If you are from any big capital city, chances are you will find the city of Bangkok quite run of the mill. After a quick cursory visit in the city’s modern temples, and after imbibing in its exciting street food culture, Bangkok can be quite just like any other big metropolis in the world, with its tall glimmering buildings and congested city streets. If you are looking for a quick break from the city’s bustle, you are in luck because an ancient city of temple ruins, elephants, and charming villages is just two hours away..
Sometime last year, I was in Bangkok for a wedding but I had plenty of time to go around the city before and after the ceremonies. I purposely wanted to explore the city because it is truly one of those places in Southeast Asia where you can stretch your budget if you are traveling with shoestring funds – the food, the accommodations, and the means of going around could be anywhere near like living in Manila. One weekend, I decided to take a daytrip to Ayutthaya which is one of Thailand’s more important cities. It is an interesting little town not too far from the bustle of the big city, but here, you feel like you are in a time warp of sorts, with its ancient temple ruins and significantly slower pace.
There are many ways to reach Ayutthaya from Bangkok, but one of the most immersive ways to travel to the ancient city is through Thailand’s railway. It is but a two hour trip, so it is not as tiring. There is not much scenery heading out of the city, as the sprawl of Bangkok reaches far out, and hence, you see nothing but industrial parks and construction areas.
If one were to opt for the train, it is important to be at Hua Lamphong’s train terminus early in the morning as one of the first trips leave at around 6AM. The train ticket is dirt cheap at TBH20, and one can take a spot in one of the train’s cars. The train cars are especially reserved for Thai citizens, though, so if there is a squeeze and the train gets crowded, you must give up your seat to a Thai person.
Upon alighting in Ayutthaya’s railway junction, there is a small alley that leads to the side of the river, where you can catch a boat to the other side. Ayutthaya is separated from the main train station by a small river, and one surefire way for tourists to get ripped off on the way to the ancient city is by hailing one of the tuktuks that will take you on the bridge and into the old town. The rates could go as high a THB200 per person, which is not really worth the trip, as the alternative would be to pay THB5 to cross the river on a small rickety boat. The whole trip takes 5 minutes.
One excellent way to get around Ayutthaya is to rent a bike. The bike rental fees are ridiculously cheap. I paid THB100 for an entire day’s worth of going around. I was able to find a bike rental not very far from the river crossing, and so I left my Passport and a security deposit, and off I went with my bike. I was now mobile in this city of ancient temples and ruins.
One note on how to economize your daytrip: the temple admission fees are THB50 per temple. You can, however, save a whole lot money by buying a THB200 temple pass, which will allow you to see most of the interesting major temples, stupas, and wats in the old town. It also saves you the trouble of having to queue for tickets every time you want to go into a temple complex.
By biking around, you will get to see the wonders of Ayutthaya, which was once the capital of Thailand’s kingdom. The ruins that you see in the city are a result of the sack of Burmese invaders.
One of the more interesting temples boasts of a Buddha statue head that is entangled in the roots of a bodhi tree. This is considered a holy pilgrimate sites by some Buddhists, and therefore, one must observe courtesy and decorum especially since the temple guards remind people not to complete turn one’s back to the statue. You cannot also take photos with your head higher than the statue, that’s why most of the people who take photos with the Buddha head do it either sitting down or squatting in front of the shrine.
Most of the temple complexes are quite but some of them can also get quite crowded. You can literally take your time and take as long as you can visiting these temples, which is a treat because it has a lot to offer for everyone. If you are interested in photography, there are some remarkable places to do a photo walk in. If you like history, you can book one of the walking tour guides. Else, you can always rely on good old Google and find your way around.
Disclaimer: I personally do not support the use of animals like elephants for entertainment, so I do not endorse the unethical practice of going on an elephant ride. If you do so, however, please pick the, shall I say, lesser evil, and go for the companies that do not use bullhooks to tame their elephants. Do your research and ask for the more humane companies, although I must say it is better to just avoid it altogether.
Ayutthaya can get quite hot. Thankfully, there are places around the city where you can tuck in for a bit and get a glass of ice cold iced Thai tea.
it is quite pleasant cycling around town, as there are dedicated bike lanes that have a canopy of trees above them. You are shaded from the harsh sun, which could get quite intense during the day. You must remember to rehydrate or to rest so as not to fall exhausted from all of the temple hopping and walking around.
Ayutthaya was a significant side trip for me because it added one more UNESCO World Heritage Site to my list. Apart from being a beautiful and historic place, what I love about Ayutthaya is the peace that it offers away from the hustle of Bangkok, which can get quite overwhelming.
I traveled to Ayutthaya solo, but I also met a few American travelers along the way who became my Instagram friends. I enjoyed traveling solo because I was in control of how much I wanted to see or do. Ayutthaya is quite massive, and there are simply too many temples that it only is fun in the first few hours. After a while, the extreme heat got tiring and I conceded that I was never going to visit every single monument or ruin. After catching a few hydration breaks and meals at some cafes or hole in the wall food places, I went around and biked some more until it was time to catch a passenger van back to Bangkok.