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Seven Wonders of Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya is one of my favourite places to visit in Thailand. It has a great selection of historical temples, it’s very easy to navigate and has a great foodie scene.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the historic city of Ayutthaya was the capital of Thailand from 1350 to 1767, when it was almost burnt to the ground by invading Burmese armies. The temple ruins that remain are impressive, but vary greatly in condition.

Although it is one of the most popular areas of Thailand to visit, I went in December (peak season) and it never felt crowded.

Take the train there

Most visitors to Ayutthaya will travel from Bangkok, and whilst there are plenty of day tours from the city, I’d recommend taking a train instead and spending a couple of nights. The scenery for the 90 minute ride is gorgeous, and when an ordinary class ticket costs just 15 baht (approximately 30p), it just makes sense!

Thailand Train

See the temples by bicycle

Cycling around the pancake-flat historical park is definitely the highlight of my visit to Ayutthaya. Most of the temples are located close to each other in the central island of the city, but even those outside the city river border are within a 20 minute ride. Exploring by bicycle gives complete freedom to see temples of choice. Some of my favourite, and the easiest to reach, include Wat Maha That, Wat Phra Si Samphet and Wat Lokkaya Sutharam.

Wat Maha That

Wat Maha That

Wat Maha That - Buddha's head encased in the roots of a tree

Wat Maha That – Buddha’s head encased in the roots of a tree

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Wat Lokkaya Sutharam

Wat Lokkaya Sutharam

Wat Chai Watthanaram

Wat Chai Watthanaram

Visit the Floating market

The busy and colourful floating market is great to spend an hour or so wandering around. It hosts around 200 stalls selling a variety of food, handicrafts and souvenirs, although I definitely spent most of my time feeding and playing with some goats penned up by the river.

Ayutthaya Floating Market

Ayutthaya Floating Market

Floating Market

Food Stalls

Goats @ Floating Market

Ayutthaya Floating Market

See The Million Toy Museum

This quirky museum is a perfect side attraction during a day of temple visits. Whether it actually holds a million different toys I’m not entirely sure, but it definitely brought back childhood memories of toys forgotten.

Million Toy Museum

Million Toy Museum

Donkey & Shrek

Donkey & Shrek

Yoda @ Million Toy Museum

Yoda @ Million Toy Museum

Army of Robots

Army of Robots

Creepy Dolls

Creepy Dolls

Take a River Cruise

For a different temple perspective and for a peek into local river life, a boat ride along the Chao Phraya and Lopburi Rivers is a must. I took an hour long cruise just before sunset.

Wat Chai Watthanaram from the water

Wat Chai Watthanaram from the water

Ayutthaya River Cruise

Ayutthaya River Cruise

Ayutthaya River Cruise

Ayutthaya River Cruise

Pick a Good Temple for Sunset

Sunset at a temple in Ayutthaya is a must-see, but make sure you pick the right one. Everyone recommends Wat Chai Watthanaram, and whilst it was incredible, it’s also extremely busy. A good spot if you’re looking for solitude is at Wat Phukao Thong, a short ride out of the city. You can climb the stupa here for a great sunset shot over the surrounding fields.

Sunset at Wat Chai Watthanaram

Sunset at Wat Chai Watthanaram

Wat Chai Watthanaram

Wat Chai Watthanaram

Wat Phukhao Thong

Wat Phukhao Thong

King Naresuan the Great Monument - located next to Wat Phukhao Thong

King Naresuan the Great Monument – located next to Wat Phukhao Thong

River sunset

River sunset

Fit your Ayutthaya Visit around a Festival

Like a lot of Thailand, Ayutthaya hosts a good amount of festivals throughout the year. Whilst I was visiting in December, I was lucky to encounter the Thai Life Festival, which was spread out amongst the temple ruins. I didn’t attend the pricey sound and light show, but instead spend hours walking around the various food stalls, market shops, craft fairs and amusement parks.

