After spending some time in Bangkok we decided to start the journey up to Chiang Mai with a 6 hour stop in the old capital city of Ayutthaya. 650 years ago this was the seat of power for Siam. It lasted for about 400 years, and now much of the city is in ruins after an invading Burma army destroyed the city in 1767. It’s still an amazing place to explore and learn about its history.
We packed our huge bags, checked out of our hostel (Lub.D), and waited at a bus stop because neither of us had tried the city buses yet. After waiting for a good 25 minutes for a bus that was supposed to come every 11 minutes we hailed a taxi and asked to go to the train station. He said 100 baht; he capitulated after we both demanded the meter be turned on, and it ended up being only 45 baht. We bought our ticket to Ayutthaya in third class for 40 baht and then our sleeper car ticket to Chiang Mai for 796 baht (around $27). When we asked which train to get on the uniformed agent said car 1, 2, 3 as he pointed at each. We thought he meant 1, 2, OR 3, but what he actually meant was 1, 2, THEN 3. So after settling into our comfortable second-class seats and remarking what a good deal it was we were told that we had to move to third class which consisted of non-reclining seats that were nothing more than thinly covered pieces of wood. But it was only 40 baht for a two hour train ride…or roughly $1.30. I wish Europe’s trains were this affordable!
There were food vendors roaming the aisles constantly calling out what they had to offer. I noticed a peculiar type of food I had seen online when researching Thai food which was called Roti Sai Mai. It’s a mix between a crepe, a taco, and cotton candy. There are two parts: a green crepe-looking thing and then a bag of stringy cotton-candy-tasting strands. You put the wispy strands on the crepe and then roll it up and eat it like a taco. I had a few of them but then gave away the rest just because it was so sweet and there was just too much!
We had talked about either renting a Tuk Tuk to take us around or renting bicycles. But as soon as we got off the train we were approached by this very outgoing, friendly driver who showed us all sorts of written testimonials about how good he was. He also appeared to want to negotiate. Brian and I arranged our daypacks and took all of the really valuable things with us which meant I was hauling around my computer, iPad, camera, tripod, passport, money, and water. We then stowed the bags in the stations cloakroom for 10 baht a bag. Extremely reasonable and it seemed quite secure (it ended up being true too).
Our Tuk Tuk driver showed us a card that said the standard rate was 200 baht/hour. We had 4 hours and he said he would take us to four different sights and had pictures to show us what we could expect. He wanted 800 baht, but we negotiated down to 500 which was only a little over $4/person/hour. Not bad for hiring a dedicated driver for the afternoon.
We actually went to see five different temples as well as an elephant camp, but the last two temples were after dark and thus had already closed.
Our first stop was Wat Phanan Choeng which has a 19 meter high seated Buddha that towers over people. Apparently this Buddha pre-dated the city itself. People still come to pay their respects/worship and there are all kins of candles and gifts available to buy and donate. It’s interesting how many tourist sites also overlap with religious sites here. I couldn’t even imagine having tourists in America come to churches and synagogues to take pictures.
Next up was Wat Yai Chai Mongkolthe. It was built in 1357 and has a huge Chedi which you can scale to see the Buddha statues inside. The compound is huge and there are statues all along the perimeter each wearing a yellow sarong that billows in the wind.
It also has a large reclining Buddha outside where people leave offerings ranging from an opened Coke with a stray to a lit candle.
Just as we were about to leave a procession of monks came and started walking up the Chedi to (I assume) pay their respects. Naturally I couldn’t contain the photographer inside myself and had to take a shot! What can I say? Monks and temples just go together so well 😉
Our Tuk Tuk driver asked us if we wanted to see elephants; he promised they were free to see and take pictures. But as soon as he dropped us off he told us he had to run across the street to pickup a few things for his wife and he would be back in 30 minutes. A woman then came up to us and said there was a 50 baht “camera license” fee if we wanted to take pictures. Initially I was hesitant because I didn’t want to be ripped off. But I saw it posted somewhere which magically assuaged that fear and really that’s less than $2 USD. It’s amazing how quickly you adjust to the local currency and get upset over amounts that would normally be trivial. I do think that in western culture we come to expect prices to be set whereas here every trade is a negotiation; it probably means they capture much more of a producer surplus since they use really effective price discrimination, but I’m going off on a tangent and could do an entire blog post on this! Once I saw how happy one of the elephants looked I knew I had made the right decision. Maybe it’s just me, but I think the elephant below is smiling for her close-up! No makeup needed; she’s naturally beautiful.
