Tag Archives: Day Trip

A Trip to Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya_003

Wat Chaiwattanaram

Probably one of the better day trips from Bangkok is to the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya. I have, of course, been there many times though I have never been back since I started writing the Thai Travel Blogs. So, last weekend I decided to head back there to explore the city a bit better and also to take some new pictures. I went there on Sunday so the traffic was lighter than normal. Even though Samut Prakan is the opposite side of Bangkok to Ayutthaya, I was pleasantly surprised that it only took just over one hour to drive there. The route is very simple and you won’t get lost. You will see signs for Bang Pa In first. Follow these until you see a sign for Ayuttaya. All signs on the main road are bilingual so you will have no problem. From Bangkok take Highway 1 to start with and then turn off onto Highway 32. The route was only 87 kms for me. Quicker if you start in Bangkok. Alternative ways to come here are by bus or train. The bus takes two hours and the train 90 minutes.

If you arrive by train, you should find some places near the station where you can rent a bicycle for the day. You could also rent a tuk tuk or even go on a boat trip. The main road that runs through the town is Rochana Road. Here you will find the large Ayutthaya Historical Study Center. I strongly recommend that you start your tour here. The national museum is on the other side of the road but you will find this one more of interest. The entrance fee is 100 baht and you will get a really good introduction to the history and life of Ayutthaya up to the point it was burned to the ground by the Burmese in 1767. Today, not much is left, but scale models in this museum give you a clear idea of how grand some of these temples and palaces used to be. In fact, if you have ever been to the Ancient City in Samut Prakan, you would have seen a large replica of one of the palaces. After the museum, continue westwards and go straight across to the other side of the intersection. Here you will find the really useful Tourist Information Center. They have free maps of the city with information on what to see.

Ayutthaya

Wat Phra Sri Sanphet

Heading north from here you will reach the old city center. Here you will find the remains of Wat Phra Si Sanphet and the Grand Palace. This used to be just as colourful and impressive as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is today. In fact, the layout of the present Grand Palace is a copy of Ayutthaya. There is also an artificial island in both cities. The three chedis (see picture above) are probably one of the most photographed locations in Ayutthaya. This is the place where most tourists will go. Most of this area is in ruins but the bell shaped chedis have been renovated. Just to the north of here you can walk out to an open area where the ancient grand palace used to be. However, there isn’t much to see as everything was burned down to the foundations. In later years, many of the bricks were taken away to help build the present day Bangkok.

Next door to this temple is Wihan Phra Mongkon Bophit. This houses one of the largest bronze Buddha images in Thailand. If you think this one is big, wait until you see the other one later in this tour. Inside the wihan, you will see some old photos dating back to the 1920’s. You will see that back then, the wihan was in ruins and the large Buddha was exposed to the elements. Personally I think it looked far more impressive like that. It is a shame that during the 1950’s they decided to enclose it. Around the temple there is a large market where you can buy souvenirs. I came here once with the students from my school. Popular souvenirs for them were the wooden swords, catapults and some annoying toys that made whining noises when you swung them round and round. There are also places where you can stop to have a bite to eat. Just a little south, there is an elephant camp. You can do an elephant ride around the area for about 30 minutes.

Ayutthaya

Wat Mahathat

I next headed north to Wat Na Phra Men. This is just outside the city moat. This is one of my favourite temples because it was one of the few that wasn’t burned to the ground by the Burmese. According to the legend, during a previous attack on the city, the Burmese fired a large gun from this location which misfired and killed their king. Being superstitious, they steered clear of this area when they returned in 1767. The Buddha image, which is 6 metres high, is particularly beautiful as it has a crown. I have a copy of this image at home which I bought on a previous visit. Next to the main building you will find a small wihan which contains an unusual Buddha image which is in the European sitting style. This image is believed to be 1300 years old.

