Day 31: Ayutthaya, Thailand

by - May 30, 2011

The day pretty much carried straight on from yesterday, as I arrived at about 9am and went straight to my hostel.  I had decided to make the most of my membership to Hostelling International in Chiang Mai by staying in one of their hostels and I followed suit in Ayutthaya.  My hostel was on the edge of town a little bit, but this was more than compensated for by the fact that it was a lovely family home run by a some really friendly and welcoming people.  I only had one night in the city, so after getting rid of my bag, I got walking.  It would be best to get around on a bicycle, but having had such a bad night’s sleep I didn’t trust my hazard perception and reaction times enough.  It’s a small place though, so I wasn’t majorly inconvenienced.

Ruins at Ayutthaya

I am wary of my blog falling into a ‘got up, saw temples, had dinner, went to bed’ cycle, but I’m afraid that’s how the start of the day played out.  Ayutthaya was the ancient capital of Thailand before it was sacked by the Burmese and replaced by Bangkok.  It was once a prosperous trading city, as it is built on an island at the confluence of three rivers.  Prosperity brought temples and palaces with it and at its peak it could perhaps have rivalled Angkor Wat.  Unfortunately after being sacked and abandoned it fell into a state of disrepair that makes it seem a lot older than Angkor, despite being several centuries younger.  What remains is impressive nonetheless, stripped, as the temples are, to the brickwork that used to lie under the impressive white and gold facades.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet
 In order to fully appreciate the city, I started by visiting the 'Historical Study Centre’.  This was relatively pricey, but was set out really well with enough displays to be educational, but not so many that there is an information overload.  Armed with a bit of ancient Thai history, I felt ready to hit my first temple - Wat Phra Si Sanphet, which is located within the old grand palace compound.  Its outstanding feature is the row of three tall, fairly intract, stupas that run through the middle of it.  Aside from the stupas it is difficult to imagine its former glory, as the rows of decapitated Buddhas testify.  There was a modern temple next door with a huge Buddha inside, but (and I know this sounds pretty uncultured) I didn’t take notice of its name because it wasn’t particularly interesting.  Ayutthaya is allll about the ruins.

Godzilla (golden eagle to the right for sense of scale)
 My intention was to then walk through the park in the centre of town towards my next temple.  This plan was curtailed somewhat as, strolling happily along the footpath, I watched as a MASSIVE lizard crawled out of the long grass in front of me.  When I say massive, I mean going on a metre long.  I turned back and decide to go around - it was a bit 'Singapore Day 3’ to tempt fate by walking past it.  As an as aside, when I got back to the hostel later in the evening I showed the owner my photo of it and he told me that Thais regularly catch and eat such creatures.  As to whether it would have eaten me, he declined to comment.  My detour around the park had thrown me off a bit and I therefore changed the next priority to finding somewhere to eat.  I fancied a pizza and after an extensive search I found a place that served surprisingly tasty 'crab and pineapple’ pizzas.  By this stage of my day the previous night was beginning to catch up with me, so I went back to the hostel for a quick power nap.  It wasn’t the last of my exploring for the day though, as I had booked a boat trip around the rivers surrounding the city.

Wat Chai Wattanaram, Attahuya

This boat trip was very cheap and was a really relaxing way to end the day.  It did a loop of the river that surrounds the city and stopped off at three temples: Wat Phanan Choeng, Wat Phuttaisawan and Wat Chai Wattanaram.  The first two of these were modern temples that were interesting, but didn’t have any features that I hadn’t seen before.  The latter was very cool as it was the last place we saw as the sun started to go down.  I also think that we managed to dodge the entrance fee by arriving from the riverside, which was an added bonus.  I had met a dutch girl on the boat who was travelling by herself, so I had a drink with her before heading back to the hostel for a VERY early night - I am talking about 7.30.  This plan couldn’t have been anymore sidetracked however when I arrived back.  The owner of the hostel was just sitting down to dinner and very kindly asked me and a German guy called Sven who I had met, to join them.  The food was very good and better than the packet of crisps that I had designated as my evening meal.  As we talked, it became clear that the owner was a Man United fan and with it being Champions League night he wanted me and Sven to watch with him.  Unfortunately for me the game started at 1.45am and finished at 3.30am.  It seemed like the cultural thing to do, but it meant that I ended up going to sleep about 8 hours after I had intended.  The late night, and watching United lose, was all worth it to hear Sven, who supported United, conclude at the final whistle that 'at least our countries have an economy and can produce cucumbers’.  One of the most amusing one liners I have ever heard.

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