Ayutthaya was a capital city of Siam before being destroyed by the Burmese in the 18th century. It is listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
My first impressions when I arrived 2 days ago were not good. As an Asian city on an island formed by the rivers I expected a dense little city that was bad for cars and good for walking around. It’s actually a very open city with long, wide roads that are excellent for cars and a pain to walk around. Thankfully the roads aren’t that busy.
A short walk from where I was staying are two of the more famous ruined Wats from the city’s glory days : Wat Ratchaburana and Wat Mahathat. In between the two is a road that was being setup with stalls. This weekend there is an annual festival to celebrate the UNESCO listing. I was looking for the way in and it wasn’t obvious. A gate to Wat Ratchaburana was locked and I couldn’t see anyone inside. To the south there was an open gateway in the temporary fence as the setup a staged area for the festival at the back of Wat Mahathat. On the principle that it is better to ask for forgiveness than for permission I wandered into the temple that way.
The most popular picture in Wat Mahathat is the Buddha’s head surrounded by the roots of a tree. If you include yourself in the picture you must arrange it that your head appears lower than the Buddha’s
The area I’m staying in only has a few tourists. Most of the businesses here are aimed at locals, though all bar the most basic have some English translations.
One thing I started to note, most of the modern, very tidy looking food establishments were coffee or cocoa shops. These are typically not Starbucks clones, very much a Thai version of a coffee shop. In one of these I wrote the initial part of yesterday’s post on Bangkok. The Chirp Cafe and Chat Space has a cool, airy Scandinavian style interior and a Japanese style garden where you can sit with your feet in the pond. Check out the Google Maps listing here, browse the photos and the menu. It’s gorgeous and no Starbucks clone. After an iced coffee and with more to write I decided to give the Orange Coffee a try :
Further wandering had me stumble past a wonderful street side stall that was a garden centre.
A few other bits and pieces from around where I’m staying. The nearby Earl’s restaurant decorated with matchbox toys, the cutely logoed and very modern laundrette on the corner of the hotel and the Brown Ale bar.
Yes the laundrette is a strange point to note but its a great thing to have for a traveller on the corner of their hotel. Everything cleaned and dried including consumables for about £2.50.
And I’m warming to Ayutthaya…
Ayutthaya World Heritage Festival
Ayutthaya holds an annual festival to celebrate the announcement of the Ayutthaya Historical Park as a site of world cultural heritage in 1991 by UNESCO World Heritage Committee. The headline act is a live show using a light show lit Wat Mahathat as a backdrop. A large section of the nearby park was filled with supporting stages, rides, areas to sit, etc. The two roads leading in at the north and south of the festival were lined with food stalls for 100’s of metres. I didn’t get tickets for the main show but enjoyed a wander through the stalls and wider area until the heat forced me to find some air-conditioning. Only 1:100 people there were westerners, it’s very much a Thai festival for their own benefit.
The traveller scene
There was a hint that the traveller scene is reduced in Bangkok, there wasn’t as much bustle as expected. In Ayutthaya it was clear that it was massively reduced and the remaining scene had no critical mass anywhere. The big hostel that served as a traveller hub was closed and shuttered. So was the big bar next along on the same side of the street. Opposite them had been four traveller bars. The big ones at either end had become Thai bars, with solo acts singing (with variable skill levels) Thai ballads over backing tracks. The middle two had merged and had a mix of Thai and traveller custom.
Further south a stand-alone traveller bar had two people on the pool table, no one else inside and a Thai solo act murdering rock classics out the front.
Most tourists seem to come to Ayutthaya on day trips, not staying the night. Those that do should not expect any kind of traveller scene whilst here.
Exploring the historical park I sat down for a rest on one of three logs. A tourist did the same nearby and in quick conversation realised we both originally came from Scotland. She said something that gave me pause, that I was the first British voice she had come across. Thinking back I realised the same was true for me. I’d heard and spoken to a number of Europeans, but not another Brit. Nor any English-speaking nationality. We used to make up a very significant proportion of the traveller community, but after COVID seem to have been far slower to return.
One last thing…
Ayutthaya has a different style of tuk-tuk to the Bangkok style we are most familiar with. Its wider and whereas the front of a Bangkok tuk-tuk is a motorbike with handlebars the Ayutthaya style has a steering wheel on one side.