Ok here are some long over due updates!
Our first trip outside Bangkok was to Ayutthaya, an old capital of Thailand and an important site in Thai (Therevada) Buddhism.
The Bangkok Train Station
We have read tons about the Ayutthaya ruins and the history of this city so we were extremely excited to get out of Bangkok and see the central plains of Thailand. The trip started at the main train station in Bangkok. We were initially a bit worried since the “2nd class” tickets (with AC) were sold out, so we got the 3rd class tickets (fortunately we later realized the 2nd class tickets were totally not worth the extra money).
The wikitravel post said that the train was the most scenic way to go to Ayutthaya. We are not quite sure what they meant by scenic. As you start the trip, the train begins to border Chao Phraya river, which heads directly north from Bangkok to the central plains. Until now, we have been mostly sheltered from Thai’s real poverty, but the scene traveling north was an eye opener. A significant portion of the river was lined with slums, which curiously clearly had no running water, but did have satellite dishes!
From the online pics of Ayutthaya, we were expecting some ancient town but when we arrived we encountered an overdeveloped small town that clearly had grown on the back of Ayutthaya’s tourism economy.
Yolanda at the Buddha in the fig tree.
The first ruins that we visited were actually gorgeous and we were surprised that it included the famous Buddha head in the tree that we have framed in our meditation room. But the tone began to change once we excited the ruins. As you exit you go through a caricature of a tourist trap. Vendor after vendor offer you countless buddha statues, cheap flip flops, and the occasional ash tray in the shape of a naked woman (we are not kidding!). The scene could have been filmed at Chicago’s navy pier, Merida’s Teleferico (for our Venezuelan readers), or any other crappy cruise stop town. But here the feeling of “I’m in a tourist trap” was magnified by the fact that these were supposed to be special holy sites. And from there it just got worse.
We ended our trip at the Grand Palace. Thousands of people, mostly Thais, walking, shopping, and praying at the feet of the Grand Buddha. When we say the feet, we actually mean the feet, as there was a vendor selling junk inside the temple by the Buddha. Outside it was a real circus, with abused elephants and all. Dozens of huge tents with vendors selling everything from Buddha images to pirated DVDs to cowboy hats lined what once was probably the beautiful grounds of the palace. This was the mother of all tourist traps.
We finally took a tuk-tuk and a ferry back to the train station and waited 2 hours for the next train to take us back. But first we walked a mile to a tiny “store” that sold bags of potato chips alongside bbq frog legs and other various animal body parts, and boxes of chocolate that were actually called “european food”. Since we had gotten the cheapest tickets possible (20 baht is like 67 cents), we almost had to stand up for the 2 hour ride, hanging on to plastic hoops that hung from the ceiling like an over-crowded NYC subway, but about 15 minutes into the ride two people got off the train and we were able to sit down, and pass out. What a day! It was worth seeing these amazing ruins and buddhas and worth the train, ferry, tuk-tuk adventure despite the tourist feel, just another travel experience to look back on.