Ayutthaya, or “the poor man’s Ankor Wat” (quote probably made up by me during hour 3 of dehydration and confusion in Ayutthaya) is a two-hour journey from Bangkok and a good day out if you like ancient ruins.
A little history for you – the city of Ayutthaya was founded in 1350 and was the second capital of Siam (after Sukhothai. Pretty sure Bangkok was below sea level at this point). Due to its location between China and India, at one point Ayutthaya was the trading capital of the world. By 1700 it was actually the largest city in the world, with a total of 1 million inhabitants. It was actually pretty multicultural city, with sections full of people from Japan, the Netherlands, India etc living there (you can visit the remains of these settlements today). All this was halted by the Burmese in 1767, when they invaded Ayutthaya and burnt the city almost down to the ground – apart from what still stands today (I’m not sure that the Thais have ever really gotten over this).
The ruins are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a easy-ish journey from Bangkok, so we decided to spend the day there.
Getting to Ayutthaya.
There are a few ways to get to Ayutthaya, but the one I’m going to focus on is the mini bus from Victory Monument. You can get to Victory Monument, Bangkok, on the Sky Train or by local bus (although you’ll need your bus map to work this out and it takes ages in the traffic).
Now, finding the actual minibus took us a long, long time. It turns out that nobody can actually speak English around these parts, nor understand a foreigner’s pronounciation of “Ayutthaya”. I beseech you, write down the full, Thai name for it and you’ll have a better shot:
It also turns out that most Thai people don’t really understand maps, at least not the “Western” version of maps on which every street is included and things are to scale – and, admittedly, when the street names are written in English. What this means is that you won’t get help by showing a local a map, saying “Ayutthaya” and miming a bus… not even in McDonalds. You’ll have to find it yourself.
I didn’t find the online guides to finding the minibus location very useful, so let me try to explain it this way. Looking at Victory Monument on a map, you’ve mainly got a massive roundabout. The traffic is busy so you need to cross the road via the overground walkways. The “segment” you want is the north-east, or 2 o’clock if you imagine it as a clock. If you find the McDonalds, which is on the road heading to the East, you’ll need to cross the road from there (which may have to be done with stairs) and find a little side-street. The side-street follows the same direction as the north-east portion of the roundabout, meaning it curves slightly. It’s just a little side-road with a few minibuses on it. One of them will have a man shouting “Ayutthaya”, hopefully, so you can follow his voice.
When you finally find the minibus, it’s a 60 baht (£1.50 or so at the time, more like £1 now according to xe.com!) ride and takes around two hours. The bus is air conditioned – just be advised that there won’t be space for massive bags and that they probably won’t stop for the toilet.
If you want to look into other ways of getting there:
We were dropped off outside a 7-11, where we failed to get directions or a good sense of where we were. Tuk-tuk drivers armed with photos of temples immediately started to hound us. I believe you can persuade them to drive you around all the temples for 100-200 baht. We were stingy and stubborn and armed with a map, so we decided to walk.
Don’t do it. Just get the damn tuk-tuk and spend the money. We got lost so many times. No matter how many times you think you’ve worked out the Lonely Planet map and are finally on the way to the temple ruins you want to see, you’ll end up somewhere completely different. We somehow managed to find our way around three temples, and back to the centre, but don’t ask me how we did it. If you want to be really bad-ass and hi-tech, you can now familiarise yourself with Ayutthaya before going on Google Street View. It’s actually all on there now, which is interesting!
A day pass, which gets you into every temple, is 220 baht, or it’s 50 per temple. If you think you’re going to get around 5 temples or more, then go for the day pass – but, if you’re new to South-East Asia, don’t forget that the heat can be quite unforgiving and that you may find yourself templed-out after two or three, longing for the sweet, cooling kiss of an air-conditioned room and an icy glass of water. We took some great photos, so enjoy.
There were plenty of places near the temples where you could freshen up with fresh coconut juice, or one of many interesting ice-cream flavours:
One of the most famous sights in Ayutthaya is the Buddha head surrounded by trees. The roots supposedly wrapped themselves around the head, making this a natural phenomenon. It is protected by rope and thought to be sacred:
There are also elephants walking around, on which tourists ride…
After a few hours of temple-walking, dehydrated and exhausted, we tried to find our way back. The tourist maps don’t help, with two “you are here” signs on completely different points (neither of which were true, we’re quite sure):
Taxi drivers also had no idea what our maps were when we tried to ask for directions. We finally found ourself on “Chikun alley”, which is near the centre and has a few restaurants. I’m ashamed to say that after a few hours all I wanted was food, water and cold air. These restaurants are “expensive” by Thai standards, meaning 80-100 baht (so £1.80 for rice and chicken), but they do the trick when nowhere else seemed to have food.
To get back to Bangkok, it’s a bit tricky – you need to walk along Narusaen road, I think, the main road back to where you were dropped off. Look out for white minivans. Ours was parked on the side of the road, with a man shouting “Bangkok!” – however, if this doesn’t happen, you can ask minibus drivers whether they’re going there. However, Bangkok is not “Bangkok” in Thai, it’s something like “krung-tep”. Easier, look out for this:
We returned to Bangkok on the minibus (another 60 baht) – it seemed to take forever as I really needed the toilet, but in reality it was probably around two hours.
That evening, we also decided to check out Patpong. Once again – don’t. It’s everything Thailand shouldn’t be – neon lights, seedy brothels unconvincingly masquerading as bars, market stalls so tightly packed you have to squeeze through hundreds of people with no spatial awareness while being offered everything in sight, the only option of avoiding this being to step into the motorbike frenzy that is the road. To make things more fun, Jeff’s blood sugar crashed at this point, leaving me to navigate him through a maze of chaos to the closest thing I could find to safety – which, tragically, was McDonalds. The good news is that Thai McDonalds has sweet chilli sauce on tap next to the ketchup and that their value menu items are about 40p per item.