Ancient Ayutthaya: temples galore and a killer night market

Ayutthaya has row upon rows of buddhas to photograph.

Sukhothai was our first foray into Thai temple ruins, but we still wanted more. So we headed south to see the Ayutthaya temples.

We arrived at the station in Sukhothai and booked VIP tickets.  They sounded so fancy and came with a food voucher, something we had not experienced yet in our travels.  Apparently, our expectations were a bit high.  A really nice bus pulled into the station and parked at the gate next to ours.  Then came our clunker, tipping so far to the side as it turned the corner I thought it was going to fall over.  The bus appeared to have not been updated since the seventies.  It was an interesting ride. Our VIP ticket came with a can of coke, a small bottle of water and a pack of ‘crackers’ which were really butter cookies.  The bus swayed back and forth so much the ride felt like being on a boat in rough seas.

And the kicker was that there wasn’t even a bus station in Ayutthaya.

They dropped us off on the side of a highway where we were at the mercy of a cab driver to get into the city.  Trust us that is not a great situation to be in!  You pay through the nose (we were fairly certain the bus company was in cahoots with the cabbies).  Even with the rough start our day turned around with an icebox cold room, a splurge on pizza next door and some live music that evening.

Ayutthaya is different from Sukhothai in that the ruins are randomly scattered in and around the modern city.

This city was the capital of Siam in the 17th and 18th centuries.  However the ruins are in worse shape than Sukhothai due to the brutal Burmese invasion that burned a lot of the temples to the ground.  In a surreal twist a lot of the Buddhas are headless.  We only witnessed this at one temple in Sukhothai so the amount of destruction here took us by surprise.  Some of the heads are lying several feet from the bodies, still in the same location as when they were hacked off hundreds of years ago.  It’s eerie except in the case of one head that landed next to a tree which grew up around it.  Now the head is part of the tree in Wat Mahathat – although one of the most popular sites in Ayutthaya, it’s definitely worth a visit.

The next morning we simply walked down the main tourist drag then crossed a street and were in a set of ruins.

We concentrated on several that are clustered in a city park.  It’s walkable, although by the end of the day I wished we had rented a bike purely to get between the temples quicker.  The Reclining Buddha at Wat Lokkayasutharam was one of our favorites.  We also enjoyed the white stupas at Wat Si Sanphet which are great for photo ops in the waning sun.  We actually ended up there both days.  Wat Phra Ran has several pagodas to scramble up if you like a bit of a climb.  The park itself is also nice.  There are several smaller ruins to wander by, grey heron to watch in a pond and a few bridges with ruins framed perfectly for pictures.

Our second day we decided to rent bikes from our hotel to explore some of the ruins that are a bit farther out.

We needed to negotiate a small water taxi to cross the river as the main area of town is on an island.  Hauling our bikes down to a small dock (pretty certain we went through someone’s backyard) we waved to a woman across the river.  She drove her boat right over to pick us up.  It was 20 baht total for us and the bikes, quite a deal.  That was a first!

Across the river, we briefly toured the modern Chinese Buddhist temple of Wat Phanan Choeng.

The large golden Buddha is definitely worth a look.  The temple will be busy as it’s a huge pilgrimage spot.  But squeeze in anyway and watch the ceremony in the chamber with the golden Buddha.  Many people travel here to pray for guidance and then offer up new robes.  Since it is so tall, monks have to stand on ladders to add the robes to the statue.  It’s amazing to see in person.

Then we headed to Wat Yai Chai Mongkol, an older ruin down the road.

We climbed to the top of the main chedi for some views of the complex where we saw some monks taking selfies, another first!  Another cool sight there was the endless line of sitting Buddhas that make a perfect square around the maid complex.  There were lots of little offerings in their laps or near their feet.  We added a few baht to the piles, picking Buddhas that spoke to each of us.

Back on the bikes, we grabbed a bite to eat and then we rode through town to the other end to see Wat Chaiwatthanaram.

This ended up being our favorite complex.  Maybe it was the afternoon light or the lack of people.  Maybe the lone monk with the look of absolute wonder on his face as he saw the ruins.  It was also enough intact to envision what it looked like in it’s heyday.  And the symmetry of the entire complex was fascinating.  All four corners of the complex have covered halls with untouched Buddhas.  We spent quite a while at this site, enjoying the sculpture work and the gorgeousness of the brick swathed in golden light.

After all of our adventures we checked out the Ayutthaya night market for dinner and had a few Chang beers.

This was one of the best night markets we have come across in almost two months in Thailand.  The sheer variety of food on offer was amazing.  From sushi to curries, fried goodness, soups, salads, and fruit juices; so much grilled pork and even more sweets.  Almost too many options!  We ate until we were stuffed then grabbed some food to eat for breakfast the next day.  Yum.  If you get to Ayutthaya do not miss this market located right across the street from Wat Mahathat.  You will not regret it.

Some people may have been ‘ruined out’ by the end of this six day journey to both Sukhothai and Ayutthaya.

We were actually bummed we didn’t have time to visit Lopburi or Kanchanaburi.  Next trip perhaps?  Even if we don’t make it back, these ruins will certainly stick in our minds for a long time.  The sheer awesomeness of both cities and the history will be hard to forget.


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