Unseen Thailand - Ayutthaya - Not to be missed

Wat Phra Si Sanphet
Wat Phra Si Sanphet
Wat Yai Chai Mongkol
Wat Yai Chai Mongkol

Intro

Unseen Thailand - Ayutthaya.

Within an hour or so’s drive or a 90 minute train journey from Bangkok there is an almost forgotten treasure waiting to be seen! It never fails to surprise me that tourists come from all over the world to visit Bangkok but don’t make the effort to make the short journey to go and see Ayutthaya, the ancient royal capital. A number of tourists do take the various day-long boat trips offered that also take in Bang Pa- In royal palace but, in my opinion, they see so little of Ayutthaya it is hardly worth the bother. If you want to see the river just take the Chao Phraya Express all the way to Nonthaburi, the end of the line, and then back to your starting point (see my hub). You will see all the river you need to see!

Ayutthaya, sometimes spelt Ayudhya, was the capital of Siam from 1350 to 1767 when it was destroyed by the Burmese and the capital moved to what is now Bangkok. It was a magnificent place, truly a ‘Venice of the Orient’, with towering stupas now sadly almost all gone. But what is left is well worth seeing and letting your imagination drift back in time to see the place in all its ancient splendour.

Getting there is easy. I suppose the easiest way is to take a taxi but it is relatively expensive and make sure you agree the price before you start the journey, most likely the driver will prefer this to using the meter! But by far the best and cheapest way to get there is by train. Hua Lamphong is the main railway station is Bangkok and is the starting point for journeys to all points North, South, East and West in Thailand.

Trains leave for Ayutthaya roughly every hour and the fare is 15 baht for standard 3rd Class (normal) travel one way. No need to book but best to avoid peak times, just turn up and buy your ticket and get on the next train. I suggest you check out www.seat61.com for more details.The journey is scheduled to take about one hour but in reality it is more likely to take between 90 minutes to two hours.

Whilst a day trip to Ayutthaya is perfectly feasible you are likely to find it all a bit of a rush even if you use the local tuk tuks to get around. Much better to plan on staying one or even two nights if you can spare the time at one of the local guest houses (cheaper at around baht 500 per room per night, double) or hotels. Outside of high season these are easily available on alighting the train as ‘representatives’ cajole you to stay at their particular place.

The Island

Ayutthaya station is nothing special and is located in the modern part of Ayutthaya. You get off the train and follow your nose through the exit/entrance to the main road. Old Ayutthaya is in fact an island surrounded by the Chao Phraya river, supposedly helping to make it more impregnable. Pity no one told the Burmese! Anyway just across the road from the station down a small street (soi) off to the right is a small ferry which for a few baht will take you over to the island proper. Once on the other side you are confronted with what appears to be a main road with shops and market stalls and behind here is the road where most of the guest houses and restaurants aimed at foreigners are located.

Ayutthaya has been a UNESCO Heritage site since 1991 which makes it all the more surprising that so few people visit. However I would have to say that on the whole the historic park is incredibly badly signed with what signposts there are having arrows pointing off in any old direction. It took quite a feat of navigation to find my way around and I would definitely recommend taking a map of the park along with you to that you can find your own way!

Take a look at the map. You can see that (very) roughly the island is in the shape of a mirror-image ‘D’. The straight side is where the railway station is, across the river. The sites on the island are essentially at the curved end but beware some temples are still on the other side of the river bank as you go around and are best reached by boat, I paid Baht 500 for a 3 hour trip for two people. For the temples on the island they are all easily accessible by foot taking a leisurely pace or you can hire a bicycle and finally if you wish you can hire a tuk tuk to take you around...bargaining essential!!

Look out for Wat Mahathat probably the most visited site with the Buddha head embedded in the tree trunk being the most well known image. Meanwhile the stupas of Wat Phra Si Sanpet conjure up images of ancient royal grandeur and are best seen close to sunset As the sun goes down a number of the temples are lit up and make for a memorable sight, not to be missed. Nearby you will also find elephant rides if you enjoy that sort of thing.

For the 3 hour boat trip you will have the opportunity to visit Wat Kasatthirat, still a working temple, Wat Chai Wattanaram, a must visit beautiful temple and Wat Putthai Sawan. Having taken the boat trip there is one last temple just a short drive away, Wat Yai Chai Mongkol, with a lovely reclining Buddha. A great way to end the day and then back to your guest house for that well deserved beer!

Getting back to Bangkok is easy but check the times of trains when you first arrive or ask at your guest house.

A good novel that captures the essence of Ayutthaya in its glory days is 'The Falcon of Siam' by Axel Aylwen, readily available in most bookstores in Bangkok..

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