Ayutthaya

We had breakfast at the hotel when the restaurant opened at 6 am. They served a full buffet that was included in the price of the room. We then took the hotel’s shuttle service on the one minute ride to the airport. We really could have walked, if not for all the luggage that we were carrying. We had developed another plan to wrangle our luggage from the would-be helpers, but none materialized that morning. It was either too early for them, or perhaps the international terminal was better at preventing them from hanging around. In celebration, I tipped the driver $1, just to prove that I really wasn’t that cheap afterall. We then caught our 8:35 flight out of Yangon, arriving in Bangkok at 10:20. We then left all our baggage at the “left luggage” department of the airport. We had done this with a majority of our large bags, both in Singapore as well as during our first trip to Bangkok, due to our short stays at both, but this time we left almost everything we had brought since we would not be staying in Bangkok that night.

There was only one thing that I really wanted to see in Thailand: the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya. I obviously had an unquenchable thirst for ancient ruins, since that had been a reoccurring theme on this trip. The first order of business was to catch a taxi to the main train station in Bangkok without being ripped off. I had confirmed in my guidebook that the place to hail taxis was at the “departures” section of the airport. There, metered taxis which have just dropped someone off would pick you up so that you can avoid the unmetered, flat rate, taxis which lined up near the “arrivals” area. It took me a while to find this area, though, since the airport didn’t have many signs pointing to this location. I figured that this was another part of their scam, but then realized that, once you arrive at the airport, you are already at “departures”, so why would people need to be directed back there?

I finally found a taxi, which took us the 40 minute trip to the train station for less than it had initially cost us for the 20 minute trip to the hotel when we had visited Bangkok before. We were finally learning the travel secrets of Thailand! Once we had arrived at the train station, I bought 12:30 tickets for the 90 minute trip to Ayutthaya for the whopping sum of 50 cents each, and then we all had lunch at the KFC that was located in the station while we waited for the train to leave. We even had time for some dessert at Dairy Queen- I guess we had missed the Western chain restaurants during our time in Myanmar where we had not seen a single recognizable chain during our entire stay.

The train was an experience in itself. It was a typical commuter train in Bangkok, complete with wooden seats as well as toilets that opened to the tracks below when flushed. The train would lurch every time that it made a stop (and there were many) as well as make some terrible clanking noises, but it seemed to be holding together for the most part. Our car was soon packed full of people, but we had found seats since we had gotten on at the first stop. Our trip took us past the royal palace in Bangkok, one of the places we would have liked to stop if we had had more time. It started to rain as we headed out into the countryside surrounding Bangkok, we had been very lucky so far that rain had not spoiled any of our travel plans. After all, it was rainy season in Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, I hoped that it would stop in time to see this final goal. It was still drizzling when we got off the train- at the wrong stop.

We had been spoiled in Japan. When a train says that it is going to arrive by a certain time there- they meant it. We had an arrival time of 1:58 printed on our ticket and, at precisely that time, we pulled into a train station. Besides the time, there were a number of other things that led me to believe we were in the right spot. First, I saw that the only other Westerners on the train were gathering their bags and preparing to disembark. Just to make sure, I turned to the person sitting next to us on the train and asked “Ayutthaya?” They then nodded their head in affirmation. Finally, outside the train window, I could see a map of our destination, almost an exact replica of the one that was found in my guidebook. With all of those cues in mind, we stepped off the train at two minutes before 2 in the afternoon.

Going by our guidebook, there should have been a ferry which crossed the river that lay across the highway that ran parallel to the train tracks. We walked in what should have been the right direction, along the river, but there was no ferry to be found. We finally asked someone, and they indicated that we should return to where the river met the highway. Sure enough, we could make out a dock among the lily pad-choked channel, but could find no schedule or evidence of a ferry. We finally returned to the train station and asked when the ferry left. “No ferry”, was the only reply we could get from the man behind the counter. Trudy was of the opinion at this point that we should buy tickets back to Bangkok on the first train headed in that direction.

The other Westerners we had seen, a Lithuanian couple, were not having much luck either. They were negotiating with two men driving a covered pickup truck, who wanted $25 to take them to the main tourist area. As this seemed like an exorbitant amount, they were unwilling to part with this amount of money. We decided to hook up with them at this point, since we were both trying to get to the same place. Since the maps that we both had indicated that there was also a bridge which crossed the river, in addition to the non-existent ferry, we set off together, walking in the direction of this bridge. After 5 minutes of walking, the pickup truck pulled up alongside us. They agreed to $20 to take all of us to our destination, and we finally understood why they were charging so much- it was a 20 minute drive away!

