Aug 08 2011
Ayutthaya was once one of the richest cities in the world and the capital of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya. It was sacked by the Burmese in 1767, bringing down both the city and the kingdom. It’s estimated that its population was more than 300,000 by the early 1600s, and grew to almost a million inhabitants in the early 1700s — a truly staggering number, that if true, would have made Ayutthaya the largest city in the world. Its fall from grace was so quick and the evacuation of the population so sudden that the extensive temple complexes were abandoned to sit unused for years before the city repopulated. The temples still sit (some faring better than others in the tropical elements), unused, although many have been partially restored. It’s a haunting testament to how quickly a civilization can fall.
There are many options for day trips to Ayutthaya, but I firmly believe that there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. The right way involves bicycles, picnic lunches among the ruins, and plenty of time for lazing about. The wrong way involves a minibus from Khao San, getting hauled around at lightening-speed, and a lot of aggravation. Choose wisely.
Don’t let anyone tell you different: Ayutthaya isn’t hard to get to. The train runs right through town, buses run multiple times an hour, and public vans shoot back and forth constantly. The train is the slowest at two and a half hours, the cheapest at 35 baht for a 3rd class carriage, and the most beautiful, passing through kilometres of bright green rice paddies, fresh water ponds, and herds of water buffalo on the way. Minivans are the fastest option, leaving from Victory Monument (take BTS Exit 2 and u-turn at the bottom of the stair way, the van loading station will be to your right less than 25 metres away, between the mall and a 7-Eleven) and only taking 75 minutes — busses split the difference between speed and cost, but leave from Mor Chit station in the north, which can be quite a hike depending on which part of town your accommodation is in.
Once in Ayutthaya, biking around is great fun. Traffic is light, and many times you’ll be the only one cruising through some of the wat ruins. There are several places that rent bikes for the day clustered around the cross-river ferry between the train station and main town of Ayutthaya (40 baht a day).
Street food is plentiful, especially around Ayutthaya University (Rochana Rd and Si Sanphet Rd). Grab some food to go and eat laying in the shade of the trees growing around the ruins. You don’t really need a map or a guide book for Ayutthaya; just ask whoever you rent a bike from which way to ride, and away you’ll go. Ask anyone in town and they’ll point towards the cluster of ruins. Part of the fun is discovering some of the quiet wats that are out of the way, off leafy side streets. Some sites have an entrance fee of 30 to 50 baht.
An afternoon beer next to the river rounds the day off nicely, followed by either a speedy van ride back to Bangkok or a lazy train journey.
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