Rosie’s One Day Tour of Ayutthaya
Laura’s sister Rosie had kindly given us a detailed itinerary of what to do in Ayutthaya. It was perfect, apart from one thing that we would suggest adding for future use.
We arrived at Bangkok’s central train station and got our 3rd class tickets for our 2 hours journey – the cost? Less than 50p each! George did a great job of saving four seats for us and we had a relaxing trip chatting and letting the countryside go by.
Rosie had advised us to get a Tuk-tuk for 4 hours and gave us an idea for the price. If we were fortunate, we’d get it for 200 baht per hour. We found a friendly driver, Pradmit, and had fun bargaining with him, even more so when he got a coin out and suggested we flip it for the final price. We won and got 4.5 hours for 900 baht. (We tipped him well later.)
So why did we decided to visit Ayutthaya for a day, apart from being included in the Lonely Planet’s top 500 places? The ruined Wats that the Burmese destroyed in 1767 was fascinating, but even more so to visit the city that used to be the capital for Siam from 1350 until the Burmese invasion. Before then it was an international trading hub and was one for the world’s largest cities with one million inhabitants, which is incredible, as there was probably only about 700 million in the whole world back then.
Pradmit showed us his suggested journey; however, we had Rosie’s itinerary and he was delighted to follow this.
Our first stop was at Wat Yai Chaimongkol, which was on the same side of the city as the station. The Wat is an active monastery and we saw quite a few monks walking around in their saffron robes. Originally King U-Thong built this for monks returning from being ordained in Sri Lanka.
We meandered around the grounds, and our focal point was to see the massive 60 m bell-shaped chedi. The steep stairs led us up into a small chamber where gold-leafed Buddha images were around the edge and in the centre was a deep excavated chamber, where relics were enshrined.
Luckily Laura had done her homework and knew that there was also a reclining Buddha image here. After searching around, we found a sign and spotted it in the remains of a temple. This long stone sculpture facing east towards the rising sun had a massive golden cloth draped over it. For a donation, you can pull another large piece of gold fabric over the reclining Buddha. We spotted a person behind the statue, aiding the material over with a huge stick.
It was lunchtime, so we went to Rosie’s recommended restaurant, and all had a delicious Pad Thai before Pradmit whisked us over the road for us to see the ruins of Wat Phra Mahathat.
I was looking forward to seeing this one as I had seen an iconic photo from this place. It is of a Buddha head that used to be part of a sandstone Buddha image. This had fallen off, landing by a Bodhi tree, and over time the roots entwined around the head. It lived up to my expectations and more.
The rest of the grounds reminded us of one of London’s gothic cemeteries but on a grander scale. The place must be an archaeologist’s dream with one of the oldest temples in Thailand, probably dating back to 555 AD. And one of the many relics here magically casts no shadow. Mmm...I think I missed that!
Back in the tuk-tuk, we drove around the corner to Wat Phra Si Sanphet, where we passed several elephants giving people rides. It is so sad to see them with chains around their necks and legs, separated from their herd with a man sitting aloft holding a spiked stick. Very sad indeed. As we climbed out of our cab, our lovely driver handed Tim a coconut shell. We were unsure why, until he pointed to an elephant walking towards us.
Tim walked towards the elephant, and this giant gentle creature squealed with delight. I wished we had a crate full of coconuts for the rest of the elephants. Perhaps that could be included in the itinerary.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet was part of the Royal Palace complex which many of the structures used to be for royalty only with ashes of the Ayutthaya kings housed in some of the large pagodas. It is said that it was the most beautiful of all temples in the capital and was used as a model for Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. Despite its lack of bling, like many of the temples in Bangkok, we collectively agreed that we preferred it here. It was more relaxed; the weathered stone was softer, more peaceful.
The last of our Wats was away from the centre, on the other side of the Chao Phraya river. This was Wat Chai Watthanaram which King Prasat Thong had built in 1630 in honour of his mother. It’s in a different design to the other Wats; in the Khmer architectural style influenced by Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
As we turned into the road, on the opposite side of the Wat were a few shops hiring traditional costumes, and we could see people of all ages dressed in these fineries. Ah, that is the thing Rosie’s tour omitted. What fun it would have been to dress up and walk around the ancient ruins. I’m not sure Tim and George would agree though.
What a day! But it didn’t finish here. On the way to our restaurant, Pradmit kindly took us on a detour to see some other Wats we have missed, including the giant Buddha reclining statue in Wat Lokayasutharam, luckily more intact compared to many of the relics we have seen here.
We said a fond farewell to our tuk-tuk driver; he really was one in a million. It is so nice to have someone go that extra mile, ensuring that his customers have a great experience. We loved his humour.
The riverbank restaurant, Baab Kun Pra, included on Rosie’s itinerary, was also delightful; Tim and I even had her recommended meal of soft-shell crab. Rosie did well, the whole day from start to finish was fabulous, and after our two-hour train journey back, we were all ready for a good night’s sleep.