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It’s my first time venturing out of Bangkok throughout the entire trip.
Ayutthaya was the ancient capital of Thailand from the year 1350 to 1767. It’s a province outside Bangkok, about 76 kilometres up north. When it flourished, it was said to be a very beautiful city. But after a Burmese siege in 1767, the place had lain in ruins ever since. The purpose for my trip there was to see the ruins.
I didn’t think I caught any sleep at all. I left my apartment at about 4:45am, got more Thai baht at the lobby’s money exchanger, and was on my way to the Lumpinee railway station to catch the first train to Ayutthaya. At that unearthly hour, there was no public transport available except for the taxi. I was in luck though, because a cab driver was chatting with the security guard at the entrance.
From then on, it was a race against time. The cab reached the railway at 5:20am. I didn’t know which counter to get my ticket from, so I went to the information counter instead. And to my horror, the guy said that the train to Ayutthaya would leave at 5:20, and not 5:50 as I thought. From then on things became quite action-packed. He started shouting into his walkie-talkie and then told me to go to one counter to get my ticket. I ran there but there was a Thai ready to buy her ticket too. But she saw me running and kindly allowed me to go first. I got the ticket and ran to board the train. But the ticket didn’t say which platform the train was at, and there were a zillion trains there. If you looked at the ticket closely, you could see that I got my ticket only at 5:19 while the train would leave at 5:20.
Luckily for me the station master was around and he told me the correct platform number. But time was running out! I ran across several railway tracks, not caring whether a train was heading my way, and got to the correct train. The train was seconds away from leaving and I ran up the steps and onto the train just in time! Phew!
That was only my second time taking a train in this lifetime. It was a third-class ticket as all tickets to Ayutthaya were. The best thing was that it cost only 15 baht! Too freaking cheap! The train was a little dim looking, and I sat in a carriage near to the back. It wasn’t as dirty or as loud as I thought it might be. As it was the first train to Ayutthaya for the day, and Lumpinee was the first railway station, there weren’t that many passengers. Everyone was sleeping and had their feet up on the seats opposite them.
The ride was estimated to be two hours long. I didn’t sleep at all but took in the sights along the way. The good thing about riding the railway was that I got to see the more rural parts of Thailand, something tourists rarely got to see. The train passed by many farms, beautiful meadows, and shanty houses.
The ticket inspector would stroll along to punch a hole on passengers’ tickets. He had to make several rounds because the train made several stops along the way where people would get on and off the train. When he walked, he made the clickety sound with his puncher so that people would hear him before seeing him, and would have their tickets ready by the time he got to them. Interesting!
The train officials sat at the back of the train, which was off limits to the passengers. But when I got worried about alighting at the correct stop, they allowed me to sit with them so that they could let me know when to alight. Such kind people!
The best part about taking such an early train was that I could see the sunrise. Beautiful!
The train finally reached Ayutthaya station. From the moment I alighted, I knew I was in trouble. The place looked rundown, and all the people around were Thai, no foreigners or tourists at all. It wasn’t a tourist-friendly place; everything was written in Thai, and there were no maps which I could grab hold of. I was effectively screwed because firstly, I had no map of Ayutthaya with me. Secondly when I got out of the station, I found that all the street names and building names were in Thai. There was no way I could identify my bearings.
The temperature at that time was really cold, about 14 degrees Celsius I reckoned. I didn’t really know which way to go. Ayutthaya wasn’t even a city; it’s a province. It looked nothing like Bangkok, and the people probably spoke less English. But one thing that remained the same was that they were as friendly, and still smiled back when I smiled at them.
Eventually I got to the river. To get to the other side, I had to take a boat across which cost only two baht.
These pictures were taken from the boat.
It was only a short ride across the river. At the pier, I saw someone fishing. He turned back to smile at me when he found that I was taking his photo. In Singapore, I would probably be stared at or glared at in return.
Directly behind him was an elderly lady selling fish. I think the guy would catch the fish and then pass it to her. Not too sure about that though. But it was an interesting sight!
