Erin and I decided to make a stop on our trip back from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. We had been told that Ayutthaya, just 70 kilometers north of Bangkok, was a great place to spend a day. So we bought a train ticket to Ayutthaya and booked a room at a hostel in town. Thankfully I remembered to write the hostel’s address and the phone number in my notebook.
The train ride was a long one, but not completely unbearable. It was clean and they fed us plenty of food, so I’m not complaining. But even though we left Chiang Mai at 8:45 am, we didn’t arrive in Ayutthaya until after dark. We should have realized that finding our hostel wasn’t going to be easy. Lugging giant bags makes everything tough to begin with, but add darkness, the lack of a map and our collective knowledge of exactly two words in Thai, and then things get really interesting.
Our first problem: we didn’t have a map. Well actually our guidebook did have a map of Ayutthaya, but let’s just say it wasn’t terribly detailed. Though it did show the names of about 4 streets on it, none of those streets were the ones we needed. So, we decided to stop in the 7 Eleven and try our best at sign language/non-verbal communication to find out where our hostel was.
Our second problem: nobody had ever heard of the hostel or seemed to recognize the address. But that wasn’t going to stop our new best friends inside the 7 Eleven from helping us out. My notebook, with the address and phone number was passed around to everyone working in the store and a few customers as well. When it turned out that no one knew where it was, some man motioned for us to follow him, so we did. Out of the store, and down the block, to a group of people standing in a hotel parking lot. One of them kind of spoke English and looked at the address for us. He then called the hostel’s phone number and started speaking really quickly in Thai. He hung up, asked us where we were from, whether we were students, and if we wanted a Thai massage (uh, no, but do you know where our hostel is?) He then took us to a tuk-tuk and explained to the driver where the hostel was.
Erin and I, along with our giant backpacks, squeezed into the back of the tuk-tuk, relieved that somebody knew where our hostel was. After two stops and two calls to the hostel, our tuk-tuk driver finally got us there. Turns out the hostel was less than a mile from the train station… Given our evening experience, we decided it would be best to explore the city in the daylight, and so we went straight to bed.
Ayutthaya was once a magnificent city but, this Unesco World Heritage site is now overrun with tourists. The former Thai capital, Ayutthaya is an island formed where the Mae Nam Lopburi, Chao Phraya and Pa Sak rivers merge on their way to the Gulf of Thailand. It’s home to dozens of ruined wats, or temples. Less than a two-hour train ride north of Bangkok, it’s one of the most popular day trips from the city.
Personally, I didn’t love it. It was incredibly touristy, and while the ruins were pretty impressive, the town didn’t have a whole lot more to offer. I love ruins as much as the next person (I did study history,) but when it’s 90 degrees out, the last thing I want to do is battle with hundreds of camera happy tourists in hopes of snatching a picture or two of a once-great temple.
Although, the coach busses and tour groups did give us one advantage. Erin and I “joined” a nice German tour group. By joined I mean we stepped in line with them and were herded past the gate surrounding the site. Entrance fee? What entrance fee? The ruins were pretty incredible. It’s crazy to imagine what the place must have looked like during its heyday (from the 14th to the 18th centuries). I especially liked the Buddha statues in various stages of ruin. One notable statue is a Buddha head that is encompassed by tree roots.
Another popular thing to do in Ayutthaya (or so the guidebooks will have you believe,) is to rent bikes and use them to get around town and to the various ruins. In theory, this is a great concept. In practice it was largely terrifying. The roads were busy, and the idea of a bike lane was a pretty fluid concept. The “bike lane” was shared with parked cars, motorcycles, food carts, you name it. Add to the mix the fact that in Thailand they drive on the opposite side of the street than they do in The States, and you can see why it wasn’t quite as fun and carefree as I’d imagined. Also, compliments of the high quality of the bed and pillow at our budget hostel in Chiang Mai, my neck hurts, and can’t turn my head to the left. At all. So looking left before crossing 3 lanes of traffic on my bike? Very difficult…
Luckily we survived. We had some lunch, turned in our bikes and checked out of the hostel. We then hoofed it over to the train station. (Walking seemed like a great idea in our air-conditioned room, but in reality it was brutal). The trek, though under a mile was a tough one in the midday sun, and I don’t think I’ve ever been that hot in my life. When we finally made it to the train station we let ourselves splurge on the train with air conditioning.
Next stop: Bangkok to meet up with my friend Hannah, and then some beach time on the islands off the Andaman Coast!