Bangkok Day 4 (21 Dec 09) – The Ancient Capital of Ayutthaya

When I started planning for this trip to Bangkok, I accidentally browsed through this webpage that was introducing Ayutthaya. My first knowledge for Ayutthaya was it was a city of ruins and rich history contents. Immediately I marked Ayutthaya as one of the places that I wanted to visit when I come to Bangkok. Now a little bit about Ayutthaya, it is a city located about 76km north of Bangkok. It was the first Capital of Thailand before the capital was shifted to the current location at Bangkok. it was founded in 1351 and rose rapidly by exploiting the expanding trade routes between India and China. The prosperity of the city lasted for around 400 years when the Burmese attacked this city, taking tens of thousands of people and thus the city was abandoned to the jungles. As I researched more about Ayutthaya, the more I wanted to visit this place. There are 2 methods of coming to Ayutthaya (other than driving a car), namely via bus and train. For the fun of it, I decided to go by train. It is a good thing that Hua Lumpong Train station is right next to the MRT station, getting there is a breeze. I missed the 2nd train again, so had to take the next train at 9.25am. This train has only 3rd class seats, meaning no aircon, and free seating. Well it was an experience anyways, and the fare only cost 15 baht (around 60 cents, how cheap was that). Along the way, the train stopped at a few stations, then this local couple boarded the train and sat opposite me. As the conductor was checking tickets, he told the couple to remind me when to alight the train. When the train pulled on the station, the couple did what they were told despite I know this was the station I needed to alight). However the couple did more then they asked for. They asked what I wanted to see, and I told them I needed to get a bike and cycle around to see the ruins, they guided me to the pier, across the river and even paid for my boat fare cross the river!! How nice! They then told me to get a bike from any of the shops along the street (which I found out at the end of the day, this was a better option then what was recommended in the guidebook). I rented a bike and start riding it out into the town. First I had to orientate myself. Din managed to see any ruins as I was riding, I had expected to see lots of ruins by the pier, near the train stations, etc etc. However as I was cycling towards what the map pointed me to a ruin, I bumped into a deserted, yet unmarked ruin. This was the first ruin I came across in Ayutthaya, this ruin looks like a small shrine or temple. Totally unmarked and out of sight, it seemed that this forgotten ruin was only seen by few tourists. As I was riding along the street, I saw 2 ruins, side by side. My aim was to look for the entrance, which was not exactly visible on the street I was cycling. As I cycled, I saw this door left ajar, which was apparently the back door of one of the ruins. I realized this is Wat Mahathat. There are a number of pagodas and some ruin structure, looks like throughout the years, and nature has taken over the temple grounds. The structure was magnificent, I can imagine how big the temple was when it was at its peak by merely walking through the ruins. I did what most tourists did at the ruins, took some pictures and started to head to the next ruin.

Inside Hua Lumpong Train Station
On my way to Ayutthaya
Arrival at Ayutthaya Train Station
A different type of Tuk Tuk
This is the boat that ferry us across to the island
Unmarked temple
Looks like someone managed to assemble the Buddha head
Entrance of Wat Maha That
Ruins of Wat Maha That
Ruins of Wat Maha That
Ruins of Wat Maha That
Ruins of Wat Maha That
Ruins of Wat Maha That
Ruins of Wat Maha That
Ruins of Wat Maha That
Ruins of Wat Maha That

Din take long for me to get to the next ruin. It was situated just next to Wat Mahathat. This time round I cycled and enter by the front. As I parked my bike and was heading into Wat Ratchaburana, this Thai guy stopped me and spoke in Thai. Well my Thai was not that good enough to understand what exactly he was talking about, so I gave him that blank look. He immediately spoke in broken English (just like how my Thai is broken) and told me to pay for entrance. Now the ticket booth for these ruins are not exactly what you would find in Singapore, it is just a small pavilion structure with some locals sitting inside awaiting for tourists to pay up. There isn’t any signs pointing to the ticketing booth. Then I realized that I NEED to pay for each ruin I visited, including Wat Mahathat, opps….. I din pay for that when I barged in via the back gate (phew saved 50 baht). So I paid up and entered into the ruins. It was as magnificent as Wat Mahathat, given the 2 ruins are about the same size, with similar structure. This Wat however has a main pagoda right in the centre, which added to its grandeur and differentiates it from Wat Mahathat. History has it that this wat was built by one of the Thai kings to cremate his 2 brothers who were killed while engaging in a elephant back combat, he later added a Wihan and converted it into a monastery. The pagoda wasn’t really that high, say about 3 storeys high, but it is high enough to enjoy the breeze that blew through the area. Not too bad, it also has some damaged Buddha images throughout the temple, makes me wonder why the Burmese has to wreck their temples……. Took some photos as well and planned for my next destination.

