While I could take my friends on any number of day trips, a UNESCO world heritage site should not be missed. Hence, we will be heading North to Thailand’s central plain to see ruins, ruins, and more ruins.
Saturday, February 16, 2019
I found a recommendation for Thai Happy Taxi on TripAdvisor. They provide a van and driver for 8 hours with a standard program for Ayutthaya, which they are happy to customize. I sent them a list of the temples I wanted to visit, and the restaurant where I wanted to have lunch. Adding an English-speaking guide costs an extra 2,000 baht, but it seemed advisable considering that my Thai is very limited. I found our guide Tony waiting for us in the lobby. Once we were ready, we loaded into the van and hit the highway North.
To help combat fatigue and jet lag, I asked if we could stop at an Amazon Coffee, a local chain known for a strong brew. One of the first opportunities was a huge truck stop a half hour up the road that had multiple coffee shops, a convenience store, a KFC, and a Pizza Hut. I grabbed a bottled tea for myself while the coffee drinkers sampled the local options. Before leaving, we investigated a little sweet shop that apparently is quite famous and has a location at ICONSIAM, should we need more of their products later.
Our first stop was at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhol (or more phonetically, Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, because when a word ends with L, Thai people pronounce that like an N). “Yai” means large, which was our first clue that we would have a lot of ground to cover, even if we didn’t climb a steep staircase to throw coins into a wishing well (we didn’t). This temple was formerly a forest monastery, and was spared from complete destruction when the Burmese sacked Ayutthaya back in the day. That said, few of the original buildings remain intact; currently, its most dramatic feature is a large reclining Buddha.
Tony started us off in the more modern chapel where locals were coming to make offerings and pay their respects, before we toured the ruins, stopping for photos and always on the lookout for some shade. We saw a group of costumed Thais who had come to pose at the ruins, a recent fad inspired by period dramas popular throughout the country. We photographed them, too. By the time we had worked our way back around to the reclining Buddha, it was nearly 11, and time to move on to the next spot.
We crossed the river into the center of Ayutthaya, to Wat Mahathat, home of one of Thailand’s most photographed phenomena. Like the Mona Lisa, tourists lined up to have their photo taken with the head of a sandstone Buddha that somehow became entangled in the roots of a Bodhi tree. A guard was on hand to police any signs of disrespect to the Buddha, which apparently includes taking a selfie here.
By 11:45, we were ready for a break. We checked the shops around the parking lot, and headed to lunch. On my three trips to Ayutthaya with Kasma, we had dinner by the river at Pae Krung Kao, so it seemed like a safe choice for lunch. We could sample one of the local specialties, a giant river prawn, as well as other tasty Thai food. In the end, we bypassed most of the unusual dishes and had simpler plates, although we did sample the river prawn, which everyone pronounced a bit too muddy tasting.
Tony was strongly advocating for the Ayutthaya Floating Market, whose website promised a show and delightful trinkets. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bit of a fraud, where the boat ride didn’t stop anywhere and there were barely any goods for sale from boats as you would find at a genuine floating market. At least the trinkets seemed to be fairly priced, and there were many kinds of cold drinks available. Near the entrance were some very unhappy looking elephants. No wonder this place has awful reviews on TripAdvisor. Next time, we need to check that first.
It was about 2:30, and we were thinking of calling it a day, but Tony was rather insistent on using all of our allotted time. For the next hour, we proceeded through the back roads to strategic points for viewing and photographing interesting ruins without incurring any entrance fees. Finally, we visited Wat Na Phramane, which has an unusual Buddha statue, wearing a crown and royal attire. This seems entirely inconsistent with the life of a spiritual seeker, which could explain why such images are quite rare. Finally, around 4:00, we headed for home.
We didn’t have any dinner plans tonight, so we decided to head across the river to the ICONSIAM mall for something simple. There was ample time for sunset photos through my window. At the mall, we took our time deciding where to eat, ogling the LED light show in a “fountain” that showered down from the incredibly high ceiling. During our half hour wait for a table at The Bibimbab, a Korean restaurant, I discovered Lay Lao, a restaurant with an exciting Northeastern menu. Unfortunately, it is right next to the spot where the fountain’s colorful water crashes down, making it quite noisy. Maybe we can eat here next week before I have to leave for the airport. At The Bibimbab, I ordered bibimbap, which wasn’t any better than what we can get in the Bay Area. Oh well, I guess this is what happens when I don’t plan.
We don’t have anything booked for tomorrow, our last day in Bangkok before heading South to Phuket. Most likely we’ll find something to do.