The Way North: Bangkok to Chiang Mai (Part I)

8 Mar


One never needs a reason to travel. This explains why my friend A and I spent our entire Christmas vacation on a 10-day blitz across the great plains of Thailand – starting in Bangkok making our way to its northernmost frontier, Chiang Rai.

Our route: Bangkok - Ayutthaya - Lopburi - Sukhothai - Chiang Mai - Chiang Rai

Our adventure began at the Hua Lamphong railway station in Bangkok, and our plan was to railway it all the way North, stopping through different towns along the way. We purchased tickets to Ayutthaya, the old Siamese capital, around 2H away by train (TBT 30). Despite friends’ warnings not to take 3rd class trains due to the major possibility of heat, fleas and other itchy things, we took it anyway because it was the one leaving the soonest.

Waiting for the train to Ayutthaya

We were pleasantly surprised that the train wasn’t as awful as we had expected. Sure there wasn’t any AC, and the seats were hard, but the window was big enough and the tracks not too bumpy. Soon we were pulling into the heat of the tropical sun, chugging our way to old Siam.

At Ayutthaya, we decided to ignore Lonely Planet’s advice to rent bicycles to get around the ruins. Renting a tuk-tuk to tour us around seemed to be better for us, who didn’t want to have to navigate around (oh did I also mention that I don’t know how to bike?) Fortunately for us, we found Sham Nan (mobile +66847669841) at the train station and haggled a good price for his tuk-tuk to take us around the popular temples. If I remember correctly, it was TBT 600 for 2pax for two half-day tours. It was a good idea too, since we didn’t imagine that Auytthaya would be this sweeping city with wats dotted all over the place!

Walking Changs

From our guidebook we bought outside one of the temples:

Ayutthaya was once one of the major world empires of Asia, with influence extending all the way to China, Japan and Europe. The city had a population surpassing that of London and the capitals of the west.

This was totally interesting – trying to imagine ourselves back in how Ayutthaya used to be, stomping around on Elephants instead of scooting around Mang Sham Nan’s tuk-tuk. These Wats were but shades of their former glory, and these were pretty, pretty awesome shades already.

Buddha's Court

Buddhas everywhere! Sitting, meditating, reclining, and standing. Buddhas trapped in trees, watching over fountains, smiling, cloaked in monk’s saffron, some sadly without heads. We learned there were different kinds of temple architecture in old Siam, with Ayutthaya, Khmer, and Chinese influences.

We stopped at the largest outdoor Reclining Buddha and offered him lotus flowers, candles, incense and covered him with gold leaves. Here we offered prayers of thanks and protection for our Thai adventure.

Reclining Buddha

Later on that afternoon, we watched the sunset atop the Wat Phukhaothong built by Thai King Naresuan to commemorate his defeat of the invading Burmese army. We got a great view of the old city then. On a clear day, you can see forever. *Snickers at lame attempt to reference Barbra Streisand*

Wat Phukhaothong, Ayutthaya

We stayed at the Moradok Thai Guesthouse (found on Asia Rooms — my best friend in booking cheap ho[s]tels for our entire Thai trip!) TBT 900 for 2-night stay for 2pax with breakfast. Our hosts Gina and Sam See along with their gaggle of lady friends took good care of us and all of the hostel’s guests. Well.. some guests better cared for than the others HAHA *Wink Wink* We dubbed this charming pension Cougar Town (go figure). But it was a very comfortable stay, our room had 3 queen-sized beds, AC and our own bathroom & shower. The house was located a corner away from a weekend street market, and a hawker’s food bazaar.

Day 2 of our Ayutthaya adventure started with brunch at the Floating Market where we had yummy Pad Thai, all sorts of bbq and satay, meatballs coated with what looked like instant noodles (yum!), chicken pandan, plus plus plus plus!

Brunch at the Ayutthaya Floating Market

The rest of the market was pretty touristy, a good place to buy souvenirs, shirts, little trinkets and other packaged snacks — but we skipped this whole part since we would have had to lug all that pasalubong all the way to Chiang Mai!

We went by way of the temples again, and by early afternoon we had pretty much exhausted the touristy ones. We had been telling Sham Nan that we wanted to see more of the non-touristy temples, in the real Ayutthaya style.

The glorious Wat Chaiwattanaram

Our guide kindly obliged us and took us to a couple of wonderful, quaint little wats in the middle of nowheres. There was one in a field beside a river — with birds calling and shiny beetles everywhere! At another, we laid lotus flower offerings to a reclining Buddha whose head barely fit under the ceiling of that modest temple. Our favorite off-the-road discovery was this little chedi tucked away in a secret garden guarded by dragons.

Wat Mee Nang Pleum, Ayutthaya

Far from the throng of tourists and tripods, softdrinks hawkers and vendors, discovering these wat gems was a revelation. Just to sit by the river and be quiet, or to say a quick prayer of thanks under a tree was fitting for us to take all that splendor in, that splendor which had been waiting six long centuries to be found – by us.

Sunset in Ayutthaya

We capped the day off with a nice cold frappe, ice cream and waffles at the Weing Fa Hotel, down the street from our own Cougar Town. Free use of computer to patrons of the coffee shop, so we took this opportunity to post some photos on Facebook and send out our wish-you-were-here’s.
The next day we left aboard the 8am train to Lopburi, a town we were interested in stopping at en route to Sukhothai. But more on those two places in my next post.
OH and if you want to see more of Ayutthaya, STEVEN SEGAL (yes the Glimmer Man himself) has  mindblowing smash hit single called “Girl It’s Alright”, the video of which was shot all over old Siam. HEE HEE HEE

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