Wat Ratchanurana Entrance
Ruins of Wat Ratchanurana
Ruins of Wat Ratchanurana
Ruins of Wat Ratchanurana
Ruins of Wat Ratchanurana
Ruins of Wat Ratchanurana
Ruins of Wat Ratchanurana
Ruins of Wat Ratchanurana
Ruins of Wat Ratchanurana
Ruins of Wat Thammikkarat

Well the journey to my next few destinations are interesting ones. I needed to cycle outside of the main Ayutthaya city to get there. As I was trying to orientate myself (which I got lost), I came by this rather small wat which was not marked on the map I was traveling with. This Wat Chao Ya (which laterally means grandmother’s temple) was split into 2 sections, cutting through by the main road. The interesting thing about this temple was that there were no records when it was being built, however the Thais believed that this was one of the first temples to be built in the early Ayutthaya period (before AD 1350). This temple has a small pagoda up at the front and a 2 floor building.

Ruins of Wat Chao Ya
Ruins of Wat Chao Ya

After taking some photos of Wat Chao Ya, I headed back towards Ayutthaya and made a right turn before the road towards Ayutthaya. As I was cycling, another Wat popped up, Wat Cheong Tha. This Wat has a rather unusual purpose, it was believed that this Wat was built by a millionaire, whose daughter eloped with another guy. The millionaire loved his daughter so much that he built a bridal house for her and was prepared to forgave and gave them his blessings should they return to him. As the years went by his daughter never came back, so the millionaire built a temple and dedicated the bridal house.

Ruins of Wat Cheong Tha
Ruins of Wat Cheong Tha
Ruins of Wat Cheong Tha

After Wat Cheong Tha, I began my wild cycling trip towards Wat Tum. Now this Wat Tum was located rather far outside Ayutthaya, about 10 kms. It came as a challenge to me as I read while researching on the internet that this temple is rather unique, and when I was asking the guy at the bike renting shop about this temple, he told me it is very far and would not be possible to cycle there. Then I thought to myself “oh yeah? Or are you trying to con me into engaging your tuk-tuk services?”. So I made the trip partially to proof that this guy was wrong. As I was cycling towards Wat Tum, I passed by the monument of King Narusuan, one of the greatest king in Thai history. At first I wanted to turn in and take a look, then as I was cycling near the turn into the monument, I thought “might as well go to Wat Tum first, I am gonna head down this way later on when I return to Ayutthaya anyways”. So I headed straight towards Wat Tum. The cycling trip there, to me, was a crazy one. Not only the distance was far, I was actually cycling along the highway. Luckily the traffic density on this part of the highway was not heavy, plus the fact that the Thais are rather considerate drivers, who would try to avoid (not mentioning their great patience) towards cyclists (even when I was cycling opposing the traffic). Another factor that made cycling along the highway (and in fact along the roads of Ayutthaya as well) was that there seem to be a dividing road shoulder lane used only by cyclists and motorcycles, cycling within this zone was actually quite safe and the cars will not drive into this lane anyhow. So getting back, after about 45 mins of cycling, I reached Wat Tum. This is not a ruin, but a proper temple by itself. The colorfulness of the temple kinda differentiates it from the other temples. It also has a white pagoda in front of the main monastery. After taking some photos, I was ready to head back towards Ayutthaya.

The white coloured Wat Tum
Wat Tum
Wat Tum
Wat Tum

My next stop was Monument of King Narusuan. This was essentially a statue of the king on his horse which portrayed his victory from war. Beneath this statue, the locals made a small altar for the purpose of worshiping him. What was really really strange about this place was the fact that there are a lot of chicken statues throughout and around the main monument. Not too sure why the chicken and what is there relationship between him and the chicken. There wasn’t anything around that explains this point. Anyhoo, there was a Wat just behind this statue, Wat Phu Kao Thong. This wat was built in 1387 AD, and then later a king added some Burmese flavor to it in 1569 AD. The wat was surrounded by a small waterway and has a really high pagoda, and that was the only structure of this wat. Much of it remains intact and untouched by the Burmese during their invasion into Ayutthaya. This is so probably due to its link with the Burmese. As I climbed onto the wat, at the main deck, I saw this monk sitting up on the wat reading some sutras, the view up there was nice and breezy. What a place to do studying!! So it is time for me to head back to Ayutthaya again. My next stop was the grand palace.

Statue of King Narusuan
Statue of King Narusuan
Ruins of Wat Phu Khao Theong
Ruins of Wat Phu Khao Theong
Ruins of Wat Phu Khao Theong
View from Wat Phu Khao Theong

Next journey to the grand palace was a frustrating one, not that the cycling part was far (oh well after I have done the trip to Wat Tum, the rest seem chicken feet). The fact that the map I was using did point out a cycling route after entering Ayutthaya, I spent like 30 mins trying to figure out where this path is, and at the end of the day, never got it figured out. After cycling back and forth for 30 mins, I decided to ask a vendor at Wat Thammikkarat. She pointed out for me to make a left turn and follow the path. As I was cycling I came across this sign that says market, according to the map, this market place was next to the grand palace, so I headed in. To my disappointment, there was nothing but stalls and stalls of vendors trying to sell things. So I headed out into the main road and took the long way. As I was cycling, I came past this wat, Wat Phra Ram. Hey this was really near the Grand palace and was one of my destinations. So I figured just go in and take a look so I dun have to come by this way again later. Paid the entrance and went into the ruins.