At the other side of the river, I walked through a morning market where people sold meat and vegetables. When I emerged from the market, it was the main road where there were buses, tuk-tuks and motorcycles but no taxis. So I flagged for a motorcycle instead and asked him to take me to Wat Mahathat, one of the sites for the ruins. Such taxis on motorcycles were common in both Bangkok and Ayutthaya. In Bangkok, the riders wore bright orange vests while in Ayutthaya, they wore green, like the one in the bottom right corner below. They charged the same way as tuk-tuks, with both parties agreeing on a price for the trip.
I reached Wat Mahathat and paid 20 baht for the ride. Unfortunately, it was only 7:20am then, while Wat Mahathat would open only at 8am. I went around the exterior of the place anyway to try to catch a little glimpse. This nice doggie followed me along the way.
Beside Wat Mahathat was a huge park with a nice lake. I decided to walk along the lake since I had nothing better to do and no idea where to go next.
Morning glories grew alongside the lake.
Walking further, a makeshift bridge crossed over the lake to the other side. It looked extremely dangerous to walk across and I was too chicken to do it. Even a group of teenage Thai boys looked quite scared and unsure of using it.
Clothes hung to dry from trees.
I also saw coconut trees, one of which was bare naked. I wonder why! I had never seen a bald coconut tree before.
I chanced upon a few houses with people living inside. They had a three-legged dog walking about. What a poor thing! Stray dogs and domestic dogs were extremely common in Thailand, as opposed to cats. I did see a cute one though. Batman!
Its fur wasn’t black, but a beautiful deep brown colour. A very rare colour for a cat!
I came to phra mongkonbophit. It was a temple, I think. It housed a huge golden Buddha image.
Nearby was Wat phra si sanphet. I finally managed to get hold of a map of Ayutthaya when I was buying my admission ticket. Wat phra si sanphet was a royal palace during the Ayutthayan period. It unfortunately lays in ruins today.
Below, these pointed structures are called chedis. There were three of them aligned in a straight line, each housing the ashes of an ancient Ayutthayan king.
I went there at a great time, because there were barely any tourists around. I could get good pictures without blocking anyone or having anyone enter my shots.
There were very steep steps leading up to the chedi. The steps were very high and narrow. I had to be extra careful when I climbed them. But the steps only led to a sealed wall when I reached the top. It looked like the king’s ashes were securely enshrined within the chedi. As it was rather high up, I did manage to get a good view of the ruins around.
What used to be pillars and walls now laid in stumps and broken parts.
The ruins were clearly not made for walking. I had to do some climbing here and there, and be careful not to sprain an ankle when walking. But walking through the ruins, I had fun imagining what it might have looked like centuries ago, with the king sitting in his grand golden throne, guards all around, and royal ceremonies taking place. It was quite sad to see that what used to be a beautiful, magnificent place now looked nothing like that.
To be honest, when I first arrived in Ayutthaya and reached Wat Mahathat, I was disappointed as it didn’t really look like it was worth my sleepless night and two-hour train ride. But upon exploring Wat phra si sanphet, I thought it was totally worth it. The place wasn’t beautiful, but it felt both mystifying and surreal to be able to walk through the ruins. I exited the ancient palace and came to the king u-thong monument. King u-thong founded the city of Ayutthaya and was later known as King Ramathibodi i, or King Rama i.
Outside the monument, there were foodstalls located along the road and right by the lake. For diners, there were low tables and mats on the floor, so that people had to take off their shoes and sit on the mats to eat. Very fun way of dining. It was very cooling as well as it was beside the lake.
I ordered chicken rice and orange soda. The roasted chicken was yum-yum. The rice came in a plastic packet and I had to open it and pour it onto my plate! I liked sitting there and eating, and after all the walking, I was exhausted and didn’t feel like going off at all.
There was a tour train going around Ayutthaya and it looked really cute and cartoonish.
I also saw some elephants walking around. There’s a place in Ayutthaya with dozens of huge elephants for hire.
