Saturday, April 15, 2006

Thailand: The historic city of Ayutthaya

I didn't try to wake up early today since I had been travelling nightly for the past few days and this was my first time in a bed since I left Bangkok Tuesday. In fact, I don't even consider Monday night as sleep since I was rushed to the hospital early in the morning. Hehe! So I was up by about 9:20 a.m. if I'm not mistaken. It was raining! Just great! So I was pondering whether to push through with Ayutthaya.

I ate breakfast at the same place Ton and I ate dinner Monday night. This time, I had green papaya salad (the less spicy version) and phad thai. Hehe! The rain stopped so I decided to go even if it continued raining. Going tomorrow was out of the question since I did not want to be caught in the Sunday madrush back to Bangkok.

So I got dressed and took a cab to the Hualamphong Train Station which was the grand old station of Bangkok. Our main train station in the Philippines was the Tutuban Train Station. But since Filipinos think of building nothing except malls and shopping centers, that grand old station of ours is a shopping mall today. Sigh! Although I'm happy they did adaptive reuse since the old structure is still standing. I hope when the Northrail is completed, they reinclude this old building as the main entrance to the new terminal.

Ayutthaya is about an hour and a half from Bangkok. I arrived at the station in the nick of time since the next train left in ten minutes. I was charged only THB15 for the trip! It was a non-aircon train but it was quite ok since it was a short ride and there were not much people in it. On the way, it started raining again. Sigh! I arrived in Ayutthaya at about 1:30 p.m.

The train station at Ayutthaya reminded me of our own
old train stations along the Manila-Dagupan route. I hope the policy makers of the Northrail project realize that these old stations are a better attraction than any new ones they will build. They could easily equip these old structures with modern amenities inside if they wanted to. Check out the ICOMOS Philippines blog for photos of these old train stations today.

In the station, there was a sign board which detailed the tuktuk and taxi fares from the station to any particular site in the city. That is a must in every tourist city so that cheating drivers could easily be detected. At the bottom, there was also an option for a tour at THB200 an hour. Hmmmm... since it was raining, I decided to rent out a taxi for an hour and hope the rains stop a bit.

The Historic City of Ayutthaya and Associated Historic Towns was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1991. I was founded in the year 1350, and became the second Siamese capital after Sukhothai, another UNESCO site. The city was destroyed by the Burmese in the 18th century and the structures that remain are characterized by the prang (reliquary towers) and gigantic monasteries, a somber reminder of its past glory.

The nearest important site to the station was the
Wat Yai Chaya Mongkol. Entrance fee was THB20. I took quite a while inside since it was difficult to move around due to the rain. So I told the driver to bring we to the Wat Mahathat where I would take a walk to other nearby sites.

It was heavy traffic into town due to the water wars along the street. From the bridge, you could see pick-up trucks seemingly parked along the street as its passengers at the back ensued in water fights with each other. So the driver made a turn to avoid the area. We got to Wat Mahathat a few minutes later where I got off and paid him THB200 for the 1 hour. By this time, the rain stopped a bit. Good! Entrance fee to the site was THB30.

Next to the Wat Mahathat was the Wat Ratcha Burana. Entrance fee was another THB30. Hmmmm, every site had its own ticket. And that helps raise funds to maintain the sites. I wonder why the Philippines does not charge for visiting its UNESCO sites. Hehe! It reminded me of Hue since each royal tomb had a US$3 ticket. Once declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it increases market value as well. Hehe!

As soon as I had exited, the rain started to get stronger again. So I ran to the nearby restaurant to have a late lunch. It was a traditional setting since you sat on a suchion on the floor. And the view of Wat Ratcha Burana was great and relaxing. After the meal, I waited outside for a tuktuk but none passed by.

Walking to the next site was out of the question since it was raining and there were so many pick-ups just going around with new year revellers at the back with drums and pails of water looking for hapless victims to drench even further. As if the rains were not enough! Hehe! It was a very lively atmosphere with passengers at the back banging on drums and pans, shouting, chanting and singing, or dancing to the beat of the loud music being played up front the vehicle. Well, I had a camera and celphone to protect so I really avoided getting wet. Hehe!

By this time, for some reason, my camera lens fogged. And it seemed like it wasn't going to dry up within the next few minutes. Sigh! So I guess that was my signal to go home. I checked mail a bit to kill time and then took a walk to the ferry station that would bring me to the train station. On the way, I happened to pass by the bus station. Just great! Hehe! Since it was raining, I decided to take an aircon bus. It was THB50 back to Bangkok. On the train, that would have been THB40. So that was not bad at all.
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