Wats up, Ayutthaya?
This was written last night…
As today is my seventh day in Bangkok, I decided it was time to take a day trip to a nearby area, which a couple of PCVs had recommended I visit, especially when they heard of my interest/hobby, photography. So yesterday I got instructions on how to find a minivan to a place called Bang Pa-In – near the Victory Monument, he said, there are minivans that go to Bang Pa-In. Just get in one and you will be taken there. The other option, as I found out at PC, was to take a train. Seeing as a train to Bang Pa-In was supposed to take two hours, I decided to go with the minibus instead.
Well…that did not work out quite as I had planned. I got to the place where I saw the buses, and they were all going to Ayutthaya instead. I asked where the buses were to Bang Pa-In and was told someplace else. Okay, I said, I will go to Ayutthaya instead (I had planned to go there another day, but hey, I decided to seize the opportunity to go today).
So there we were, on our way to Ayutthaya, and (as in Ukraine), stopping to let people off along the way. At one point, I saw a road sign for the exit to Bang Pa-In. The driver pulled over on the side of the highway, looked at me and said “Bang Pa-In”. Oh hell no. There was no way I was going to get out of that vehicle on the side of a highway, who knows how far from Bang Pa-In, and try to find my way. I replied “No, I am going to Ayutthaya” and we continued.
Along the way, we passed a Teslo store (combined with another store, I forgot the name). This is, to my understanding from how it looked, the local equivalent of a Costco. And not so far down the highway, we passed another one. Hmm. Traffic leaving the city was not as bad as I thought it would be – we were apparently heading against the flow.
When we arrived in Ayutthaya, I was surprised. I had been told it was a training site, and more of a “village”. Well, apparently that term is defined differently in different places, because I would absolutely not define this place as a village. It was like there was never a break from Bangkok, and it was a suburb of the city.
According to the information I had read, it was not a good idea to try to get around Ayutthaya by foot. That left the following options – hiring a private tuk-tuk for 200 baht an hour (pass), trying to jump on the public tuk-tuks (hmm, also pass – you never know when and where they will be), renting a motor scooter (against PC rules – pass) and renting a bike. Guess what I ended up doing?
As I pedaled my way to the first wat, I was thinking “hey, for a one-speed bike, this isn’t so bad, and the wat is not so far. This should be nice – get some exercise, see the ruins…” I will mention that the wats in Ayutthaya, most of them at least, are actually ruins (in some ways, this makes for better/more interesting photography). So I stopped at Wat Ratchaburana, fully expecting to pay the admission fee listed in all of the
books and guides. I got there and the woman said “go in for free”. Huh? Okay, well, the king’s birthday was last week, so I know the free admission is not related to that. I wonder what it could be? Well, I was not going to complain about free admission, so I went in, poked around, photographed, then got back on the bike to head across the street to Wat Maha That. According to the information provided by my bike rental place, Wat Maha That “houses the holy relics of Lord Buddha”. I also got free admission to this wat and got some nice photos, including one of myself with the head of a stone Buddha that has become entwined in a bodhi tree’s roots.
After that, I nearly got lost, found my place again (thanks to the many wats and their good signage), passed by Wat Phra Ram, which is not open to the public, and was looking for the Ancient Palace when I found Wat Phra Si Samphet and Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit.
If you think you have not seen or heard of Wat Phra Si Samphet, you have – there have been many, many photos of it in guide books and on the Internet. As it turns out, I was close, as it stands in the Ancient Palace compound (how did I miss the Ancient Palace??), and was once used as a residential palace, then was later dedicated as the royal chapel. The familiar three tower like objects are familiar to anyone who has seen photos of Thailand.
Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit, as it turns out, is an active wat. It houses a large bronze cast iron Buddha. It looked a bit new, and as it turns out, it is a reconstruction. I walked in right behind some monks, who kneeled to pray and gave me a fabulous photo. By the way, I never use flash, especially in wats (in case you were wondering). I try to be as respectful as possible to the people who pray in the wats and be as non-intrusive as I can.
At this point, I was starting to get a bit hungry, but actually did not feel like eating, so off I went to the next
wat – one that was outside of the city. More interesting, as it turns out, and almost no visitors – because of the flooding or the location? Who knows. Wat Na Phra Mane is interesting – there is a large building, which is pretty well preserved, and it was the first place that charged me an entry fee. It was the most “cluttered” wat I have seen, but it is pretty. Apparently the main bot was built in 1503, and has “the distinctive features of Ayutthayan architecture”, both outside and in. What I noticed was on the inside of the bot, it was red and gold (the first I had seen like that) and the Buddha, large like the others, was different in his facial expression. Usually the Buddhas are sitting with a serene smile on their faces – this guy was not so happy looking. In the smaller bot next to the main one there is a dark green Buddha, who was again more serene. It is interesting – the more Buddhas I see, the more I start to notice the differences in their styles.
On my way to this next wat, I was starting to think that I should have rented the scooter after all, and just not told Peace Corps. My not in such great shape legs were starting to tire, I was riding into the wind, and it was a bit further out than I thought it would be. But it was beautiful and not very many people visit it right now, I think. The further out I got, the more signs of flooding I was seeing – and in many ways, I think they are still recovering from the flooring. There is a lot of garbage, which does not seem to be the norm in Bangkok (it is a rather clean city, considering its size) and I saw tents and other signs of displacement, as well as some puddles. I got to climb up part of this chedri as well, and took a photo where I am seated on the top step (thus the reason I don’t have a big smile on my face).
After taking a Coke break at the little cart by this wat, I headed toward another one that is not in the main town. However, once I saw the bridge I would have to go over, and then the distance to the next one, which I would have to backtrack, I changed my mind and stayed on the road, which eventually led to another one, and another – I was making my way back to the place where I had rented the bike. As much as I wanted to see more wats, I had been pedaling for four hours on a one-speed bike and was tiring more quickly than I care to admit.
On my way back through the town I kept seeing all of these places with bags of something that looked like
noodles, sitting there waiting to be purchased. I stopped at one and asked if they were noodles – the guy said I could taste for 5 baht. Okay – so he got out a pancake thing and put some of the things inside – closer up they look more like straw than noodles. When I got the pancake thing from him I realized it was sweet – basically Thai cotton candy! It was reeeeeally sweet. He asked if I wanted to buy a bag, but I declined – I cannot eat a lot of cotton candy, no matter what country I am in.
Eventually I made it back, returned the bike (though no one was at the office, and they called me later to ask me about the bike!) and got on a van back to Bangkok.
On the way back, I noticed that they are building something on the side of the highway – an OUTLET MALL. Because there are not already enough places to shop in the Bangkok area, I guess…
I had just gotten back and gotten started on this blog entry when I got a knock on my door – it turned out to be another person here for medical stuff – a PCV from Mongolia. He and I had a real American dinner- I broke down and got a hamburger dinner (from Burger King – they have McD’s, BK, KFC, Pizza Hut, and many other American chains – I have even seen Mr. Donut and Dunkin’ Donuts) and we went to Baskin Robbins for dinner. Blew my food budget for the day out of the water on dinner! What can I say, I wanted a hamburger.