Wat Phra Ram was built in 1912 BE by one of the kings over the cremation site of his father. Due to the change in dynasty (the king only ruled for 1 year), he din have time to complete the wat. It was subsequently completed by another king. Due to its close proximity to the Grand Palace, this wat was restored several times as it decayed. This wat has a main pagoda and surrounding it several small pagodas, as well as several corridors with Buddha statues.

Ruins of Wat Phra Ram
Ruins of Wat Phra Ram
Ruins of Wat Phra Ram
Ruins of Wat Phra Ram
Ruins of Wat Phra Ram
Ruins of Wat Phra Ram
Ruins of Wat Phra Ram

After this wat, I headed towards Grand palace and the wat just next to it. Wat Phra Si Sanohet, was the grandest temple within Ayutthaya, it featured 3 main huge pagodas right smack in the centre of the ruin. Initially the temple was within the royal palace grounds, subsequently one of the kings decided to dedicate this piece of land solely for the use of the wat. The 3 huge pagodas contained the ashes of 3 of the kings in the past. This was a royal temple, and was used for important royal ceremonies and was used as a private temple for the royalties. No monks resided in this temple throughout the period. The size of this temple was huge, not only it has the signature 3 pagodas, it also has quite a number of smaller chapels, seemed like each of the royalty has their own private praying halls. Just behind the Wat Phra Si Sanohet was the Grand Palace…… hmm…. Dun seem very grand to me… all I see was a bunch of bridges, some remaining of the walls and maybe a pavilion or 2 (could very well been built subsequently as this place was dedicated as a tourism place). The thing came to my mind when I saw this disappointing scene: the Burmese did a great job while attacking Ayutthaya that they practically demolished the whole palace. Was quite disappointed in this Grand Palace, so I headed for my next destination, which was again outside of the Ayutthaya island.

Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet

As I was cycling towards my next destination, I came by this Thai-muslim restaurant. It might be interesting in trying out some Thai-muslim food. Then I realized, hey I haven had lunch for the day and it is already 4pm, so I went in to grab a bite. Maybe I was really accustomed to speak abit of Malay when I see Muslim back home, I actually spoke Malay to them. However they din seem to understand a word I said, so I spoke Thai to them. The lady recommended her tom yam noodles, so I ordered one. It was really weird seeing Muslims speaking Thai instead of Malay, oh well maybe it is just me. After finishing the food I continued my journey towards Wat Chaiwatthanaram.

Tom Yum Noodles Soup
Cycling around Ayutthaya
Cycling around Ayutthaya
Cycling around Ayutthaya
Cycling around Ayutthaya

Man this Wat was really huge!! Perhaps the biggest wat in Ayutthaya itself! Wat Chaiwatthanaram was built in 1630 by the king then to commemorate his mother’s home town, as well as to celebrate his coronation as a king. It has a mina pagoda, which was surrounded by minor prangat in 8 directions. In front of the temple were 3 Buddha statues facing the Chao Phraya River. This is the only wat that has a complete model of how the temple looked like in its heydays. It was magnificent and this time I was able to see the grandeur of the temple by comparing with the model.

Ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Buddha statue in the ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram

After this wat, I headed for the destination that I did not manage to go to due to time. As I was cycling towards Wat Putthai Sawan, I came across this market place where the locals come and gather to buy food. Looks pretty much like our Pasar Malam. After another 15 mins of cycling, I decided to head back to Ayutthaya as the bike renting shop was about to close (in 45 mins). This last lap felt like the last lap of our 2.4km run, where practically you are chasing after the time. The only difference here is I get to cheat by means of choosing the shortest route back to the bike renting shop. As time was really lean, I did not have the luxury of taking a wrong turn or stop for a drink. Phew… managed to get back to the shop at 6 pm, on the dot when it was about to close. After returning the bike, went to 7-11 to grab a drink. At this time I realize I am covered with salt! After all the cycling and sweating, my sweat actually dried up and became salt!!!

Head back to the train station, wanting to get a first class train ticket back to Bangkok to reward 1 day of cycling, the guy at the train station told me only 3rd class available, and the next train with 1st class seats is 1 hour late. Got the 3rd class tickets anyways as I was worn out for the day. At the end of the day, Ayutthaya was a great place, however after awhile all you see are the repeating patterns of ruins with pagodas and some prangats surrounding it. Then I thought to myself, the full day trip boils down to 3 words: MY ASS HURTS!! Time to get a massage anyways…….

Onboard a train heading back to Bangkok

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