The night train arrived into Ayutthaya at 6.30am, with Chris and I having caught very little sleep. It was a new experience for us, a Thai night train. We were a bit confused when we boarded our designated carriage to see only seats, when we had ensured we booked a bed. Both having top bunks, our eyes drifted upwards to try to work out where we would be sleeping. It looked as though some sort of contraption would pull down from the top of the carriage, so it was a case of waiting. Correct in our thinking, about 9pm the carriage monitor came around with a laminated sheet containing the safety regulations, with an instruction to ask him if we wanted the beds to be made up. Clearly having had much practice he was a whizz at making the beds - folding out the two seats on the bottom to form a bed, and revealing a fold down bed from the roof of the carriage. We brushed our teeth and climbed into our cubby holes for the night.
Despite it being a night train, which usually means they crawl along at a very slow speed to reduce movement, this train was travelling along at 70 km/h! We were being thrown all over the place, and we only slept in roughly 20 minute intervals.
Knowing we would arrive early morning, I had pre-booked some accommodation based on a recommendation from a couple we met in Pai, at 'Baan Are Gong'. It was about 100m away from the train station, and along side the river surrounding the old town of Ayutthaya. It was a very authentic, traditional Thai wooden house, with plenty of character and some very welcoming dogs, who howled away as we walked in at 7am.
Unsurprisingly the room was not ready, so we decided to have a wander to find something for breakfast. One of the younger dogs had taken a liking to us, he was gorgeous but very smelly! He decided to join us for a little look around, seeming like he was protecting us. He even walked down to the platform where for 5 baht each (less than £0.09) we caught a small boat across the river to the old town. The dog didn't fancy joining us on the boat. Opposite where we jumped off the boat was a morning market, so after a little look around, we stopped by a friendly looking lady selling chicken rice soup for just 15 baht (£0.30!). Not being able to refuse the mangosteen, we purchased half a kilo for not even £0.60 which we devoured back at the guesthouse. Our friend, the dog, was actually waiting for us by the boat station when we arrived back.
Our room was ready at 9am, with wooden shutters to climb through to enter, it was the most authentic room we've stayed in. The only downside was it had shared bathroom facilities.
At midday we decided to hire a couple of bicycles to use for seeing the sites and exploring Ayutthaya. A shock to the system, having spent the previous two weeks on a motorbike!
Ayutthaya is an ancient city and an island at the confluence of three rivers. The great cultural value of Ayutthaya's ruins were officially recognized in 1991, when the Historic City became an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We cycled along the busy main roads for just over 2km to reach Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon. A large temple outside of the city, very rustic with lots of character. The heat was too much handle so we decided to grab a bite to eat across the road and enjoy a refreshing hibiscus drink (a new favourite since trying it at the Pai land split). After a slight detour trying to find our way into the old city, we navigated our way to the ruins of Wat Mahathat, and found the Buddha head nestled in tree roots. It was very pleasant exploring the ruins, quiet and serene, perfect for snapping away on the SLR.
We meandered our way alongside more ruins, past parks, street vendors and elephants, to reach Wat Phra Si Sanphet. A huge brass Buddha sits in the new temple across from the ruins from the stone temple. Some much needed refreshing coconut ice cream provided us the sugar burst we needed to cycle back to the boat. It was ridiculously humid, but nice to have a slight breeze being on a bicycle. We managed, awkwardly, to take the bicycles on the boat with us, with some help from a friendly local man.
The guesthouse had a lovely balcony overlooking the river, with some wooden deck chairs, and a perfectly placed fan. We plonked ourselves here for the evening, popping out for a very average dinner, and returning with some beers to sit and watch an impressive storm light up the sky.
A slow and lazy morning, enjoying the balcony and chill time. We decided to venture out to find a TripAdvisor recommended cafe for lunch. The plan was to walk, but once we crossed the river there was an abundance of bicycles lined up, and for around £0.70 each we could hire one. Being such a hot and humid day again, the idea of a breeze on the bicycle was much more appealing than walking. It also got us to our destination much quicker, which was a couple of kilometres across the old city.
Chris went for a noodle dish, and I went for a ginger chicken stir fry with rice, from 'Coffee Old City'. Nothing amazing, but it was nice, and it was situated opposite some temple ruins. Thinking we should make use of having the bicycles again, we went for a cycle around. We ended up heading towards a reclining Buddha, which appeared from no where all of a sudden. It was huge.
We were now on the exact opposite side of the city from where we catch the boat. About 5Km in a straight line. But with no agenda, we decided to wind our way around the 'ring road' until we reached the boat station. It meant we could soak up the atmosphere, and see some sites not on the 'tourist route'.
Later that afternoon we boarded a small boat, along with about 10 other people, for a sunset river cruise. We would make three stops along the way; firstly at Wat Phanan Choeng. The highest building within the temple complex houses an immense 9 meter high seated Buddha.
Our second stop was at Wat Phuttaisawan. To our hoping, it turned out to be a temple Chris had been wanting to find since we arrived in Chiang Mai. When choosing some postcards he came across an image of a Buddha head through an old stone window. It was an image that stayed in his mind and he was desperate to capture the same moment. Now was his chance - we were at the exact temple where the postcard image was taken. We walked slowly around the temple ruins and eventually caught site of a recline Buddha behind a stone wall, with three wooden windows. Chris took plenty of pictures to ensure he captured the perfect angle - I think he took some fantastic shots.
Back on the boat, the sun was beginning to set as we arrived at our final stop, Wat Chaiwatthanaram. An Angkor Wat style temple - it glowed a musty orange colour in its serene setting. Chris and I took our time exploring the ruins and enjoying our photography. It was the perfect time of day, with the temperature cooling off a little, and the lightening emphasising the rustic stone.
We were the last back to boat, which is rare. It seemed our group was not so keen to look around temples but just along for the boat trip.
As the sun set we took a turning along a narrow stretch of the river, taking us past the locals out fishing with their homemade rods, rustic houses, kids waving, and dogs and cats perched along the side of the river taking a drink. Surprisingly we caught glimpse of several Monitor lizards swimming along in the river. In some cases they were nearly 2 metres long.
Unbeknown, we were dropped off in the old city at a night market. This was not ideal, as it meant we had to walk just over a kilometre in a hurry to ensure we could catch the last boat back over to where we were staying. Thankfully we did make it, and we enjoyed some tasty Thai food for dinner at the guesthouse that evening.
We quickly gulped down a kiwi and banana smoothie and walked up the road to the train station, to catch a £0.30 train ride, for an hour and half, taking us back to Bangkok...for the third time...!