By noon, the weather had become really hot. But despite walking for so long, I didn’t perspire much. The air there was really dry and nice. I grew a few shades darker though. Backtracked and came back to Wat Mahathat again. The most famous part of Wat Mahathat is no doubt this: tree roots growing around the head of a Buddha image.
There had been several theories to this. One of them was that when looters raided the temple, they tried to steal the Buddha heads, as can be seen from the many headless Buddha images in the temple. But this one was too heavy and they had to leave it behind. Overtime, a tree grew with its roots wrapping around the head. What is strange is that somehow the roots grew around the head, never really covering the face.
A very well preserved Buddha image, one of the two on the site.
Another extremely well-preserved Buddha image.
Outside Wat Mahathat, I bought ice cream and ran into a tuk-tuk driver. I know I swore off all tuk-tuks, but this one in particular turned out to be an extremely nice guy. He could speak good English and even fluent Japanese! I learned that he had studied the Japanese language for 14 years. I wonder why he’s still a tuk-tuk driver.
I got him to drive me to Wat phu khao tong. The road leading there was a clear one and not many vehicles came here because it was quite out of the way. It’s a rather secluded place and no vehicle would go there except to bring visitors. That’s why on hindsight, I didn’t really have any choice but to hire the tuk-tuk to take me there and to my next destination.
I got to Wat phu khao tong, and what greeted me was a magnificent white monument. It was the most beautiful piece of achitecture I had seen in Thailand, after the Grand Palace and the Golden Mount.
It’s 71 extremely steep steps to the top. They were all continuous, with only a landing in between. So there wasn’t much opportunity to have a rest when you’re climbing to the top. Plus, the hot afternoon sun didn’t make it any better. Most people go there in the evening. But once I got up there, it was good.
I could get a view of the surroundings from the top. Like I said, this was a rather secluded area, and the surroundings were mostly barren land and grassfields without many buildings.
There was also a tiny door that was open, and I could see a dark narrow path. At the small table by the door, there was a sign written in barely legible red marker that asked people to enter.
So I did. And it was pretty scary because it was a totally dark path and what laid ahead was all black. I had no idea where I was going to. The space was only about 1.2 metres high and I had to crouch as I walked in.
I felt around as I walked and the deeper I went, the more scared I grew. Somemore I knew there was nobody else around at that time and I was all alone in that creepy tunnel at the top of the monument. But the thought that this was a sacred place assured me that I should be safe. Besides I was curious to find out what was at the end of the tunnel. Eventually, I came to a dead end. I felt around and couldn’t feel a thing. That’s when I thought I should probably just get out. And I got out in a jiffy, half expecting something to grab me from behind anytime.
Once outside again, I felt safe and warm, bathing in the sun. That’s when I realised to my absolute dismay that my camera battery had a red icon to it. I had actually planned to tour Ayutthaya a little longer and then go to the next city, Kanchanaburi. But with my camera running low on battery, I knew I had to shorten my trip. I began my descent down the steep steps. Boy was I glad I don’t suffer from aerophobia.
Coming back to earth again, I found a little boy pulling his pony along. He left the pony to munch on the grass. If it had a saddle I might have been able to persuade the little boy to let me ride it. Look, isn’t it precious???
I found my tuk-tuk driver again where he was talking to a couple of Japanese tourists at the drinkstall. To my surprise, he even paid for my drink! While all the other tuk-tuk drivers I had come across had tried to make as much money as possible out of me, this one in particular was actually willing to fork out cash to pay for my drink. I was silently touched.
Later I told him the bad news of having to shorten my trip, and got him to take me to the railway station. My plan was to return to Bangkok where I would go back to my apartment, get my camera recharged, then catch the next train to Kanchanaburi. But along the way to the train station, I thought it wasn’t such a good idea after all. If I did all of that, it would waste too much time. Even if I did get to Kanchanaburi, I might not be able to make it back to Bangkok the same night, while I had to catch my early return flight to Singapore the following day. So I decided to run a big risk. I would cut short my trip in Ayutthaya, go directly to Kanchanaburi, conserve as much battery as possible on my camera, and pray to God that I might still be able to squeeze out a few good pictures at Kanchanaburi.