It was then that we began to understand the comedy of errors which had led us to get off at the wrong stop. First, it appears that the arrival time on Thai train schedules was just wishful thinking, by my calculations, the train had not arrived at the correct stop until at least 2:20. Second, the Lithuanians admitted that they were going by the schedule as well, but seeing us preparing our things to disembark clinched it for them. Third, maybe the person on the train thought I was asking “are you going to Ayutthaya?”, or maybe they just nod their heads “yes” when they don’t understand a question. Finally, I have no idea why they had a map of Ayutthaya in the “Bang Pa-in” train station, except perhaps to say “you are definitely not anywhere on this map!”.

We finally arrived in Ayutthaya around 3:15 in the back of a pickup truck. We had a little over an hour before most of the sights closed for the day, but we had more pressing matters to attend to. Justin was feeling sick and needed to find a bathroom right away. We parted ways with our new-found friends and then asked some people where to find a bathroom. After 15 minutes of walking through a market place- all the while asking more people where the bathroom was, we finally found it. The bathroom ended up costing 10 cents to enter, with a little roll of toilet paper costing the same, both of which I gladly paid to the lady behind the little table that had been set up near the entrance.

After accomplishing this task, we all visited the temple which housed the largest Buddha in Thailand and then Justin and I strolled through the main set of ruins, called Wat Phra Si Sanphet, while Trudy and Brennan, whose thirst for ancient ruins had apparently been quenched, waited for us near where the pickup had dropped us off. The ruins in Thailand were interesting to me since they contained large domes that appeared to be made of concentric circles stacked one on top of one another. Also, some of the ruins had a much more “Roman” appearance than any of the other sites that we had visited, complete with columns and buttresses. As we reached the end of the walled compound and turned to rejoin the others, Justin paused for a second and took what would become my favorite picture on the entire trip: a view of Wat Phra Si Sanphet from behind the crumbling walls, just as the sun was about to set. It looked like it belonged on a postcard or on a Thai tourism website.

Trudy and Brennan were ready to go back to Bangkok, but I talked them into one more stop on the way to the train station. One of the most famous sights in Ayutthaya was Wat Mahatat, which contained a statue of Buddha which had been toppled by the ravages of time so long ago that a fig tree had grown around it, with only its face peaking out from among the roots. It was similar to something we had seen at Ta Prohm in Cambodia, but unique enough that I was interested in seeing it. We walked over to where some bicycle rickshaws were parked and hired two of them, for $1 each, to take us on the 15 minute ride to this site. On the way, we saw one of the more interesting specimens of wildlife we had seen on the trip: a water monitor lizard, which was at least four feet long, ran across the road in front of us and dove into a nearby pond.

When we reached Wat Mahatat, it was almost time for the area to close. This, coupled with the fact that the rest of the family was ready to call it a day, meant that we didn’t spend much time there at all. I felt like the stereotypical Japanese tourists that we would joke about on the trip- pausing to take their picture next to some famous sight while making the victory sign with their fingers, and then rushing off to see the next attraction. But seeing it this way was better than not seeing it at all in my book. We paused to take a few pictures, sans victory sign, and then headed back towards the entrance.

We did a little shopping at some area stands that were set up outside Wat Mahatat so that we would have at least a few souvenirs from Thailand. Justin bought a collection of chopsticks so that he would have something to bring back to his Japanese friends at school. We then found a pickup, like the one we had arrived to Ayutthaya in, that agreed to take us to the train station. We arrived at the station around 5:30 to find that the next train out wasn’t for another hour, so we hung around there until it was time to leave.

Justin, who was still feeling ill, was interested in visiting yet another pay bathroom, while Brennan took a liking to the half dozen stray dogs that made their home around the train station. Soon, our Lithuanian friends showed up to wait for the train as well, they shared some Thai beer with us that they had picked up in town before heading to the station. At 6 pm, they played the Thai national anthem over the loud speakers and we all stood up, hands at our sides, as we now knew was expected of us.

The train ride back to Bangkok was fairly uneventful, as was the taxi ride to the airport. We ate dinner at a family restaurant in the airport, where I had pad Thai, my last taste of authentic Thai food. Since the family wanted to use the internet after we ate, I handed the waiter a 100 Baht bill (about $3) and asked if he could give me some change, since the internet computers only used 10 Baht coins. He bowed his head in thanks and stuck the bill in his front pocket, evidently thinking it was a tip. Luckily, another waiter, who apparently spoke some English, witnessed the whole exchange and explained to him what we wanted.

After we had all checked our email, we went through the immigration procedures to leave the country, in which we had to stand in an unexpectedly long line, unforeseen by us since it was about 11:30 pm at that point. I had outdone myself this time with the early flights- the cheapest flight back to Japan that I could find was the red eye that left at 1 am. Everything else, like almost all flights into and out of Japan, was exorbitantly expensive. The day officially ended as we shopped in an airport shop for omiyagi, the nearly compulsory gift that one brings back to one’s coworkers after you have been on a trip. Although I was running out of Baht by that point, this wasn’t a problem, the store must have been used to Japanese visitors- they were happy to accept yen for purchases as well.

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