Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Ayutthaya Guide

We took another minibus, but this time we left from Victory Monument. It's much easier to get to than Mo Chit. So much more convenient. This time, we went up to Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Siam, now famous for its abundance of temple ruins.

The minivan took us just inside the gates of the city, so we had to take a songtheaw into town. We had a plan on which temples we wanted to see, so we asked the driver to take us to the center of Ayutthaya, where we could rent some bikes to get around. To which he replied some sort of Thai gibberish that ended in something that sounded like center. So we got in.

Turns out it was English gibberish, and he was saying Elephant Center. Luckily, the Elephant Center was nearby one of the temples on our list, so we walked from there. We never did find bikes to rent, so we ended up walking between all the temples. Fortunately, they're all pretty close together (at least all the ones we wanted to see). Unfortunately, it was ridiculously hot and the sun was burning me up and sunscreen is crazy expensive (like $10/bottle), so we haven't bought any yet.

These temples are not free to visit. There are several ways to buy tickets. You can pay 50 baht each per temple (that's like $1.50), or you can buy a pass to the famous temples (best for tour groups - 220 baht for six temples). We opted to pay per site, since we didn't want to go to two of the temples included on the pass.

We ended up going to four temples: Wat Phra Ram, Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Wat Mahathat, and Wat Chai Watthanaram.

Wat Phra Ram

From the Elephant Stay, we walked across a park with ponds and bridges toward our first temple (you can see the main prang (or tower) popping out from behind the trees in the center).

The place was pretty much empty, and you could totally get in from all other sides without paying, but it's not that much and that's just cheap and wrong. So we paid the sweet old ticket taker lady at the front and walked in to explore Wat Phra Ram.

The first thing you notice is that everything is made out of brick. It's crazy. I've never been in such a masonry paradise before. The second thing you notice is the destruction of all the buddhas (well, of everything, but the buddhas stood out more to me than the rest of the ruins). Apparently, the Burmese conquered Ayutthaya and destroyed everything sacred to the Thais.

Straight down a path next to Wat Phra Ram was what we thought was Wat Phra Si Sanphet. We were wrong. This was a newer temple with a new buddha.

Wat Phramongkhon Bophit

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Off to the side of the long path that we followed to get to that building was Wat Phra Si Sanphet. This was the cultural, political, and social center of Ayutthaya back in its heyday. It's a big space (not crazy huge like Angkor size, but pretty big) with three large chedis going up the center.

You can walk completely around the temple, climbing around most of the ruins on the outskirts of this center rectangle (there were signs saying to stay off the stairs for the main chedis in the picture above, but lots of tourists were going up anyway and no authorities were around to stop them).

We stayed off things we weren't supposed to climb on, which still left us with plenty of areas to explore.

As you can also see in these pictures, there were very few people there. Well, let me rephrase that. There were a bunch of people there but they were all in groups, so they traveled in herds. If they got in your picture, just wait a few minutes and they'd all move along and you'd have it to yourself again. There were very few tourists that came on their own, like Isa and I did.

Around the outside, we also found a few of these tired (and HOT) poor things, seeking shade wherever they could. (We were pretty much going from shady spot to shady spot too - it was crazy hot today!)

From this temple, we walked back past Phra Ram and cut straight through Rama Public Park. It's a pretty park full of ponds, bridges, and small ruins.

Wat Mahathat

Wat Mahathat was pretty cool too. We thought the leaning towers of Mahathat (that's not actually a thing, so don't ask people about it) were particularly interesting.

I liked how a few of the more prominent buddha statues here were still pretty intact and recognizable.

But the most interesting thing about this temple is the floating buddha head in the tree.

The head must have been chopped off a sculpture and then the tree swallowed it up in the subsequent years. It's cool, but way overcrowded and difficult to photograph because groups keep swarming in and getting in front of you. They also mandate that you don't put your head above the buddha's, which is difficult since it's in the trunk of a tree. But you just kneel or squat and they don't say anything.

The first three (above) are all within walking distance from each other in the center of Ayutthaya. The last temple, Wat Chai Watthanaram, is on the far side of the city and across the river, so we took another songtheaw out there and back. I thought we had agreed on 100 baht, but apparently he thought we agreed on 100 baht per leg, there and back. Whatever. It's an extra $3 and there's really nothing we could do about it except argue and look like really cheap American tourists, so we shrugged it off and just paid it.

Wat Chai Watthanaram

This temple was pretty, but the inside was all under restoration, so we couldn't go in and explore.

By the way, as far as architectural terms go, the far one on the left above is a prang (an ear-of-corn shaped tower that is totally Khmer style - check out the tops of Angkor Wat for more examples). The pointier towers above are called chedis. A chedi and a prang are pretty much the same thing, just different styles, so it's interesting to have them both in one place.

We weren't sure where to catch the minibus back, so we trusted our songtheaw driver to take us to the right place (never a good idea). Everything worked out though as he took us exactly where we needed to be (the southwest corner of Naresuan Alley and Khlong Makharm Riang Road, if you're wondering) and we caught another minibus back to Victory. We love traveling by minibus. It's so fast, convenient, and cheap.

Also, I just found a blog with a helpful map with bike locations. So if you're going, go to one of these places on the map to get a bike (this would have been much more helpful this morning, but whatever).

And one last thing, I thought you'd like to see this:

It was so hot, I walked around with a towel on my head to try to keep my face, ears, and neck from burning. She snapped that picture as I was trying to show YouTube just how ridiculously hot it was.

Although I did get burned, I'm sure the towel still helped. So I'm happy that this is all I got burned. And my arms and legs and feet too. But not my face. Yay!

Oh! And check out my new shirt Isa found at MBK last night for $5.

We finished the day by cooling off in our pool. So nice to have a pool. :)

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