Feeling a little bit adventurous, we decided to take a day trip to an ancient city of Ayutthaya, located about two hours away from Bangkok. To get there, we decided to take the public commuter train at 7:00 am in the morning to avoid the crowds. The train has several classes of tickets and has at least a dozen trains running per day. From doing the research online, it was clear that a third-class ticket would suffice for this fairly short trip. The cost of two tickets came out to only 40 baht (or about CAD $1.50), which is so incredibly cheap!
The train was very basic and looked worn-out inside, reminding me of the types of trains we had back in Russia. There was no air conditioning, but the windows could be opened and there were fans attached to the ceiling of the train that could be turned on. The seats were long benches with a bit of padding and the metal shelves above your head could be used to store your bags away. The washrooms were basically a hole in the ground and very dirty (we used the washrooms at the train station beforehand).
Local people selling snacks and food came onto the train at every station and walked the aisle, chanting out their goods for sale. It was unclear just how fresh the food they were selling really was, but some walked around with a large thermos, ready to pour coffee into small cups on demand.
The train ride allowed us to see a bit of Thai life outside of Bangkok and it was an eye-opening experience. Make-shift shacks lined the train tracks with nothing but tarps for a roof. Chickens, roosters, cats and dogs walked around in the mud around the shacks. Passing through more populated areas, we saw the same street food scene we witnessed in Bangkok, with people selling fruits and prepared food from little carts. There were also a lot of construction areas that we passed, and surprisingly many female construction workers.
Once we disembarked at the train station in Ayutthaya around 9:00 am, we were swarmed by tuk tuk drivers offering their services. One tuk tuk driver wanted us to pay 1,500 baht to take us around for four hours. Since the ancient ruins were located across the river from the train station, we decided to try and hire a tuk tuk once we cross the river in hopes that it would be cheaper.
After getting a bit lost and walking in the wrong direction, we finally found the right street leading up to the ferry crossing. Here we all of a sudden came across a shop that rents out bicycles for a day for only 50 baht! We could already feel the day getting hotter, so we decided to scrap our tuk tuk idea and rent bikes instead. We grabbed our bikes and made our way to the ferry, which was literally just a small wooden boat that took at most five minutes to cross the river to the other side. However, getting the bikes onto the boat was a challenge since there were no ramps, so the bikes had to be carried on and off the boat and down and up the steps. Rami took turns carrying his own and my bikes, and was already sweating through his shirt.
Once we crossed the river, we were really pumped and excited to start riding our bikes until we came to a shop right on top of the steps to the ferry that rented out the same bikes for the same price! Did we just go through all that trouble of carrying heavy bikes on and off the ferry for nothing?! Nevertheless, we were looking forward to the breeze as we imagined riding our bikes among ancient ruins.
Little did we know that the city of Ayutthaya is just that – a city. As we got to the main road, we realized there would be no way we could bike safely in this traffic. It wasn’t as bad as Bangkok, but there were cars, tuk tuks and motorcycles zooming past you with little regard for traffic laws. We walked a little bit further with our bikes, desperately looking for bike trails leading up to the ruins. For some reason, we both envisioned Ayutthaya to be kind of like Toronto Island, with bike paths and trees all around. But it was an actual city with real roads and traffic that we were not ready to face just yet.
So we made the hard decision to go all the way back across the river to return our bikes. It was already getting really really hot and poor Rami had to carry the bikes down the steps and onto the ferry, and then from the ferry and up the steps to the road across the river. Luckily, when we explained that we thought it was dangerous to bike on the roads, the bike rental shop gave us a full refund. But we did have to pay for the ferry again to go back across the river.
Once across the river once more, we were approached by a tuk tuk driver and we decided to hire him after haggling down to 900 baht for four hours. Let me tell you that it was the best decision ever! As he took us around, we realized that there would have been no way we could have covered the distances between the ruins on our bikes, especially in the scorching sun and then eventually a downpour that occurred in the afternoon.
It was so nice riding our first tuk tuk with a breeze cooling us down and a roof sheltering us from the sun. We didn’t have to worry about knowing where to go as the driver knew exactly the sites to visit. It was the best decision ever and we highly recommend for anyone to hire a tuk tuk instead of trying to bike. You will simply get burned and dehydrated, and will not be able to see the same number of sites as you can see on a tuk tuk. And the tuk tuk driver took us to a place for lunch, which would have been a hassle to find on our own.
We saw a total of five temples:
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon with steep steps leading up to the stupa
Wat Phra Si Sanphet with its large, pointy stupas covering an impressively large plot of land
Wat Lokayasuttharam with a huge reclining Buddha statue
Wat Chaiwatthanaram with its orange-like colour
Wat Phra Mahathat that is famous for the Buddha head that is being swallowed by the roots of an actual tree
The ruins of Ayutthaya have been a highlight of our trip so far. It was so impressive to walk among the temples that are at least 600 years old. They don’t build them like this anymore! The sheer size of the structures is impressive as they tower over you. The ancient architecture is like nothing that I’ve seen before. The fact that you can literally stroll among these ruins and enter the stupas is a really cool experience.