The only way to get to Kanchanaburi from Ayutthaya was via the bus, first from Ayutthaya to suphan buri, then from suphan buri to Kanchanaburi. So the tuk-tuk driver drove me to the bus station instead. I boarded the bus to suphan buri. It was a two-hour and very bumpy bus ride, so bumpy that I couldn’t drink my water without spilling it. And boy did I sleep throughout the journey.
The bus finally reached suphan buri after two hours, and I badly needed to get to the washroom. A poor little boy came up to me and pleaded for money, and I couldn’t help but give him 20 baht. He seemed so tiny and pitiful! When I came out of the washroom, the boy was waiting for me and directed me to take the correct bus to Kanchanaburi. What a good little boy.
The bus ride from suphan buri to Kanchanaburi took another two hours. At one point, the bus stopped and a bunch of food sellers came onboard. They chatted with me, as I bought five yummy meat skewers for 2 baht each. As the bus continued its journey, I fell asleep again and when I woke up, I realised I was FREAKING DROOLING. The worst thing was that a Thai was now sitting beside me too. I wonder how many people boarding the bus had seen me in that state. But then the Thais were extremely polite people. They wouldn’t have laughed even if they had seen me drooling.
FINALLY I REACHED KANCHANABURI! My goodness, it took more than four hours on the bumpy non-aircon buses. But by that time it was already 5:45pm, and the bus ride back to Bangkok would take three hours. That means I couldn’t stay too long at Kanchanaburi. The officer at the bus station helped me grab a taxi driver who, after some bargaining, agreed to take me to the bridge over river kwai and back for 220 baht.
The river kwai bridge was my sole purpose in travelling miles to Kanchanaburi. It was built during the World War II when the Japanese wanted another transportation route through southeast Asia besides the marine route. Due to overwork, starvation, disease and frequent enemy bombings, more than 100,000 people died building the bridge, including Thais, Singaporeans, Burmese, Malaysians, British, dutch, Australians and Americans. That’s why it was nicknamed the Death Railway.
The railway was first estimated by engineers to take five years for its construction to complete. But in the end, the prisoners were pushed so hard it took merely ten months. Approximately one in five people died building the bridge, many of whom were only teenagers or men in their early twenties. The cemeteries holding their remains could be seen during my ride to and from the bridge.
Japanese tourists could be seen everywhere in Bangkok and also in Ayutthaya. But it was interesting to note that despite there being so many tourists at the river kwai bridge, none of them were Japanese. I used the remaining power left in my camera battery to take a few shots of the famous bridge.
As long as there was no train approaching, people could walk on the tracks freely.
The train was approaching. I was really lucky that during my half hour stay there, a train just happened to come along. I waited for it to come closer so that I could take the following picture before I ducked away to safety. The people in front must have wondered what the hell I was doing.
Funny caucasian guy.
After the train had passed by, there was a sudden influx of people walking along the tracks, coming from the opposite side. They had to wait until the train had passed before they could cross. The tracks were very narrow, and only one person could pass at any one time. If two people walked towards each other, one would have to make way for the other by stepping onto the side. It could get tricky because it was even narrower at the side. Plus there were big gaps on the tracks and nothing to hold on to. Any mistake and one would fall into the river below.
I had to leave. Spotted elephants again. But in the following picture, the focus is actually on the tiny elephant cub that’s mostly hidden from view. Can you see it? It’s a very tiny elephant and about the size of a big dog. Very adorable!
Finally, the taxi driver took me back to the bus terminal where I paid for a seat on a second-class coach to get back to Bangkok. It was supposed to be a two-hour ride but ended up taking more than three hours. The driver was shouting a lot along the way, but I didn’t mind because he had a nice voice. Plus, the Thai language is a beautiful and at times, melodious language. It’s quite pleasing to listen to, even if I didn’t understand any of it.
After a long day, I finally got back to my apartment. Packed my luggage and went to sleep. It was my last day in Bangkok, and time to go home the following day.