Thailand is one of the most visited foreign destinations for South Africans and while the beaches in the south find its way into travellers’ itineraries time and again, there is a lot more to Thailand than full moon parties and cocktails. Get into the heart of the old capital and travel back in time in Ayutthaya.
Two hours north of Bangkok lies Ayutthaya, a Unesco World Heritage Site steeped in history where time stands still in the Kingdom of Siam’s capital. Between the Buddhist temples, monasteries and headless statues scattered in pieces lies a daily reminder of the multiple Burmese invasions from the 18th century. The best way to experience the peaceful charm of Ayutthaya is to set your watch to the local time and not rush from one spot to the next in the ruined city.
The majority of the ancient temples can be found within the Ayutthaya historical park, a terrain flat and easy to explore by bicycle but don’t fret or fear, a tuk-tuk is always an option in Thailand if you don’t feel like navigating through the old streets on two wheels under a scorching sun.
But remember, if you want to avoid “temple exhaustion”, don’t try to see every single temple Ayutthaya has to offer – select a few, mix it up with a few other attractions and spread it out.
If you like history, then don’t miss these sights in Ayutthaya
Visit Wat Mahatat to see the iconic Buddha head that’s nestled between the roots of a tree and explore the “Temple of the Great Relics” before you head over to Bang-Pa Palace, the royal summer palace, that’s built in an elegant Thai style pavilion reflecting imperial shades in a pond.
Take a stroll between the ruins of the holiest temple in Ayutthaya, Wat Phra Si Sanphet which is also an architectural prototype of the Bangkok’s Emerald Buddha temple and stop by Wat Yai Chai Mongkol to view the impressively large reclining Buddha statue built in 1357 during the reign of the first ruler of Ayutthaya.
If you want to get a glimpse of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat see a replica at Wat Chai Wattanaram. This temple is often referred to as the most beautiful temple in the complex.
Before you call it a day, travel back to your childhood at the Million Toy Museum where the oldest toy dates back to the 1800s and take a walk around Chai Phrom Market, the market that never sleeps, to get a whiff of some local flavours.
Something to Avoid in Ayutthaya
Elephant riding is popular throughout the whole of Thailand and should be avoided at ALL TIME because it is an incredibly unethical activity. Elephants used for human entertainment have to endure extreme abuse and pain, they are forcibly removed from their herds and there is no humane way to train them. There is no such thing as ethical elephant riding, so if you see the bright red colours of Royal Elephant Kraal and Village, please don’t be tempted to pay for an elephant ride.
A Local Taste
Try the local snack, Roti Saimai. It’s the Thai version of candy floss, wrapped in Roti and it comes in various flavours.
Know Before You Go
South Africans don’t need a visa for Thailand and can stay up to 30 days if entering via international airport and 15 days if entering through a land border checkpoint from a neighboring country.
There are about 30 daily departures from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong station to Ayutthaya. Third class ticketsare R9 (one way). and second class tickets are R30 (one way). The trip usually takes about two hours.
Accommodation in Ayutthaya starts at R150 for a twin or double private room and tends to be more expensive in Bangkok and other big cities. A meal in Thailand at local restaurants or markets ranges between R15 and R100. You can get an Americano (Thai style) for just over R10, a cappuccino for under R20 and a domestic beer (1 pint draught) for R25.
The cost of entering the temples of Ayutthaya is around R20 per temple and it costs between R15 an R40 to rent a bicycle or R100 p/hour for a tuk-tuk to R450 for a full day. Tuk-tuks can be found outside the train station and the price you pay all depends on your bargaining skills. Make sure you set a price and discuss the duration and stops before you get in.
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This article was first published in HeraldLive.