On our way south from Sukhothai we decided it was easiest to take the train. We also wanted to give it a try on a short journey before deciding about taking it for the long way from Thailand to Malaysia. The closest train station from Sukhothai is in Phitsanulok; one hour away by bus. Big buses run there once an hour starting at 8am. Minivans go as well but not to timetable. Buses don’t go to the station but to the bus terminal 2 which is 6km away. Watch out when you enter the town and get off once the bus has crossed the big river. There is a proper stop and we got of there together with half the other passengers. From there it is just over 1km walk to the station.
Our destination was Ayutthaya, which was 4h on the train. When researching train travel in Thailand, we found timetables but no exact prices on the official railway website. Those seem to depend on the type of train and coaches used on the day. We opted for second class seats on a rapid train which got us fans, windows and blinds to open and fairly comfortable seats. It was not until afterwards that we learned that only express trains have air conditioning! Don’t worry about food: there are so many hawkers walking up and down the aisle that you could be constantly eating if need be.
Upon arriving in Ayutthaya, we crossed the moat/river by ferry and walked to our hostel in the centre. Despite the open window we were hot and sweaty and could not wait for somewhere cold and a shower. Early Bird hostel was a bit hidden but very nice and conveniently located and the dorm room cold and clean.
In the evening we wandered to the night market near the central temple park. It was a busy little market consisting only of two rows of stalls along the side of the road. Vendors offer a wide range of food, but almost all are take-away only. Due to this we ended up having our first actual take-away in Asia. It was all delicious and fairly cheap.
The next day was full on sightseeing so we had to get up early. After breakfast (including our first cereal in ages) we marched to Wat Ratchaburana. Most temples in Ayutthaya charge 50 baht entrance for foreigners. There is also a pass available which gets you into six temples for a mere 220 baht. The temples are listed at the ticket booth and you can buy the pass at any of these temples. Since two of them are located across the river we decided not to bother and only see the central ones.
The next temple along the road was the impressive Wat Phra Mahathat. This one was fairly busy with tourists. Its main feature were the big Buddha statues. They used to stand inside the royal sermon hall, but most of the building was destroyed when the town was conquered by the Burmese. The temple remnants have been restored using bricks and some sections of the original plaster decorations have been repaired/reapplied. Small very detailed models at the entrance of the temples have been created to show the original splendour. It is a real pity that so little of the originals remains. Right next to the royal assembly hall ruins is the famous Buddha head that has grown in between some tree roots. It was originally part of a bigger statue which fell over and then mother nature took care of the head. It looks like the head is growing out of the roots.
We wandered westwards through the nice park towards Wat Phra Ram. After only finding some more ruins we walked on past the elephant camp straight to Wat Pra Si Sanphet. This temple was free to visit and is totally worth it. Inside the intricately decorated temple hall sits one of Thailand’s biggest Buddhas. It is roughly 12m tall and covered in gold. Quite rightly this sight was very busy. There are more buildings around it, but the Buddha hall is the only one open to visitors.
Right next door is the site of the old royal palace. Foreigners pay 50 Baht at the booth but we can report that you can definitely save this money. All you can see inside is grass, some trees and old stone foundations not higher than 1-2m. At the time we were there the model near the entrance gate was gone and the shelter being repaired. Even with the model in place we would still recommend to spend that money on other sites or a cold drink.
After climbing out at the side gate we decided it was too hot for sightseeing (at 11am) and that some cold drinks were on order. Our map showed a market and some food stalls near the north eastern corner of the city so we headed that way. We had to try some steamed dumplings along the way mainly there were so many and they were recommended on the tourist map. They were all yummy and so filling, that after walking around the not so very clean market, we decided to skip the food on offer and treat ourselves to some nice coffee before heading back to the hostel. In the evening we went to the night market again and this time we treated ourselves to some tasty and very chocolatey brownies.
The next morning we got up bright and early for breakfast before walking to the train station for our journey to Bangkok. There is the option of getting minibuses/vans from the centre but they only drop people at Mo Chit bus station which is 10km away from the very centre. We paid 32 baht for the two of us to get the train all the way in to Bangkok central station. It took us 1.5 hours because the last bit of the train was quite slow, but since it cost us half of one persons bus fare (60 baht), it was worth it.