The ancient ruins of Ayutthaya
This is the right train, it has to be; maybe running a little late on departure but it’s definitely the right platform, I thought, as if trying to convince my wavering confidence. I think I’ll ask someone just in case. I glanced around the cabin in search of re-assurance until finally locking in on some old man sitting across from me. “This train Ayutthaya?” I asked in broken English – It’s funny broken English because we use it to make us better understood – or so I think – yet it prevents the receiver from understanding the correct way of say things, leaving us quite unfortunately sounding like idiots on foreign plains. Anyway, the stutter of Thai responses left me none the wiser yet his nodding sideways of the head told me all I needed to know – thank god we have this universal communication present in the world. I searched the platform for further assistance, and was soon informed by one of the conductors that it was the next train I needed to catch. Another glance at my watch, and the penny had dropped. I had somehow mistaken 12:55 for 11:55, D’oh! I wonder where that journey would’ve taken me.
Travelling by train is extremely cheap if you travel third class. The journey was just over an hour, and the ticket cost fifteen baht which is about thirty pence. The only differences in third class are the comfort of the seat, and the lack of air-con, but who needs air-con when you can stick your head out the window! Instead of sandwiches and hot drinks coming down the aisle, it was rice and chicken, or spicy pork balls. I even bought an iced vanilla milkshake straight out of the window whilst stopped at a station, how cool is that! The train chugged away pulling us through many small villages. Stilted bamboo huts stood decorating the river banks whilst farmer’s fields blew smoke to the sky, burning in preparation for the newly planted crops.
I jumped off the train in Ayutthaya, dodging around the Tuk Tuk drivers, as I bordered a funky boat across the river towards a cluster of hotels, in search of my first paid accommodation. My first impression of Ayutthaya was that it looked like any other small town – I wonder where the ruins are hiding amongst this urban chaos. It didn’t take me long to find accommodation; I was staying in a place called Good Luck Travel which was kind of cute, and for two hundred baht I got a double bed with a fan, and an old wooden desk with a comfy chair – they must have known I was a writer.
As the town prepared for Chinese New Year my rumbling stomach homed in on the food stalls bordering the edge of town. I stood in line at what appeared to be a popular stall, and ended up buying a bag of green curry. Great, I thought, all I need now is a bowl, a spoon, and maybe even some rice. I wondered around the stalls – under the watchful eyes of the locals – trying to pluck up the courage to ask some other vendor to use one of their bowls. I approached a friendly looking women, “Me no bowl” I said with a sorry look on my face. She ushered me to sit, and I was soon tucking into my yummy green curry accompanied by white rice which she seemed to pluck out of thin air. As I reached for my pocket to pay she insisted it was free. What a nice gesture I tough, if only they could’ve been more like that in Morocco.
That night I wondered around the festivities watching the likes of young boys being catapulted up on a stick towards the face of a huge dragon shooting firecrackers from its mouth – I have it on video! I also got to taste some milk tea with little jelly bits in. The bits shoot up the straw when you least expect it, and nearly choke you half to death mid-gulp.
The next morning I set off early to go and explore the ancient ruins. As they are spread out all around the town, the best way to see them all was to rent a bicycle, so that’s what I did. The old bicycle fared well to my energetic pace, and we soon became friends on our urban adventure. I say urban adventure because that’s what it was; a lot of the ruins were situated alongside the road, or down a back street. Although the beeping of horns and the roaring of motorcycles did little but lessen the ancient feel to the sites, the ruins themselves were fascinating. My favourite ruin was Wat Chaiwatthanaram. As the most commonly photographed place to represent Ayutthaya on postcards and the like, it was clearly no surprise. Being located just outside of town gave it a much quieter location, and the size of the ruin, coupled with its intricate design – very much still in place – held it nothing short of stunning, well worthy of its place as a world heritage site.
With my particular liking to cycling, I took the bike eight kilometers past Wat Chaiwatthanaram until the road came to an end. It was like the scene in Forrest Gump when he suddenly stops running, “I think I’ll go home now”. On the way back I stopped at a local village market much to the surprise of everyone around me – tourists definitely didn’t come this far out of town. I tasted some delicious crepe which was filled with what looked like cream and grated fruit, and then haggled for a pair of nail clippers to add to my toiletries collection.
I was pretty tired that evening so decided to just relax, and plan my journey for the next morning. I had decided to continue a little north to the old town of Lopburi which was sort of like Ayutthaya’s little brother back in its time. I’ve heard that a large group of monkeys have took siege of the town – much like Planet of the Apes – I wonder if any of them fancy a job on security at Mumbai Airport?!
Well guys, that’s about it for now. See you all real soon for another update on my travels around Thailand.
Lots of love, Jonathan x
Backpackers Tips and Advice
Good Luck Travel is across from Tony’s place; the woman who runs it is really helpful. There is also a place called Smile on the same road which I used for Internet, they have rooms too, and the place looks pretty clean.
The best way to see the town is to rent a bicycle which costs forty baht – most guesthouses rent them out. It’s best to rent them after crossing the river; otherwise you will have to pay extra to take the bike onto the boat each time you want to cross.
Accommodation is supposedly cheaper in the old town – where I stayed. To get to the old town you need to come out of the train station, walk straight ahead down the road, and cross the river on a boat which costs four baht.
Try and get hold of the train timetable so you can plan your trip more efficiently. You can save a lot of money by not taking express trains, and travelling third class.