An overnight train and temple fatigue in Ayutthaya

Back in Chiang Mai once more after our wonderful weekend in Pai, we headed to the train station, where we had tickets for the 5:30pm sleeper train bound for Bangkok. Our stop would be Ayutthaya – Thailand’s former ancient capital and home to some spectacular ancient temples.

To save some cash, we’d booked second class bunks, rather than the first class cabin we’d travelled in to Nong Khai. The bunks were in an open carriage without air con. Despite it being early evening, the carriage was baking and the fans did little to dispel the heat, or the gathered mosquitos. I started to wonder if we should have splashed out on first class again.

At about 8pm the train guard came and turned our seats into a neat bunk; protests that we were grown ups and not ready for bed yet fell on deaf ears, so I retreated to the upper bunk while Craig made himself comfortable in the lower bunk, which at least had a window. After a couple of hours the train rocking lulled me to sleep and I dozed happily until our arrival in Ayutthaya at 6:30 the next morning.

I poked my head down to the lower bunk. “How did you sleep?” I asked? “Not well” came the rather terse reply. “Bloody hot. Bloody uncomfortable. I assume the ‘sleeper’ part of this train is meant to be ironic? And the mosquitos found me”. I looked again. He wasn’t wrong. Sleeping on the lower bunk meant Craig had unwittingly become a veritable buffet for the mosquitos of rural Thailand, who had clearly popped in en masse through the open window. He had bites all over. In fact, my husband had been effectively replaced with one giant, very cross, mosquito bite on legs.

The mosquito bite and I left the train and jumped in a tuk tuk to our hotel – Tamarind. Although we couldn’t check in, they kindly sorted us out with showers and a cup of tea, although the welcome committee of more mosquitos in the lobby was not well received by all members of our party.

After breakfast, the mosquito bite and I headed across to see Thailand’s fallen city, which had reigned supreme in Asia until eventually being ransacked by the Burmese in 1767. The city certainly bears the scars of war; ancient Buddha statues have long been melted down and the towers lean at precarious angles. Ayutthaya is a UNESCO world heritage site, and despite the ravages inflicted on the city, it was still spectacular to walk around although we could feel the heat of the day building. Time was not on our side.

Ayutthaya
The leaning towers of Ayutthaya

Our first stop was Wat Phra Mahathat, which was built during the reign of King Borommarachathiraj I. Its main claim to fame is a Buddha head, which has become entangled in tree roots. The rest of the statue is missing.

Wat Phra Mahathat Ayutthaya
The Buddha head of Wat Phra Mahathat

Next we visited Wat Phra Su Sanphet, which is most famous for its three symmetrical chedi towers but also for the worn Orange-brick towers.

Chedi of Wat Phra Mahathat
The chedi of Wat Phra Mahathat

Our final visit was to Wihaan Phra Mongkhon Bophit; a functioning temple which houses a giant bronze Buddha who sits surveying visitors and worshippers, as well as several striking bronze casts. We sat watching the worshippers pay their respects for a while, and wondering why some tourists don’t think temple dress codes apply to them.

Buddha of Wihaan Phra Mongkhon Bophit
The Buddha of Wihaan Phra Mongkhon Bophit

By now it was almost noon and the day was ferociously hot. We scuttled to a cafe for a cool drink and some lunch before retiring to Tamarind for a rest. Although the audio guides had been interesting, I struggled to connect with Ayutthaya and we couldn’t bring ourselves to head out again in the late afternoon – a shame as I’ve heard great things about the boat cruises around sunset.

Instead, we headed to the local night market which, I have to say, wasn’t a patch on Bangkok or even Pai. We found some fairly uninspiring Pad Thai and headed to a bar for a couple of beers – lured by the a sign promising free French Fries (the heart wants what it wants sometimes). No French Fries were forthcoming, even upon request and even after explaining the danger of false advertising to hungry backpackers. Eventually, the owner was summoned, bearing prawn crackers. “What do you call these?” he asked. We told him and he handed them over with a flourish. We wrote down the spelling for him. A few moments later, I looked over. A team of bar staff were carefully amending the sign.

prawn crackers for everyone!
Free prawn crackers for everyone!

I’m in two minds about our stop in Ayutthaya. The ruins are fascinating and striking, and I wish we had been visiting earlier in the year rather than during the fierce March heat. Perhaps that would have motivated me to connect with the city more, rather than feeling a bit weary by mid morning.
Although I loved quirky little Tamarind – it definitely ranks as one of the nicer guesthouses we have stayed at – I’m not sure an overnight in Ayutthaya is necessary and with hindsight we perhaps would have come on the overnight train from Chiang Mai (perhaps wearing mosquito repellent…) and left on the last train of the day bound for Bangkok.

If you want to visit Ayutthaya
  • This is easily done (as we did) by stopping on the overnight train from Chiang Mai, but also makes an easy day trip from Bangkok which is about 2 hours away by train. Trains are frequent and cost ฿15 (30p) each way.
  • It is worth getting audio guides at Wat Phra Mahathat and Wat Phra Su Sanphet, which bring the sites to life as you walk around. Entrance for the two, plus one audio guide, cost us B400. It’s worth noting the audio guides have two headphone slots (although only one set is provided). If you take a second set, you can share an audio guide and reduce the cost.
  • If you do want to spend a night, we really liked Tamarind although it’s worth booking ahead. It is well located on the island, and almost opposite Wat Phra Mahathat. A tuk tuk from the station should be about ฿60.

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