12 April 2010
The last full day in Bangkok was spent exploring Ayutthaya. The city which was founded in the 13th century was the second capital of Siam (ancient name for Thailand). The ideal location (close proximity to India, China and the Malayan archipelago) made it a financial powerhouse in Asia during its glory days in the 17th century. Records have it that the 1700s, the population of the city has swelled to a million; this made Ayutthaya the largest city in the world in terms of people. All of this glory and grandeur came to a halt when the Burmese invaded the city in 1767 and subsequently burned it down.
Today, this city is a popular day-trip destination from Bangkok. Remnants of temples, palaces and Buddha statues still exist for tourist to get a glimpse of the glorious past of the city. UNESCO formally recognizes the great cultural value of the ancient city’s ruins when it named Ayutthaya as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.
A lot of travel agencies offer day tours going to Ayutthaya; they usually charge something like at least 1,000 BHT. We did it much cheaper by doing a DIY trip. At around 5:30 that morning, we headed out of our hostel and headed to Hualamphong Train Station where we will be taking a 3rd class train going to Ayutthaya. The ticket costing just 20 BHT was the best way to see the countryside near the outskirt of the city. Apart from being dirt cheap, it was a great way to get a glimpse of the life of ordinary Thais. The ride had multiple stops along the way and about an hour later, we arrived in our stop.
From the train station, we walked around two hundred meters to reach the riverbanks. A boat was there to ferry people to and from the main island of Ayutthaya (where the ruins are found) – this is not free but you only pay around 5 BHT for the two minute crossing.
Across the river, there were several guesthouses that offered bikes for rental. In Ayutthaya, a good way of exploring the place is to rent a bike and just roam around with your map – not on that day though, we gave up on the biking option as then temperature was probably in the mid 30’s (Celsius). A friendly songthaew driver approached us and offered his service at 400 BHT/hour, I was able to haggle it down to 1,000 BHT for a four hour excursion.
We then started our brief Ayutthaya excursion; I could not exactly remember the names of the temples we visited except for Wat Phra Mahathat in which the famous tree that grew around a Buddha head can be found. It was not too spectacular but I was glad to have finally seen in person the artifact which I always associate Ayutthaya with.
The temples have individual entrance fees (although some are free as well) for foreigners, this ranges from 20-50 BHT per person. If you can pass for a local, you might be able to get in for free. Coming from someone who has been to Siem Reap twice, the ruins in Ayutthaya was not so spectacular anymore. It is more or less, “same same but different”
The temperature did not cooperate; in fact it became even hotter after we visited Wat Phra Mahathat. It was then that we decided to head back to Bangkok. Luckily there was a bus that goes straight to the Mochit Terminal in Bangkok; the fare was less than 100 BHT. We paid for it and grabbed the last two remaining seats. I could not remember how long the ride took as I was already asleep as soon as I sat on the air-conditioned bus and only woke up when we arrived in our destination.
Ayutthaya is a stunning place to visit if you want see what was left of the ancient Siam capital. However, the place may not have a huge awe-impact to you if you have previously visited Angkor Wat in Cambodia previously. My suggestion is that if you have a limited time and you have previously visited (or is planning to visit) Siem Reap, skip Ayutthaya and look for other options to do while in Bangkok. Otherwise, go ahead and visit Ayutthaya and do not miss Wat Phra Mahathat. If you plan to do it on the cheap, it would be best to have at least four people in the group so as to share expenses should you ever want to hire a songthaew or tuktuk.