Next I headed back to visit two temples which are side by side. These are Wat Mahathat and Wat Ratchaburana. The former dates back to the 14th Century. There isn’t much left but some of the prangs are quite impressive. However, it is the famous (or maybe too famous) Buddha image enclosed by the roots of a fig tree, which most people come to see. This is probably one of the most photographed sites in the city. Next door, Wat Ratchaburana isn’t visited as much, but most of the buildings are more intact and worth a closer look. These are probably the main ruins worth visiting. If you are coming for just the day then this is probably enough. However, as I had my car I did a few more visits to places outside the main city. To the north I visited Chedi Phu Khao Thong and the monument for King Naresuan. And in the southwest I visited the ruins at Wat Chaiwatthanaram. There weren’t that many people here as it is not so easy to reach. However, the ruins are more intact and you will get a better idea of what it used to look like (see top picture).

Ayutthaya

Wat Yai Chaimongkhon

I always save my favourite two temples for last. Again, these are a bit outside of the town. From the roundabout with the chedi in the middle, head south on Highway 3059 a short way. Your first stop should be Wat Yai Chaimongkhon. This has a large chedi built on an octagonal base. It was built by King Naresuan to celebrate his victory over the Burmese. In the cloisters around this monument are dozens of Buddha images. If you look closely at the necks, you will see a white line. This shows that once the Buddha image was headless. This is quite common in many of the temples here. The heads were cut off by souvenir hunters a hundred years or more ago. It was too difficult for them to take the whole Buddha so they cut off the head. Many of these are now found in private collections around the world. I should also point out that even though many of these Buddha images are in ruins, they are still sacred and you should show them the utmost respect. Also in the temple grounds is a pleasant reclining Buddha.

Further south down this road you will come to Wat Phananchoeng. This houses the impressive 19 metre high sitting Buddha called by the locals “Luang pho To”. The image is highly revered. It is believed that this temple dates back to the 14th Century. You can buy large orange cloths here which are then stitched together and then hoistered over the shoulder of the large Buddha image. In the grounds of the temple you will see a pier on the Chao Phraya River. You can apparently catch a boat from here back to the city. When I was there at the weekend, there had scaffolding up around the Buddha image. So, I couldn’t get a good picture. Maybe you will have better luck on your visit. But, make sure you bring along a wide angle lens as it is difficult to get it all in the picture.

That was basically my tour of the city. I stayed most of the day there. If you have time, it is worth staying the night in one of the many guesthouses to the northeast of the city. That way you can take your time. Also, many of the ruins are lit up at night. For this trip I explored most of the main attractions. There are more to see and I will save these for another visit. From Bangkok, you can join one day tours which takes you to Ayutthaya by boat and then back by bus. There are actually various tours which also include stops at Bang Sai and Bang Pa In. I have done all three of these locations in one day with visitors but it didn’t leave us much time for Ayutthaya. Better to choose either Bang Sai or Bang Pa In. Overall, I had a good day, though as the weather is hot at this time of year it was a bit exhausting. Make sure you drink plenty of water, wear a hat and put on sun cream lotion.

A Trip to Suphanburi

Suphanburi

The tall tower in Chalermphatara Rachinee Park

Suphanburi is one of those places which is a bit off the beaten path. It doesn’t receive many foreign tourists and if you do see a foreigner there, then it is probably either our “steve suphan” or someone else working at a local school. It is about equal distance from Kanchanaburi and Bangkok. I have never stopped in the town before though I did visit Don Chedi a few years back to the see the famous monument for King Naresuan. I went there again last weekend at the invitation of Steve to visit his local town and also to attend the nearby annual Don Chedi Fair. From Bangkok, it takes about two hours to drive there along the outer ringroad (highway 9) and then on highway 340.

I think I need to take a closer look at the latest edition of Lonely Planet to see what’s going on. Even though it is thicker, it seems to be cutting out quite a few destinations. Suphan Buri is a prime example. The older 1997 edition had two pages on Suphanburi but the latest edition has nothing. So, I took along with me the Footprint Guidebook and the Moon Publication Handbook. Out of these two, the latter one written by Carl Parkes is far more informative. However, I believe the 2000 edition is the last one to be printed. The Rough Guide doesn’t have anything too. So, most of my research was done on the internet. I googled “Suphan Buri” and found our own thailandguidebook.com website at second place. The best sites were of course in Thai.

