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Ancient Ayutthaya   by Mike Moore

Thailand's former palatial capital from 1350 to 1767 – with three palaces and over 400 temples – Ayutthaya today is laid back and relaxed. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the ruins of the past mix effortlessly with a modern landscape.

  Ayutthaya

September 2015
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Getting there (from Bangkok). It’s a snap (and incredibly cheap) with 21 trains a day on the country’s smoothest railbed. Go in air-conditioned splendour in a diesel railcar for a pricey 10 US dollars or so. Or, if your budget is tight, try 3rd class for less than a dollar! And to top things off, you can board at either Hua Lamphong or Bang Sue railway stations, both of which are accessible by the MRT. The railcars make the trip in 80 minutes. Slower trains take about 20 minutes longer. For train schedules and other info checkout the State Railway of Thailand’s website (in English) at www.railway.co.th

Arriving in Ayutthaya. You’ll think you’re a superstar when you step off the train. Enjoy the limelight, but give the adoring tuk-tuk and samlor drivers a pass. Instead, head for the delicious smell of BBQ chicken. Walk 100 metres down the side road with the roasting chicken and take the ferry boat to the other side. You’ll no longer be a celebrity, but you’ll be closer to most of the sights and transport costs will be halved. By the way, take a sack of the chicken with you. It’s the best in town.

Getting around. Ayutthaya is loaded with samlors (bicycle rickshaws), motorbike taxis and art-deco tuk tuks. The tuk-tuks are older than grandpa but spectacular when gussied up. Single journeys on all transport costs about 20 baht and you can also rent your wheels by the hour or day. If you’re athletic and immune to sunstroke, rent a bicycle from one of the guesthouses and get into the latest health craze. Don’t expect a Lance Armstrong model, but it’ll be cheap.

An interesting, but pricier, option is to rent a boat. You can choose a vessel at Chan Kasem. Stop, tour and then get back on your ‘yacht’ for more sights. It’s a great way to see some of the less accessible ruins.

What to see. Don’t be a Cheap Charlie. Buy a guidebook! There are some inexpensive guides on Ayutthaya that only cover, you got it, Ayutthaya. Unlike that thing with a planet on it, they aren’t the size and weight of a phonebook. Essential sights include Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Wat Mongkhon Bophit, Wat Na Phra Meru, Wat Thammikarat, Wat Ratburana and Wat Phra Mahathat. These are all found within the UNESCO historical park. Once at the park, you can hoof it from one wat to another.

There are two museums worth visiting. Chao Sam Phraya National Museum, near the aforementioned wats, provides an informative introduction to sculptures of Buddha. Over by the night market and main post office is Chanthakasem National Museum. Housed in a former palace, this museum contains a spectacular collection of gold artifacts unearthed from Ayutthaya’s ruins. There’s a lot more to see, including several worthwhile ruins away from central Ayutthaya.

Food and drink. Formal restaurants are few and far between in Ayutthaya. And those I’ve tried have been far from spectacular. Thai tourists often head to Moradok-Thai on Thanon Ratchana for the air-conditioning, wine and decent eats. Malakor is conveniently located opposite Wat Ratburana and has passable food and a nice view of the temple. If you want to dine on the river, there are four floating restaurants where Thanon Ratchana crosses the river. But it’s Ayutthaya’s hawker food that’s outstanding. If you’re around in the evening, the Night Market is the place to go. At other times, take your pick from what you see on the street. Worried about your tummy? Stick to hot items like the BBQ chicken near the train station. I hesitate to mention it, but Ronald McDonald and friends have discovered Ayutthaya. They hang out near the central market. Ayutthaya sizzles so drink lots water.

Spending the night. If you decide to spend the night, Ayutthaya has numerous hotels and guest houses to suit pretty much every budget. The more sumptuous digs include the Ayutthaya Grand Hotel and the Ayothaya Riverside Hotel overlooking the Pasak River near the floating restaurants. One of the top spots is the four-star Krungsri River Hotel, located near the Ayothaya Riverside, with views of the Pasak River.

Okay. Now you have the basics. The rest is up to you. Ayutthaya opens a world never seen elsewhere. To find it, hop on a train or a boat and head for a touch of the past and a day of adventure. You’ll be glad that you did.

Taking a Boat to Ayutthaya
Several companies operate combination boat/bus trips to Ayutthaya. They start with the boat and typically include a stop at Bang-Pa-In to visit the old Royal Summer Palace. The return from Ayutthaya is by bus.

Tour price usually includes meals, an English-speaking guide, entrance fees in Ayutthaya and frequently round-trip transport from your hotel to the boat.

The boat provides an excellent way to see life along the Chao Phraya, but the time-consuming boat trip leaves little time for visiting Ayutthaya.

You can book a tour at a roadside tour counter or in your hotel. If you prefer to be independent, simply ‘Google’ boat trip to Ayutthaya and you’ll be spoiled for choice.

  Photo gallery : Ancient Ayutthaya

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