Saturday, June 8, 2013

The ancient city of Ayutthaya

Nathan bribing the elephants with corn and tubers.

It's a 2 hour train ride from Bangkok (or 3 with the unexplainable delays).  Ayutthaya is the old capital of Thailand and was the trade center of Asia for centuries due to it's central location between China, India and Malaysia. Much of the city was founded around 1350 but was mostly destroyed in 1767 when it was invaded by the Burmese. At that time, it is thought to have been the largest city in the world with one million inhabitants. The ruins of this important city were added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1991. Both my father and his father visited in the 60's- and I was eager to see it as well.

The train was an interesting experience- it started off well with Nathan buying two cold beers from a lady-boy and our finding seats strategically located next to the food car.  After struggling to get my increasingly heavier bag in the luggage rack above my head- I settled in and celebrated our adventure by cracking open the beer.  The train lurched to a start and we were off- well, kind of.  I had pictured something entirely different- mainly our being in the open-air (read- no AC) 3rd class car with the windows down as the train raced north filling the car with cool breezes as we enjoyed the views of the country side.  The reality of my mistake quickly set in- the train was moving at a crawl with frequent long/hot stops where the hot air would hang heavy...  At some point- the train came to a station where it rested for over an hour.  At this point, the once near-empty train had filled to capacity and Nathan and I were sharing our bench seats with an increasing number of people.  Our arrival time for Ayutthaya came and went- and we were only a bit outside of Bangkok's outskirts.  All this being said- we paid less than a dollar (20 baht) so maybe the ol' rule stands true everywhere- You get what you pay for.  

Upon arriving at the busy bus station, we fought our way off the train as others were eager to board and find seats.  Hot, hungry and eager to settle in- we caught a tuk tuk into the historic city of Ayutthaya to check into our hostel. Since I have some friends on their way to Thailand who may be interested- we stayed at Ayutthaya Place (YHA) Hostel- the rooms were $15 and clean, had AC, hot water, breakfast and free wifi- score!  Also it's walking distance to many of the city's highlights- albeit a very hot and long walk.

After checking in, the owner told us that he had lined up a river boat for some other guests to see the temples and that we could join if we hurried- the tuk tuk would be there in 10 minutes. After the hot train- we were a bit hesitant since we really just wanted a shower, food and to sit in front of the AC-- but the tour was less than $6 and seemed like a good introduction to the area..And it was!  It lasted several hours and stopped at three different temples that were located on the other side of the river bank and ended the tour at the evening market where we finally got some food.

While many tourists choose to rent a motor scooter or bike- we feel more comfortable on our feet- so grabbed the hotel map and started exploring the island. It was a long, hot day but incredible.  Our highlights were the Ayutthaya Historical Park (my favorite part being the tree trunk growing around the Buddha ruin) and the HUGE reclining Buddha.

We knew that we were wearing down but were curious about the meaning of the elephant drawing on the map.  Just when we had given up- there it was- an elephant park.  It was, of couse, a tourist trap where people pay a small fortune to take an hour long elephant ride around the city.  We weren't interested in taking rides (although it was cool to see elephants navigating city roads).  In fact, I just heard last night that the seats cause damage and pain to the elephants...  I was more interested in meeting an elephant- and then I saw that we could buy a basket of corn and some sort of tuber for 50 baht!  Even better- we could feed the elephants!  Nathan started to fear that I'd spend all of my travel funds but in the end- I bought 5 baskets (around $8) and had so much fun connecting with the elephants!  I loved the way that they grabbed the food by wrapping the end of their trunks around the food and bring it to their mouth.  After Nate put down his camera- he got into the fun too and bought a few baskets.  We went back the next day and one of the younger elephants was out so after a few more baskets- she and I were friends too.  I was able to pet her trunk a few times as well as her wiry-haired head.  Perfect end to a beautiful stay in Ayutthaya.

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