I thought I might be templed-out after my morning of bicycling around the ruins of Ayutthaya, but in reality I found myself wanting more and signing up for a sunset boat cruise to see even more wats! During my day of biking I was able to hit all the highlights on the island that makes up central Ayutthaya, whereas the boat trip would be taking me to the temples lying on the outer banks of the river all while cruising along at sunset and seeing the outskirts of a city. And all for a mere 200 baht, or $6usd!
In addition to wanting to see the temples I signed up for the tour hoping to meet people. I was feeling a bit lonely after my day of solo sightseeing and knew that a tour would be a guaranteed way to meet conversational partners (you know… so I could stop talking to myself!) I’m not really good at talking to strangers and I knew this would absolutely be my biggest hurdle in solo travel. I was in luck and my tour was made up of a great group of Dutch, Irish and Isreali travelers, one of whom had just completed their Open Water course with one of my good friends in Koh Tao as their instructor! Oh, backpacking trail of Southeast Asia- what a small world you are.
Wat Panan Choeng
Our first stop was Wat Panan Choeng (20 baht admission, not included in tour) where I quickly realized our “boat tour” would include no actual tour guiding beyond, “Get off boat, come back 20 minutes.” But that was fine because there was so much to visually explore here!
This modern temple is known for its mix of Thai and Chinese influences, which was obvious from a simple glance around the complex.
This temple was bustling with activity and quirky vignettes. This image of two gold Buddhas sitting in the back of a modern pick-up truck is strangely one of my favorite photos of the entire day. Almost as fun were the woodland-animal topiaries sprinkled around the grounds.
By far, the highlight was stumbling on what appears to be some sort of monk-training summer camp in the middle of their snack break.
Inside, an impressive 62 foot tall Buddha actually made me gasp as I turned a corner.
As we departed the wat we had a really beautiful moment. Our boat pulled past a group of young monks sitting on the dock, singing and feeding the fish that were so plentiful throughout the river.
As I (heartbreakingly!) had the wrong memory card in my camera, it refused to record video and I was only able to get this short 5 second clip. Still, it gives you an idea of the chanting and the singing.
Saint Josephs Church
We did not stop at this cheery yellow church, but it was beautiful to sail past. The fact that there is such an old church in Ayutthaya is a testament to what a diverse city it once was- more than 40 ethnic groups called Ayutthaya home at the height of its power. Many Portuguese traders and diplomats lives here and brought with them Catholicism. While Thailand is very homogeneous in terms of religion (more than 95% of Thais are Buddhist and another 4% Muslim) a small group of Catholic Thais live in Ayutthaya today.
Wat Phutthai Sawsn
This wat was the second stop on our boat tour. Again, this was a sprawling complex with many different buildings and facets. We docked in front of a fairly modern and ugly building, but a bit of wandering led to much more beautiful ruins beyond.
I had separated from the group and actually felt like I was walking around in the backyard of the wat when I stumbled upon this beautifully draped reclining Buddha. While the structure that once housed him had crumbled, the Buddha remained greatly intact.
Another time I peeked into a doorway and was greeted by shrieking bats. Both of the temples we stopped at shared a propensity for hidden surprises and little quirks. I loved exploring them.
Our final stop of the evening was at Wat Chaiwatthanaram (supposedly 50 baht entrance fee, though we didn’t pay!) to watch the sunset. After an active day it was a welcome treat to sit down on a stone wall and watch the sky shift colors for a while.
And with that we headed back to town. The boat cruise was the perfect way to wrap up my short visit to Ayutthaya.
When we docked my new friends and I had one final surprise as we walked right into a night carnival! Funnily I recognized a lot of the games from the Water Festival in Phnom Penh. We had a great time walking around the carnival, snacking on street food and making the most out of the town’s limited nightlife.
All in all I can’t recommend a stop in Ayutthaya more highly. First of all, it is a place rich in not just beauty but cultural and historical significance. Secondly, everyone was SO friendly. I realize this is still a touristy place but compared to Bangkok and the islands the locals are much more “small-town” welcoming. Third, it takes a pretty minor investment of time and money. It cost 69 baht or $2usd to get there from Bangkok (taxi, train, water taxi), it was 500 baht or $15usd a night for an air-con boutique hotel room (I could have found cheaper) and my activities budget totaled 410 baht or $13usd (bike rental, boat trip, admission fees). So excluding food and alcohol I spent $45 total! As for time, I spent two days and two nights there but you could easily do everything I did in one day and one night if you didn’t have the same propensity as I do for blogging and air-conditioned naps.
Ayutthaya, you charmed me! The next stop on my train journey north, Lopburi, would have a lot to live up to…