As I was due to have my first two consecutive days off in a month I decided that I would try to get out of Bangkok and explore a little bit more of Thailand. I ended up leaving it all to the last minute as I could not really decide what to do and so in a bit of a panic, booked a day trip to visit Ayutthaya and then cruise back to Bangkok on the Grand Pearl. Doing it this way meant that it cost me 1900 THB as opposed to the mere hundreds I could have spent had I done the journey independently but to be honest, after a busy week at work I was glad to have everything arranged for me.
I was picked up at 645 am (urgghhhhh) and then we were driven to River City where we joined the rest of our tour group and made our way 70km north to the historic ancient City of Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya was in fact the second of Thailand’s capital Cities (after Sukothai) up until its complete destruction at the hands of the Burmese in 1767.
We started off by visiting the Summer Palace “Bang Pa-In” which was the site of a Royal Palace as early as the 17th Century however the present day palace dates from the far later reign of King Chulalongkorn (1868-1910) and still sees occasional use by their Majesties the King and Queen even today. The grounds are home to a real hotch potch of different architectural styles from the Thai influenced shrine “Ho Hem Monthian Thewarat” and the “Phra Thinang Aisawan Thiphya-art” Pavillion to the Neo Classic Mansion “Phra Thinang Warophat Phiman” and the Chinese Mansion “Phra Thinanng Wehart Chamrun”. It was quite sad reading about King Chulalongkorn in that he seemed to have a pretty tragic life and there are memorial obelisks to both his wife, who drowned in 1881 and 3 of his children and Royal consort who died in 1887.
From here we made our way to Wat Phra Mahathat which is home to the famous Buddha head which you can still make out through the gnarled tree roots threatening to engulf it. It made me think of the “Jungle Temple” in Siem Reap which is interesting as I later learnt that it is also home to Khmer style “Prang” or towers as well as Sri Lankan and more typical Thai style towers as well. Whilst there were other tour groups there, I didn’t feel crowded at all and happily wandered around on my own shaking my head at the thought of all the tourists in Central World, some of whom will never make the effort to explore further than Bangkok’s shopping malls.
Our last stop was formerly the largest temple of the ancient City, Wat Phra Si Sanphet which dates back to the 14th Century. It is home to a giant bronze Buddha statue (which was originally in Gold but this was of course melted down and taken by the Burmese as spoils of war) as well as three absolutely magnificent “Chedi” which date back to 1492 and house the ashes or relics of King Rama Thibodi II, his father and brother.
I could have spent a lot longer exploring Ayutthaya than we were given and I think I will have to make a return journey at some point to hire a bike and explore the ruins further but it was certainly an interesting introduction to the City. With the historical part of the day over, we headed to the Gold Pearl and made the slow river boat journey back to Bangkok whilst enjoying a buffet lunch.
The weather was glorious and I grabbed a quick bowl of Tom Yum ( I’m not great when it comes to getting your moneys worth when it comes to buffets!) and wangled a great seat up on the boats sun terrace where I was able to admire riverside life all the way back to Bangkok around 2 hours later.
If you were time short or wanted to have all the stress removed from arranging a day trip then I would recommend the Gold Pearl – our guide was excellent – very quirky and informative. From my part though I realised that I am much better at doing these things independently and winging it so I can see and do everything I want to and operate at my own speed. I think my next Bangkok escape will be to Kanchanaburi at the end of November assuming I can find the correct mini van at Victory Monument, but even if I don’t I am sure I will enjoy wherever I end up!