Ayutthaya Thai Life Festival

Ayutthaya Thai Life Festival

Ayutthaya Thai Life Festival

Ayutthaya Thai Life Festival

Ayutthaya Thai Life Festival

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Friday Photo Diary – 15th January

Every Friday I’ll be writing a post with where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to that week, and include my favourite five photos.

 

This week has been a hectic one; full of highlights but also a bad week for me health wise.

 

Last Friday Jeni and I found ourselves in the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. Our main reason for a three-day stopover was to explore part of Cambodia’s recent and tragic past, the Khmer Rouge genocide by visiting both Tuol Sleng (S21) Museum and the Choeung Ek Killing Fields. Despite having researched the war and read several books detailing first-hand experiences, neither prepared me for the horrifying torture cells of S21 or the mass graves at the Killing Fields. Seeing the faces of those imprisoned at Tuol Sleng, and artist drawings of the abuse endured was heartbreaking. If you go, the audio guides are a must – extremely descriptive and necessary to make sense of the displays.

 

Afterwards we headed off to Battambang, a riverside city with beautiful French-colonial buildings and a creaky bamboo train (a norry) – the only one in Cambodia. Travelling up to an exhilarating 30km per hour (!), our ride consisted of a bamboo raft placed on top of what looked like two sets of dumbbells. As a single track railway system, when another norry is met travelling the opposite direction, one of the trains must disembark and allow the other to pass – genius. That evening we travelled out of town to Sampeou Mountain to witness the dusk exodus of tiny bats flying out of a cave in a constant stream. This daily ‘show’ went on for at least 30 minutes, so we sat down with cold drinks and watched as they flew straight over us.

 

The following morning Jeni and I explored the early 20th century colonial buildings and a Buddhist temple that caught my eye, by bicycle, before boarding our next bus to Siem Reap.

 

Recently voted by Lonely Planet as the number one travel sight in the world, and the main reason to visit Siem Reap, is Angkor Wat. Purchasing a three-day pass we spent the rest of our week exploring many of the temples and temple ruins contained within the archaeological Park. We still have one day on our ticket, and have left the largest complex – Angkor Thom – for tomorrow. Here are five things that surprised me about Angkor Wat:

 

  • The temples are all very different. They vary in size, design (some are just towers, some are enormous multi-chamber complexes), and were built during the time of over 15 different rulers.
  • The areas surrounding the temples are beautiful. I think I’d imagined a flat, dusty surround to the temples, and was surprised to find instead largely forested areas, water buffaloes working rice paddies, bodies of lotus flower-covered water and green, grassy fields.
  • People live there. Surrounding the temples are small villages (we passed through at least three or four on our way to Banteay Srei), and many of the local homes are open to tourists as cafes or market stalls.
  • The roads are dusty and polluted. Obviously I expected Angkor Wat to be busy, but the roads are extremely dusty, and big lorries travel through regularly. Add to that the tourist traffic (tuk-tuks, scooters, tour buses and cars) and local traffic (farm carts, scooters, trucks) and we ended both days coughing and feeling filthy.
  • My favourite temples were the ones I hadn’t heard of. Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm (the ‘Tomb-Raider’ temple) definitely didn’t disappoint, but I preferred the gorgeous scenery at Neak Pean and the architecture of Prah Khan.

 

The low point of my week is that I spent a good amount of it in various hospitals after catching bronchitis. The medications given to me in Phnom Penh made me feel even worse, so another day was spent in Siem Reap seeing new doctors. Getting sick abroad is always so time consuming and costly, but with a new (and huge) dose of meds I’m finally recovering.
On a brighter note, here are my favourite five shots from this week:

Sampeou Mountain bats

Sampeou Mountain bats

All aboard the bamboo train!

All aboard the bamboo train!

A temple-eating tree - Ta Som

A temple-eating tree – Ta Som

Angkor Wat roads

Angkor Wat roads

The spooky Lake surrounding Neak Pean

The spooky Lake surrounding Neak Pean