Thanks to Queen Sirikit’s birthday, Robb and I got a 3-day weekend and we actually went somewhere! Our destination was Ayutthaya, the second capital of Siam way back when. We probably should’ve gone here on our first visits to Thailand, but somehow we decided now was the time… for me 10 years later (and for Robb 3 years).
We decided to go super cheap. We went by train and 3rd class. According to the Thai Railways website, it would only take 53 minutes! And who needs air conditioning when it’s only 34 degs C (93 degs F) and 82% humidity, right? The ticket was only 20THB (~$0.60 USD)!
The train was late by 30 minutes. The wait was acceptable. We could’ve gone to Bangkok’s main train station, Hua Lamphong, but we chose to head a little north to Bang Sue, a small, outdoor substation. By the time we got on, the train was packed.
We arrived in Ayutthaya by midday, sweaty and vowing to go back to Bangkok another way. Our homestay, Baan Are Gong, was a 5 minute walk from the train station and a 30 second walk to the river. Wanting to do something super touristy with minimal effort, we signed up for an evening boat trip for 180THB ($5.41).
First stop on the boat tour was Wat Phanan Choeng (วัดพนัญเชิง). This Buddhist temple was built in 1326 and is home to Luang Pho Tho (หลวงพ่อโต), a 19-meter tall gold Buddha. We were lucky to watch them change and fold away his gold robe. I can’t even image the bill to wash all that fabric! (20THB admission fee.)
Next was Wat Phutthaisawan, an active monastery that was built in 1353. The temple was likely built by the large number of enslaved Khmer inhabitants forcibly removed from Angkor to Ayutthaya at that time. Sadly, we didn’t have a lot of time to explore this temple. I would chalk it up as a bit weird with its dozens of chicken statues. A big plus for this place was that they had free cups of water! (Free admission!)
The final Wat Chaiwatthanaram (วัดไชยวัฒนาราม), built in 1630. Robb and I were less inclined to pay the 50THB fee to get in (as with a few others in our boat tour). So we sat outside and enjoyed the view from afar instead.
We nabbed the front seat for the 20 minute boat ride back to the homestay. We past a few tug boats and stilt houses, and the people on them actually waved when I waved! We ate street food and called it an early night as our nicely air-conditioned room was calling us.
After a somewhat sleepless night of creaky wooden floors, loud German neighbours and the constant sound of tugboats, we woke up ready to conquer as much of Ayutthaya as we could. We hired bicycles (with baskets) for 50THB per bike and we were off. We stopped at Wat Maha That (วัดมหาธาตุ) and tried to beat the rush of the Bangkok day-trippers. Nobody really knows when this temple was erected, but best guesses are around the 1350’s. The only reason why tourists go here is because of the Buddha head in the roots of a tree. We meandered around the vicinity until we saw the masses entering. (50THB entry fee.)
We had already hit our temple capacity by the fourth temple, so we cycled around the inner island before heading out.
One odd-ball museum we did find in Ayutthaya was the Baan Hollanda, a museum dedicated to the history of the Netherlands in Thailand. And this place was not easy to find! We had to bike through a dirt parking lot, into an unmarked dirt path with lots of abandoned boats. The road ended with a patch a grass and a sign.
Sometimes, I forget that the Netherlands was once a nation that had many lands outside of Europe. Robb acknowledges that his country’s past is something he’s not proud of, but he didn’t do it himself. It was just weird to see all these Dutch things in the middle of Thailand. After going through the exhibition of the Dutch’s sea-fearing days, we dined on Dutch delicacies like bitterballen and kroket… deep fried goodness.
One of Ayutthaya’s food specialties are kuay tiao ruea or boat noodles. Back in the city’s heyday, Chinese vendors plied the many canals selling bowls of rice noodles in pork broth tempered with roasted pig’s blood from the comfort of their wooden sampans. Today, these long and narrow rowboats remain, but they’re propped up and used as counter space at the boat noodle shops found all over town. We had our boat noodles at Krung Kao, a local joint. If we had pointed to the picture of the proper boat noodles, it would’ve been 15THB per bowl. Instead, we got boat noodles with meat, which set us back 40THB per bowl. Deceiving, yes. But still very delicious.
With the midday heat, we decided to head back home to Bangkok. Since we had to go back to our homestay to pick up our things, it was easiest to go back by train. The way to Bangkok wasn’t so bad. We had a small taste of the air-conditioned 2nd class before we were kicked out to 3rd class. But we had space and all the windows were open.
In theory, we could’ve done Ayutthaya in a day, but it would’ve been a very long day. Take your time here as the heat in the central part of Thailand can really get you. Finally, we can knock Ayutthaya off our list. Now, we have to wait for our next 3-day weekend… in October… (sadness…)