Ayutthaya, about an hour and a half (traffic pending) north of Bangkok, appears to be a city with a fascinating history (although it’s not really explained in English at any of the temples, so Wikipedia is sadly my main source for this), and an awful lot of ruins, primarily of Buddhist temples. Ruins aren’t really my thing (I say this about a lot of things, and I feel like someone is eventually going to call me out and ask what is my thing then, and the answer is books mainly, and ice cream, and other stuff that doesn’t require me to go outside), but it was a Tuesday in Bangkok in the middle of Songkran, so everything in the city was shut, and my travelling companions were keen to see Ayutthaya, so that’s where I found myself on yet another boiling hot Thai day.
Naturally, getting to Ayutthaya was not exactly easy, and involved a trip to the end of the Sky Train line (I have to say that I do love the Sky Train; it is air conditioned, and they show hilarious Thai adverts on little TV screens above the seats), and a hair-raising taxi ride (as there wasn’t enough seats, and I had to perch precariously on my boyfriend’s lap) to the bus station, where we hired a minivan to take us to Ayutthaya. Of course, the driver certainly wasn’t going to let those empty seats go to waste, so we had to detour to every bus stop on the way until the bus filled up, some of the stops lasting upwards of fifteen minutes whilst the driver tried to attract passengers, which made the drive out there much longer than the return trip (I know this is a lot of complaining, but the travel guides aren’t going to tell it like it is, so you have to get the inside scoop from somewhere). Immediately upon arrival, we were approached by a man trying to sell us a tour around the sites, which, short of having your own car (probably not a great idea) or booking an organised tour, seems to be the only way to see everything. Our conveyance was essentially a tuktuk, but with two benches running vertically instead of one horizontal one (they have a specific name, but I forget what it is), and made for a slightly hair-raising ride with five people crammed in the back.
Though we paid a fee for the transport, we also had to pay individually to enter each temple; it was only 20-50 baht per temple (there’s about 50 baht to the pound) but as we went to so many of them, it started to add up (still a modest fee by Western standards, admittedly). Now, the first temple we went to was pretty rad, and would turn out to be my favourite one of the day, but after that, everything started to blur together. So I can’t tell you the names of the sites, but I’m fairly sure any tour booked there will take you to the same places. The first temple also had the nicest toilets we’d see all day (toilets cost extra), and curiously, an adorable cat who appeared to live in the bathroom, so let it all out while you can! The highlight of this temple was the giant reclining Buddha outside, though there is also a shrine inside the temple (accessed by a million uneven steps) where you can apply gold leaf to the Buddha for an additional fee.
The complete tour takes around 4 hours, so you will get hungry and thirsty en route, fortunately, all of the larger sites did a roaring trade in food and drink outside. I highly recommend the coconut ice cream, served in a young coconut – the young coconut was kind of weird and gelatinous and not really to my taste, but the ice cream was amazing. The pineapple fruit shakes were also extremely refreshing and delicious. I did try a banana roti, but it was unfortunately pre-made and contained scrambled egg – egg covered in Nutella and sweetened condensed milk was just straight-up nasty, so I’d stick to roti places that make them to order. At any rate, there’s enough stalls around that you won’t go hungry.
Also of note, but only because our visit was during Songkran (Thai New Year, which is celebrated with water fights), is that travelling in an open sided vehicle was not the smartest move. People in Bangkok were definitely really into water fights, but Ayutthaya was possibly even more gung-ho, and we got absolutely drenched by people bearing buckets and hoses by the side of the road. Some paint too, which appeared to just be talcum powder and water, so it easily washed off. Although initially refreshing, it is rather unpleasant being soaking wet for the rest of the day (even though it’s extremely hot, clothes take forever to dry because of the humidity), so choosing a different mode of transport might be advisable if you’re visiting in mid-April.
I honestly lost track of how many temples we visited, but it had to be at least 7 of them. One of them had some kind of elephant attraction out front that we specifically asked not to be taken to, but it was unavoidable because there was a temple behind it. It was not pleasant to see because they made the elephants stand in this weird pavilion and dance whilst loud-ass music was blasted at them, and also take people for rides by walking on hot gravel all day. It was not an ideal way to see elephants, for sure. However, the temple behind it was quite large, and had an impressive array of stalls, and I’m not really sure how to see one without seeing the other, although at least the elephant part had a separate admission fee, so you’re not forced to give them any money.
There were definitely some cool details at these ruins, like the Buddha head in the tree trunk, and the temples were in different architectural styles, and of differing levels of preservation, so I imagine the average person who is into Buddhist architecture would love it. The whole experience was for me reminiscent of Pompeii; as in, wandering around a bunch of crumbling stones that all kind of looked the same, under the searing sun, when I was dying for air conditioning, or at least shade. Then again, I am not at all a fan of the heat, so it was about what I expected.
I think I’ve probably rambled and complained enough, so I’ll just leave you with a bunch more pictures of various temples (don’t ask me which is which), so you can make up your own mind whether Ayutthaya is something you’d like to see. Again, if you like temples and Thai history, you’ll probably love it, but if Roman ruins and the like bore you to tears, Ayutthaya is not really any better, just different.