Suphanburi

A giant sitting Buddha in Wat Palelai

Suphanburi is not quite like any other city in the country as it has benefited greatly from a former prime minister of Thailand. The name Banharn Silapa-Archa is much in evidence around the city as it would seem that just about everything has been named after him. Our first stop in town was to visit the giant 123 metre high tower in Chalermphatara Rachinee Park. For only 30 baht, we were whisked to the top of the tower for some fine views of the surrounding area. This was a good start to the tour as it gave us a chance to get our bearings and work out where we would go next. The park below, although not very big, was beautifully laid out with water fountains and a swimming pool complete with slides.

Our next stop was to Wat Palelai (locally known as Wat Pa). I knew that this would be a major attraction in Suphanburi but it surpassed my expectations. I am already planning to go back and I will blog again later about this temple. The main attraction here is the 24.5 metre high sitting Buddha. Unlike other sitting Buddha which are cross-legged, this one is sitting in the European style. The left palm is face down on his thigh and the right hand is facing up on his knee. He is about to accept a honeycomb from a monkey (you can just see it painted on the wall on the left) and a water pot from an elephant on the right. I was really excited to see this Buddha image as it is quite rare. This Buddha image is for people who were born on a Wednesday evening like me.

Another major attraction at this temple is a large Thai style house around the back which is a replica of the one owned by Khun Chang. This is a character from a famous story written a long time ago by a group of writers. King Rama II was the principal editor and Sunthon Phu was one of the contributors. In the cloisters at this temple there are a series of murals which beautifully illustrate this story. For anyone who wants to understand and appreciate Thai culture then the story called “Khun Chang and Khun Phan” should be compulsory reading. I will be writing more about this later.

Suphanburi

An unusual “sleeping” Buddha at Wat Phra Non

We next drove around town exploring the area more. We were pleasantly surprised to see such wide roads and everything was so clean. Our next stop was the City Pillar where there is a famous Chinese Shrine. We were there on Chinese New Year’s Day and so it was incredibly busy. A wonderful atmosphere and not to be missed. We will certainly visit again on a quieter day. Next we visited three temples. First, Wat Mahathat which had an interesting Khmer style prang dating back to the early Ayutthaya period. Next we stopped at Wat Pra Rob which according to Footprint Guidebook houses a “striking, large reclining buddha”. We weren’t impressed. However, the temple did have an unusual wooden Buddha footprint. It is locked up in a room but a friendly monk kindly opened it up for us.

Our final temple wasn’t in any of the guidebooks but looked to be quite popular with locals. Wat Phra Non lies alongside Tha Chin River which is probably the main reason locals come here. From the temple you can walk down to a floating platform where you can buy food to feed the thousands of fish. There were quite a few people there and judging by the 30 or so large sacks of fish food they must get quite a few visitors at the weekends. Before we left, we decided to take a quick look at the reclining Buddha which the temple is named after. I am glad we did as the pose this time was quite unusual. Normally, reclining buddhas have him lying on his side propped up by his elbow. This one was lying down on his back with his hands resting on his stomach. Apparently it dates back to the Sukhothai period and is similar to an image found at the location of the Buddha’s death in India.

We didn’t have time to visit everywhere in town so we decided to save some places for another trip. I think next time we will add Suphanburi National Museum and the underwater aquarium at Bung Chawak to our list. The Buffalo Village is apparently a bit of a tourist trap. We said goodbye to Steve and thanked him for showing us around.  I think you should spend at least two days here. If you come at the same time as the Don Chedi Fair at the end of  January then there will be plenty for you to do and see for two to three days. Use Suphan Buri as your base as there is a good range of hotels there. We enjoyed our visit and will certainly be back for more.