A dozen years ago, I had the unreal privilege of accompany my father on a business trip to Thailand. In one of those I-still-can’t-believe-it stories (covered previously), the trip was free as my father’s company agreed to pay for my accommodations. I had to entertain myself, mostly—the exception being during my father’s weekend. Off work and ready to explore, he joined me on a few excursions to periphery of Bangkok. On this day, we travelled to the historic city of Ayutthaya.
As much as I would love to take credit for throwing this expedition together, we traveled through a pre-booked, multi-destination tour company. Thus, our morning began with an early wake-up call and bus ride north. Our first stop was the Bang Pa-In Royal Palace.
Also known as the Summer Palace, the 400 year old facility has been used by Thai kings over the centuries (though it fell into disrepair and reforestation for a moment in the middle years). But on this day, the grounds were well manicured and the buildings were well maintained. The stop made for a great little rest.
My favorite thing about this palace was the diversity of architectural styles featured by each building. Traditional Thai, Chinese, and European influences were anchored across the grounds as evidence to Thailand’s connection to the world (whether desired or forced). For all of that history, most of our time was simply spent walking among the buildings and taking photos!
After an hour walking the palace grounds, we returned to the coach for transport to our main destination. As the tour was all-inclusive, we were given a snack: a little bit of pudding wrapped in a neatly folded leaf. After googling around, I can only guess that this snack was Khanom Tako, a Thai coconut milk pudding. I regret that at the time, I was too unadventurous to try unrecognizable things (these day’s I’d like to think I’d try it), but my dad went for it. I don’t remember any complaints.
Soon after snack-time, we had arrived at the main destination of the day: Ayutthaya. Located 50 miles north of present-day Bangkok, Ayutthaya was the capital city of a Thai kingdom that existed from 1351 to 1767. The kingdom’s participation in global trade made Ayutthaya one of the wealthiest city’s in Asia. However, in 1765, a Burmese army sacked Ayutthaya and reduced the city to ruins.
Today, Ayuthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a sprawling complex of ruinous structures scattered across quiet, grassy plots. Most buildings have a distinctive, pointed-bell shape and some have stairs leading to now walled-off entrances. Where the old plaster-like building exteriors remain, they are stained green and black by the tropical climate; where this skin has crumbled, the brick-like walls have begun to erode.
We walked along the Way Phra Is Sanphet palace ruins near the coach drop-off area, eventually making it to an adjacent road. Seeing another set of structures down the street, we continued on, passing a modern Buddhist temple and the various tut-tut taxis awaiting passengers.
We next arrived at the War Phra Ram temple ruins. The temple consisted of a massive center structure, ornately decorated in a manner that reminded me stylistically of Angkor Wat. Surrounding it were numerous other walls and structures, some in good shape and some listing in the soft terrain. Somewhat eerily, the temple is sounded by statue after statue of seated Buddhas—each with their head cut off. The internet tells me that this is from the Burmese sacking of the city.
The central structure to the temple had a pretty significant staircase, about 50-feet high or so. Figuring we could get a pretty neat view, we each took turns climbing to the top and took each other’s pictures. I remember having to be careful on each crumbly step as they were pretty tall and shallow.
Back on the ground, it was time to go. As we were leaving the area, a local with a camera ran up and took my photo before I could react. He scurried off, leaving me confused, but within a minute had returned with a souvenir plate with my perplexed mug taped to the center. He offered to sell it to me (for an amount I can’t remember). I looked around and noticed several more Thai folks doing the same with other tourists. Most tourists rejected the offer, to which the merchants hurried back to their printer, removed the taped photo, and replaced it with the print of the next unsuspecting tourist. As far as scammy ways to peel a few bucks off of tourists, this one was pretty unique!
I’m not a souvenir guy, but my dad found it to be so hilarious, he bought my plate!
Anyway, one of the neat things about the tour was that the return journey was river cruise back to Bangkok. Our coach brought us to the river where we boarded a large, yacht like vessel. Owing to my never expecting to put this on a blog, I don’t have a picture of the boat, but here’s two smaller boats—
We took to the river, initially staying on the top deck. We were served tea and crumpets and took in the views of local landmarks, like the Singha brewery.
Soon, we were summoned to lunch in the deck below. No photos of our meal, but I did take some pictures of my father trying a rambutan, a fruit that looks like a hairy strawberry. If you couldn’t guess from my passing up the pudding earlier, I also skipped the rambutan.
After our meal, we returned to the top deck. As the houses and business lining the river grew more dense, we knew we were in Bangkok. When we saw the newly christened Rama VIII Bridge, it was clear we were near the end of our voyage. Not far beyond The Grand Place, easily seen from the river, we docked and made land.
Back in the city, we returned to a mall neighboring or hotel for dinner. It is perhaps here where my love of foreign fast food began as we ate at a KFC.
As we left the mall, we were greeted by a car parked in front of ours, perpendicular to our space. Initially shocked and thinking we were boxed in, we were assured that this was a common practice: if a parking lot runs out of spaces, simply park your car in front of others and leave it in neutral. As instructed, we were able to simply push the car out of our way and made it to the road again!
And that should do it for our trip to Ayutthaya! It’s probably clear from reading this, but I didn’t remember a lot of the details and wasn’t taking photos the way I do now. Still, I hope you got a glimpse from this awesome moment in my youth!
For more 4-mega pixel photos from our time touring the Bang Pa-In Royal Palace, strolling around Ayutthaya, and enjoying our river cruise, check out the gallery below!