They even had a baby elephant that had just been born 2 weeks prior. It was the cutest thing ever: it would play with its food even though it couldn’t yet eat anything other than it’s mother’s milk. I took a lot of pictures and noticed the sun was starting to set. If you’ve ever traveled with me you know I get anxious as the sun is setting because I know there’s going to be a very small window where the light is perfect and all too often I’m trapped somewhere with a view isn’t quite right for sunset.
Luckily our driver picked us up right on time and as we headed to our next venue we got to see numerous elephants marching through the city presumably at the end of their “work-day”. Although it happened too fast for me to snap a pic, my favorite part of the whole “elephant parade” was seeing a young mahout dressed as a monk on the back of an elephant listening to an iPod while it was marching slowly down the street. And by listening I mean jammin’. And my jammin’ I mean he was dancing on the back of the elephant!
After a 10 minute drive we arrived at Wat Mahathat. These ruins are interesting in and of themselves because they’re some of the largest in the city. But I think most people come here just to see the head of Buddha in the tree. Nobody knows exactly how this happened…was it planned or did it happen naturally?
After stopping at a gas station to fill up the Tuk Tuk and then to 7-11 for us to pickup water we were off to Wat Chai Watthanaram which was built in 1630. There was a full moon and it was a cloudy night. Even though we didn’t get to go inside the grounds it was still really cool to see the entire thing illuminated. A tad eerie too.
By the time we got to the last temple it was completely dark and we were both “Watted Out”. I didn’t even take any pictures of it because they just wouldn’t have turned out well. Instead we were both keen to take our driver up on the offer to bring us to get food.
We had expected street food, but it ended up being a much nicer place. That means it was also twice as expensive as street food would have been, but we decided to go anyway because it gave us a chance to sit down in the AC, use a real bathroom without having to pay separately, and we figured he likely got some free food for brining us there (which he did). I had the Tom Ka soup (which I was corrected and told that it’s pronounced with a long “o” sound…think how you would pronounce tome: Tome Ka. It was okay, but they put in this spicy red sauce which I prefer to have it without as it’s much more milky and creamy than it is hot and spicy. We also each had a Thai iced tea that was the best I’ve ever had. I’m planning on doing a whole “Thai food” post, so I’ll save the pictures for that one. For now you will have to just imagine!
We then went back to the train station and of course the Tuk Tuk driver wanted more money than we had originally bargained for. After settling with him we got our bags and took our seats. I decided to use the bathroom which cost 3 baht. I took my baby wipes because Brian told me that they didn’t have TP. Paying to use a bathroom is something that is fundamentally difficult for most Americans (including me) to accept. But it’s a normal part of culture in Europe and Africa. Normally when you pay it’s to a bathroom attendant that’s responsible for cleaning the bathrooms. Not so here! You pay this boy who sits outside watching TV…and then you enter the bathrooms which were a complete disaster. I’m going to assume that the floors was just really muddy. Yeah, let’s assume for the sake of my sanity that it was just mud. There was only one toilet that had a throne. All the others were squat toilets. I usually am culturally curious and adventurous, but when it comes to gross bathroom I just wasn’t able to convince myself to try a squat toilet. Maybe next time. Sorry for the crappy tangent :/
While we were waiting for our train there was this small boy who was running all over the place; when he saw I was playing a game on my iPad he wasted no time in coming right over and jumping in between my arms to watch the Monopoly domination that was happening. He literally got on the floor and crawled in-between my arms! It was somewhat awkward, but funny that he did that just the same.
The train was about 30 minutes late, but we quickly got on board and found our cozy little sleeper beds. After securing my valuable stuff in bed with me I went straight to sleep. It wasn’t bad at all…a tad lumpy and a bit noisy and jerky, but overall I slept really well. It took me about an hour to write the initial draft for this journal, and I was loading all of my photos as I typed. So with a few hours left until we get to Chiang Mai I’ll edit yesterday’s photos. Have a great day with your own adventure!
Editor’s Note: It’s my goal to do a city review for each one that I visit along this trip…but I skipped Bangkok because I’ll be going back there before the trip ends. I may decide not to wait, so I apologize in advance for skipping out of chronological order. Once I’m back in the States I’ll do a summary post that links to all the posts in the correct order, but for now I like to share the things I’m most excited about as I have time!
Traveler’s Note: If I were doing this again I wouldn’t try to do it in one afternoon; I’d give myself at least a full day here and likely would spend the night so that I could get to more of the temples. I think we did the highlights, but as always there’s a lot more to see!