Bright and early on Sunday morning… Well, ok, not bright because it was raining and not early because we love the snooze button… But nonetheless, on Sunday at around 10am we left our guesthouse in Bangkok and caught a taxi to the SamSen train station, about 25 minutes north of Khao San Rd. We boarded the train to Ayutthaya a few minutes later and settled in for an interesting ride. The 3rd class train ride (14 Baht / $0.48 each) was hot, although the breeze coming in the open windows was pleasant when the train was moving. Too bad the train stopped on the outskirts of Bangkok for no apparent reason for a sweaty 45 minutes. No one else on the train (all locals) even seemed to notice. Then, another 20 minutes into the journey, the sky turned white and the air became thick with the smoke from rice burning across the farmland outside.
Upon arriving in Ayutthaya, we walked across the street, down an ally to a ferry (think old large motorized rowboat – 4 Baht / $0.13 each) to cross the river, then walked to the part of town where the backpackers stay. After checking our options at a few guesthouses, we settled on Chantana House, which was clean and the reception was warm and friendly, although the mom and daughter innkeepers spoke almost no English at all.
As the ancient capital of Thailand, Ayutthaya has many historically significant ruins, dating from the 16th-18th centuries. Magnificent temples, shrines and palaces of old are today impressive ruins, with many towers of exposed red brick, carved stone heads and torsos of Buddhas scattered around, a few towers showing the remains of beautiful intricate plasterwork and gold decoration, and the constant chatter of tourists from around the world wandering (the Chinese distinctly audible).
As excited as we were to see all of this, we have our priorities: it was time for some food first! As we strolled through the market we sampled grilled smushed banana in condensed milk served on a stick (10 baht), skipped the exotic offerings of frogs, scorpions, water snakes, snails, insects and live turtles (not the backpacker kind, luckily), and settled on some fresh mango, also served on a stick (20 baht). Then on our way to see something historical we were sidetracked once again by an important calling: coffee! We hadn’t had a good coffee since the flight over, and the bright green coffee shop, with a minimalist European feel and expert barista, was just what we needed. At this point, it was already getting dark and we set out in pursuit of dinner. Felix had read about a quaint and authentic Thai restaurant overlooking the ruins and with many vegetarian options. Malakon offered a lovely atmosphere to have a beer and enjoy a delicious dinner of green papaya salad and tofu red curry with pineapple rice (220 baht /$7.40 and free mosquito repellant, which we immediately made use of). Delicious and highly recommended.
On Monday morning we awoke to pouring rain, which set us back a bit, but around 11am we ventured out with our umbrella towards the ruins. With a less successful coffee and breakfast break on the way (we still don’t understand what Thais eat for breakfast) we made it to Wat Ratchaburana (100 baht) just as the rain stopped. Wat means temple in Thai, and they are everywhere. This site was once an impressive temple complex, and today the main building, a tall tower, is one of the highest landmarks in the city. We climbed around the ruins and up to the tower, which is still decorated with ornate plaster sculptures, and once housed the king’s hoard of treasure. Five minutes down the road (and another 100 baht) is Wat Mahathat, which was once an even more impressive complex of temples. We found there a full reconstructed Buddha which towered over us, and we explored the remains of many more buildings.
As the afternoon drizzle set in, we grabbed a fresh coconut (Jordan’s favorite new treat – 30 baht), sipped its sweet water, and set out to explore more of the town. We wandered for a while in search of the local sweet snack which we had read about in a travel blog, called roti sai mai (40 baht for a large bag, enough for about 25 portions). It’s kind of like cotton candy, but it looks and feels like human hair, and is eaten wrapped in a thin rice pancake. While we realize this sounds completely weird, it’s absolutely delicious! Energized by our sugar-high, we hopped on our first tuktuk (60 baht thanks to Felix’s negotiation skills), and headed over to the floating market. This market was created as a tourist attraction, and is a replica of the authentic floating market, 2 hours outside of Bangkok. Nonetheless, we enjoyed walking around, sampling some interesting Thai snacks, and seeing Thailand’s tourist offerings. Jordan was really excited about the elephants, who were both in the petting zoo and randomly on the side of the road.
Back in town (another tuktuk and 60 baht later), we went back to the night market which we had scouted out on our way home the night before. A long line of street carts and vendors all the way down a sleepy city street. Excited that we found a vegetarian dish, we quickly purchased some corn and spinach patties (think latkes, but made of rice – 40 baht), only to discover that they were greasy and really just taste like oily rice mush. We moved on and in our almost nonexistent Thai ascertained that a tasty looking fish, grilling on a circulating spit and stuffed with herbs, was indeed a kosher fish. We decided to splurge and handed over a whopping 200 baht ($6.72) and chowed down. It was served with a plate of rice noodles, sauces, and fresh greens, which Felix bravely enjoyed. Back at our guesthouse we finished off our leftover roti sai mai for dessert before heading to bed.
Tuesday morning we awoke, packed up, and retraced our steps to Bangkok, but not before stopping by our favorite green coffee shop for a good fix. We really enjoyed our stay in Ayutthaya, the break from the bustle and smog of Bangkok, and our newfound confidence in our traveler abilities.
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Keep it up Felix and Jordan! Great exploration day!