “Oh! There’s the Colosseum.” Well, in Ayutthaya, you’re just eating a bowl of Pad Thai instead of a slice of pizza… and the temples are a little less well-known than something like the Colosseum, but similarly beautiful and awe inspiring. Anyway, same same, but different (a perfect use of one of our favorite new phrases that we learned here).
We arrived in Ayutthaya around lunch time. There are a few ways to get there, but we opted for the train, as we didn’t want to mess with any of the traffic or road shutdowns from the protests in Bangkok. As always, we took a boat to the train, and this time to another train at Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok. We’ve taken this train once before on our way to Laos. That was an overnight train and I, for one, did not have the best experience (after seeing a few bugs in my “bed” for the night, I didn’t quite get the good nights’ sleep I had been hoping for.). We were hoping for better this time around.
We bought our 15 baht, or 50 cent, tickets and got settled into our third class seats (this is the only class that they offer for the short 2 hour ride to Ayutthaya). The train was very crowded and also very hot. Once again, not the best experience. But, at least we were on time (our train to Laos was delayed for 2 hours, which caused us to miss the Thai Embassy’s visa hours).
We got off the train and hopped on the 4 baht ferry that takes you across the river to Ayutthaya. We had to take this ferry several times throughout our trip and were amazed to see people riding their bikes and motorbikes right onto it).
We walked through the main part of town, found our guesthouse, dropped our stuff off and rented a bike for 50 baht each to tour the temples for the afternoon. You can also take a 2-hr, 3 stop boat ride to visit the temples or hire a tuk tuk for the day, but since we love to bike, this is the option we opted for.
Before heading off on our temple tour, we stopped for a quick lunch at the market in town. The town, though very small, is also very cute. We liked it immediately and had a great lunch of a couple noodle soups and a chicken satay with peanut sauce (our first time seeing peanut sauce since we got to Thailand).
We started riding and felt like we were stopping about every 2 seconds to see another temple. Our friend Matt, who came along for the day, announced early on that he was really only interested in seeing the “old temples.” None of the newer stuff for him. He also made it clear that after seeing the temples in both Angkor Wat and Myanmar, it was hard to impress him when it came to temples and ruins. Though we haven’t been to Myanmar yet, we had to agree that the temples of Angkor Wat are so amazing and impressive that they definitely leave you feeling like you may never be impressed by another temple again. Throughout the afternoon, we made probably 10-15 stops (including some newer temples – sorry to break the rules, Matt!). Some of the temples were not very impressive, but there were definitely some highlights:
Wat Thammikarat: This is the first temple that we stopped at and really enjoyed (other than the children who kept coming up to us and asking us our name and where we were from, presumably as part of a scheme to get us to agree to let them act as our tour guide for that particular temple, for a small fee/tip of course. This was the first temple we saw that was actually big enough to walk around in and also the first place we started noticing the many rooster statues and shrines to roosters. I’ve never seen this anywhere else in Thailand, but they were all over the place in Ayutthaya.
Wat Chaiwatthanaam: This was our favorite temple across the river (and my favorite temple overall) and also probably the most famous temple in Ayutthaya. It’s built in the same style as Angkor Wat and it’s the one you’ll see pictures of in all the guidebooks. It’s definitely the biggest temple in Ayutthaya and also the temple that boasts rows and rows of Buddhas that are missing their heads. The reason their heads are all cut off is because they were actually used to store gold. Well, once the news about that spread, the place was ransacked, the Buddhas heads cut off, and all of the gold stolen. We had seen something similar in Angkor Wat with many of the statues. Maybe someone should have thought of a more creative hiding place.
Wat Maha That & Wat Ratchaburana: These temples are right in the middle of the city, and were actually just down the street from our guesthouse. The first one was definitely the coolest, and for a specific reason – the statue of a head built right into the roots of a Banyon tree. This is also something we saw a lot of during our day in Angkor Wat and really enjoyed. The “cool factor” of the second temple was a crypt that you could walk into and see old paintings on the walls. Still though, I was more impressed by the Banyon tree Buddha head. Both temples were built on pretty large grounds so we were able to walk all around and explore.
Those were our highlights from day 1. We rode our bikes back to our guesthouse and this is where we said goodbye to Matt. He was taking the train back that night (Ayutthaya can definitely be done in just a day though it’s a bit rushed and a lot of traveling for one day), but Dave and I had decided to make a night of it.
We relaxed for a bit and then headed out for a late dinner. We had planned to go back to the market we had seen earlier in the day, but when we got there, mostly everything was closed. We walked around a bit more and were very surprised to find that there was really no nightlife in Ayutthaya. Maybe we were just in the wrong area (though I have no idea where else we could have gone), but there was hardly a single place that was open. Finally, we found a couple of street food stalls and sat down for what was still a really good meal. We had 4 dishes (Pad See Ew, Fried Rice, Sukiyaki, and Lard Na) all for 160 baht (a little over $5). Not bad!
The next morning, we went for a run to our final temple. This one was a little further away, which is why we had saved it. Wat Phu Khao Thong is a temple surrounded by well, pretty much nothing. It’s the only temple not right in the city, which is definitely part of its charm. It’s also built in a different style than most of the other temples we saw (it’s white, instead of red brick like most of the other temples). Also, we were able to climb up this one for a great view. We got there right as it was opening and had the entire place to ourselves. It was really nice. This was Dave’s favorite temple.
We ran back, packed up, grabbed lunch, and hit the road. Our train ride back was even worse than the one there (hotter and even more crowded), but we made it home after an awesome weekend in Ayutthaya.