Our journey to Ayutthaya was a great wee budget adventure all of its own. It started sedately enough with a taxi from our hotel to Hua Lamphong Station from which we changed to an ordinary commuter train that was to take us the bulk of the way. This two-hour train ride cost a sum total of 30 baht (57p) and reminded me why train travel is the best of all possible means of travel. It was quiet enough for us all to sit together, but busy enough that the kids had lots of entertainment in the form of investigating whatever was being sold by the stream of food and drink hawkers, and through shy exchanges with fellow passengers. We could also watch, first the city, and then the countryside slide by through the open windows.
When we got to Ayutthaya station, we knew all we had to do was walk down the small road in front of the station to find the ferry. This would then take us across the river and onto the island where the bulk of the temples could be found, and where we planned to stay. For once, we actually managed to do just that, and my smugness factor was further increased when I only had to part with 15 baht to get us all on the boat. My bubble soon burst when I saw the ferry. It was one of those flat wooden boats that just kind of gently crash their fronts into the dock and you have to jump onto the prow while the captain does his best to keep it still; hanging around is not acceptable. I am not great at this kind of thing at the best of times, but doing it while carrying a 15kg backpack and holding the slippery, sweating hand of a two-year old is another thing altogether.
Needless to say, I boarded with all the grace of a terrified, flat-footed hippo. We hadn’t even had the chance to distribute ourselves evenly before the ferry was motoring away towards the other side. The crossing itself probably took 45 seconds tops, but that was more than enough for my already panicking mind to come to the conclusion that a freak capsizing was more than likely, and we were all going to sink like stones, weighted down by our backpacks. I immediately started to unbuckle everyone’s chest straps, because Bear Grylls has always told me that you must not be strapped into your backpack when crossing water for this very reason (thank you Bear). Anyway, just as the last chest strap was unbuckled, the boat arrived at the other side and I had to frantically buckle everyone back in so we could do the reverse jump off.
Once on dry land, it was less than a ten-minute walk from there to Naresuan Soi 1, where we found a guesthouse and I could rest my unnecessarily shredded nerves. The kids had loved it, while I was adamant that we would be getting a taxi back to the station when the time came. I needed to get a grip, I am pretty sure that a slightly wobbly boat is far from the worst of the things I am going to contend with on this trip.
With the ferry over with, I really did warm to Ayutthaya straight away. It came as a pleasant anecdote to the chaos and heat of Bangkok. You can actually stroll across the road without risk of death, there are people cruising round on bicycles and you can stop and look at a market stall without getting immediately shoved in the back. It’s the kind of place you could easily spend a few days just poking around in, which is exactly what we did.
The other time when I nearly didn’t die at all came on our second day when we decided to take a cheapo evening boat tour that covered three temples in two hours. I doubt we would have opted for this had we been alone but it sounded perfect for doing with the kids. Imagine my delight when we rocked up at the dock to discover we were going in a longtail! Forgive me if you are not familiar with the Asian longtail boat, they are essentially a long thin shallow wooden boat with a truck engine attached to a propeller on a stick at the back. I am sure they are fine in normal circumstances but they have absolutely zero stability when going slowly, and when you load 13 well-fed western tourists on one, there is about a 3cm clearance between the top of the boat and the murky depths. I absolutely hate them; noisy, polluting, death traps.
So of course my imminent death alert went off again, in no way alleviated by the fact that when we got out in the water the captain had to perform a thousand-point turn, probably because turning in anything other than minuscule increments would tip us all out. Still, I tried to get a grip; I had survived many longtail trips intact, despite believing otherwise every time, and this would be no different. It was only when I calmed down a bit and looked around that I noticed that the two big Aussie guys sitting in front of me were also clearly shitting themselves, that made me feel a wee bit better.
Needless to say we survived and the kids had a ball, exploring the different sites and asking a million questions about all the new things they saw. I think I may have to invest in some kind of kid’s guide to Buddhism to get me through the next couple of months; some of my explanations were pretty poor/made up on the spot. Aside from the (almost deadly) boat trip we also did some more in-depth exploring on foot (not recommended in the heat), and in a tuk-tuk (much better). Here are some nice atmospheric pictures for you.
Just to finish, I would like to add that I am a strong believer in the fact that anxious parents make anxious children, so I do try to hide my irrational panics from my kids as much as I can. However, it does, sometimes, make me a little bit happy when something just a little bit dangerous happens that makes me look less crazy. I did grit my teeth and get the ferry back across, this time though the captain managed to crash the boat into a barge, half way across. We didn’t sink or anything dramatic, he just said “oops!” and we continued on our way. I was ready though, straps unbuckled, exit plan in place. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared now, does it?
My really useful tips for visiting Ayutthaya
- Don’t do it as a day trip from Bangkok, hang out for a while, it’s a nice place
- Get the ferry across to the island; it’s a right laugh.
- Don’t do the evening boat trip if you have any actual interest at looking at any temples, you only get twenty minutes at each stop. However, if you want a quick scout round and a few nice pictures it will do the job.
- When it says ‘don’t climb’ on something, please don’t assume you are the exception to the rule. I saw this a lot. I may sound like your mum but, as a museum professional, I can tell you that you really are ruining it for everyone else.
- If you are travelling with kids, instead of trying to keep them quiet first thing in the morning, take them over to the market and help them chose some things for breakfast. The doughnuts are a particularly cheap and tasty treat.
- If you are staying in Tony’s Place it’s good fun trying to get the manager guy with the ponytail to smile. I only managed once, do let me know if you succeed.