Sam Thompson

A day in Ayutthaya

Temple-spotting is a fine way to spend a Buddhist holiday


Monday was a national holiday in Thailand. Until about mid-day Monday, though, I had no idea why; I've gotten to the point where I just accept that random holidays pop up, and if I'm lucky enough to be told beforehand that I don't have to work, I count it as a win. Apparently, Monday was (loosely translated) Buddha Day. It is therefore fitting that I should visit temples for the day, and thanks to an invitation from a lovely fellow teacher at school, that's exactly what I did!

Ayutthaya is a mere hour and some change train ride from Bangkok. If you travel from Bang Khen or Lak Si stations not too far from JJ (Chatuchak) Market, it costs a whopping 20 baht each way to get there and back on the 3rd class trains. Granted, they don't have air con, but when the windows are open, it's really quite lovely. I won't say the ride there on the train is particularly beautiful; the outskirts of Bangkok are quite dirty, sadly, and the scenery isn't anything of note. But once you're in Ayutthaya, the scenery changes quite a bit! Yes, it was hot. Very hot. But well worth it! If you're not used to the Thai heat, I'd recommend lots of water. Luckily, unlike the Grand Palace in Bangkok, wearing shorts is A-OK.

We rented bikes for the day at 40 baht each. Not too bad! The bikes are definitely the way to go; there are many temples scattered around the area, and if you only have a day (like we did), the bikes cut your travel time immensely. You could get a motorbike for something like 300 baht, which is still cheap, but I figure... why try to kill myself on Buddha Day? The bikes were a bit tricky to get across the river the few times we crossed; you either must ride over a traffic-laden bridge or take a river ferry, which requires carrying the bikes up the riverbanks to and from the ferry. Good exercise.

I couldn't tell you how many temples we visited. There were many. I'm fairly sure we traveled somewhere in the vicinity of 20 kilometers over the course of the day, according to my friend's iPhone map. How's that for efficiency?

There are plenty of beautiful places to see. I wouldn't say they are overly impressive from a historical standpoint if you've been to Europe (to which I am a bit biased), but circa 1390-ish for many of the ruins is certainly nothing to scoff at. The Thai architecture is quite beautiful.

On the downside, as a foreigner, you must pay 50 baht per temple for an admission fee (10 baht for Thais). It's not that much, granted, but if you go see just 6 temples, that turns into 300 baht just to get inside to walk around. I didn't mind paying, but just be prepared to spend a bit of money if you're making a teacher's salary in Bangkok in Thai baht. In many places, I could probably have been dishonest and just walked in; there aren't exactly strict security measures enforcing these fees. But, I have no problem supporting the cause of keeping up the sites... providing that's where the money goes. That, and surely it's bad karma to break into temple grounds without paying?

It was neat to be in the former capitol of Siam, walking through the ruins of a city that used to house one of the largest (by population) cities of its day in the world. You can't help but be sad that there isn't more left of the once magnificent temples and palace (cheers, Burmese invasions), but what does remain certainly is beautiful to see.

The various sites were also far different than historical sites I've seen in Europe in their level of organization. Whereas handrails, barriers, warning signs, and other "for your protection" measures are in place in most old places I've visited thus, this is Thailand and those things aren't nearly as important. I love it. If you don't want to fall off of the platform you're standing on, don't stand so close to the edge!

While en route between temples at one point, traffic had to stop to allow people riding elephants to cross the street. Elephant crossing. I love it. Not to mention the little elephant show we came across as we were riding. The trainers had one baby elephant dancing (literally) to some Thai music. So cute!

At one of the temples we visited, a woman told us about how the flood in 2011 affected the various temples. She told us that she was one of the only people around with a boat, and ended up ferrying people around for weeks. Her thoughts on the flood, loosely translated, were that it was great for business! Although, she did say she was sad that the flooding caused some damage to the various historical sites.

Some signs are in English, but most are in Thai. My friends joked that I was paying 50 baht per temple to get a ticket that said the place name in English. I therefore don't really know what a lot of the places were, but they were still beautiful to visit. It's a good thing I have a digital camera; I'd have gone through ten rolls of film in the brief time we were there!

Even though there were uncountable temples and various Buddhist sites in the area, every one of them had throngs of people. This was partly due to several tour buses we encountered, but also due to the religious holiday. It was neat to see all of the Thai people "getting merits," as it was described to me, by paying homage to the various sites with gifts and prayers.

One "good luck" activity I saw were people buying small fish in plastic bags at street vendors near the river. They would purchase the fish, bring them down to the river in a plastic bucket, and release them. I think it brings good luck to the people releasing the fish, but as soon as we got back up to the bank, there were twice as many fish in captivity as there were when my friends bought the fish! That seems a bit odd...

I won't pretend to understand half of the Buddhist traditions and customs; what little I do know about Buddhism is based on the Indian variety, and in Thailand things seem much different. But, I can certainly appreciate that the people around me seemed to be genuinely using their day off to pay homage to parts of their culture, and were enjoying doing so.

I've heard that you can take a boat from Bangkok to Ayutthaya and back, but I never found out how/where to do it. If I visit again, I would certainly like to try. I bet it's expensive, but hey. New experiences.

We left Bangkok at 7:30 a.m. and were back in town by about 6:30 p.m. For a day trip from Bangkok, if you're into history, I'd say it's hard to beat Ayutthaya.




Comments

Dancing elephant doesn't sound cute at all. I would like to think that you just haven't done your research on what cruelty taming down the elephants involves. Either way, it's a bit irresponsible to promote these practices in any way.

By Maria, Bangkok (10th March 2016)

Yes, the bicycles were certainly the way to go. We left the train station and walked toward the river, and within about 5 minutes, we were at a river ferry that cost 4 baht to cross.

As soon as we crossed, there were lots of brand new bikes about ten steps from the ferry landing. I haven't been on a bike in over six months, so I was a bit shaky... but I don't think I ran into TOO many people.

If you end up on the main roads (as we did a few times), be a bit careful... but otherwise, the city is quite bike friendly! The free maps you can get everywhere are most helpful, although my friend just used his iPhone map for most of the trip...

Ain't technology great? haha

By Sam, Chatuchak, Bangkok (28th February 2013)

Lived in Ayutthaya for a year, Fact is also its "quite dirty" to use Sams words. Many historical sites and all free to thais, But Falang? Oh Yes The prices rack up.Even if you have a work permit ,( pay taxes) which I did , You are still a Falang , gotta pay up. Fact is Ayutthaya was was very nice I am told but like many places , developers are moving in and the population grows as it is almost a suburb of Bangkok. Of course there's always the risk of flooding as I found to my cost 18 months ago.

By Mark, Bangkok (27th February 2013)

Ayutthaya is always one of my favorite day trips and whenever I want to show visitors around, it's always a winner when they've tired of traipsing around Bangkok. There's plenty to see and do there (enough to fill a day at least) and the train ride is just long enough as to not outstay its welcome.

You did exactly the right thing travelling third class for 20 baht. It's lovely with that breeze blowing in through the open windows. The last time I went, I shelled out for first class (still very cheap) but you just don't get the sense of adventure and fun being in a closed air-conditioned carriage.

I like the idea of hiring bicycles. Do you get those near the station?

By philip, (27th February 2013)

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