To continue on my weekend of firsts, the weekend of June 17 also marked my first weekend trip. We can’t go too far on the weekends having only 2 days, especially with the speed at which Thai transportation moves, so Lauren(another teacher from my province who I met at orientation) and I decided to visit Ayutthaya, the old capital of Siam.
Planes, trains, &…vans?
The transportation itself was quite the experience. I experienced my first Thai bus ride. By bus I mean van, and by van I mean oversized shag wagon circa 1980.
In case you thought that description was sarcastic.
The 69 bus to Bangkok picked me up literally at the side of the road on the main road down the street from my house. No, there wasn’t a bench. No, there wasn’t a sign stating that it was a stop, in English or Thai. No, there wasn’t even a nice patch of cement to stand on, or an “x’ to mark the spot. I actually stood with my bags at the side of the road and flagged the van down, and that’s actually what you’re supposed to do. After paying 80 baht I hopped off the bus at Suphan Buri city, before boarding another bus for 90 baht and waiting to leave for Ayutthaya.
You would think that when a bus that leave every half hour is full, it would leave. But nope, not in Thailand. In Thailand you turn what’s safely a 15 person bus into a 25 person bus by squeezing people into every square inch possible. There is no such thing as personal space, and I’m pretty sure seat belts are a myth. The drivers also don’t announce stops, you just start fidgeting towards the door when you want to get out and the driver pulls over based on context clues. Nothing is marked, no rhyme or reason, my only theory as to how this system functions is telepathy.
Then something else shocking happened – the doors to the crowded van slid open and not one, but TWO white guys got on. The first white people(aside from the 2 teachers I live with) that I’ve seen since leaving Bangkok. Potentially the only other 2 white people in the province. I chatted with them briefly towards the end of the ride and it turned out that they were Mormon missionaries from Utah who lived in Ayutthaya for their missionary work. Based on the amount of buddha images I saw in Ayutthaya, I’d say they’ve got their work cut out for them. PS when everyone shamelessly stares at you on a daily basis for being white and you find one of your kind it’s a big deal. Two is unprecedented.
TG for Thai People
Thai people are arguably the most friendly people on earth. Even though I barely can say “hello” in Thai, when I got off the bus looking lost(meaning my white skin was showing) a man working at the station immediately came over to me and pointed me in the direction of my bus. Then, after getting off in Ayutthaya, the van driver got out of the van and started gesturing to me and speaking Thai. White guy #1 who apparently spoke Thai translated to me that the van driver was very concerned as to where I was going, and was asking if I needed a ride somewhere. Such nice people, not a clue how I’d be getting around in this country without them.
Speaking of which, rewind back to how I said the bus system is super confusing. Lauren wasn’t as lucky as I was, and somehow missed her stop and ended up on the outskirts of Bangkok. Luckily, Ayutthaya isn’t too far from Bangkok, so she was able to cab on over and meet me at our hostel. Like I said, they really do not announce stops.
Playing Indiana Jones
Ayutthaya is mostly ruins, as it’s the old capital of Siam before it was moved to Bangkok. And by mostly I mean I think ruins outnumber modern buildings. There’s a enough temples to make an entire Indiana Jones series and crumbling bricks out the wazoo. On the first night, after 4 hours of travel(for what should’ve been 2) we planned out which temples we wanted to go to, Lonely Planet guidebook in hand. We opted to buy a temple pass. For 220 baht you can buy a pass that lets you into 6 of the major temples, including
- Wat Phra Mahathat and
- Wat Ratchaburana
- The Royal Palace (Wang Luang) and temple
- Wat Chai Watthanaram
- Wat Yai Chai Mongkol
- Wat Phanan Choeng
We ended up seeing some of the above and a couple others, depending on which ones we stumbled onto/how far they were by tuk tuk. See my upcoming “Ayutthaya – WAT to Do and What to Avoid” post for details.
Due to Ayutthaya previously being a trading port, there is a good amount of Muslim influence in both religion and food. I even saw a few Thai people walking around in traditional Muslim garb, definitely a first in a country that is 95% Buddhist. You can spot Muslim food by looking for the green flag with the crescent on it at food stalls. Roti is popular and can be spotted throughout the city. Roti is a brightly-colored cotton-candy like substance that you wrap in a colored crepe. Good, but nothing to write home about. Then again, I don’t share the same extreme sweet tooth that Thais have. It also kind of resembles human hair, which can be a bit unappetizing. Shout out to my hostel owner for explaining that the cotton candy goes INSIDE the crepe, after watching me look confused at the “hair” the vendor had sold me.
On the right are samosas, stuffed with chicken and chickpeas.
Bang Lan Night Market
One of my favorite things about Thailand are all the markets, including especially night markets. For dinner on Saturday we decided to hit up a night market. Hearing that Ayutthaya has good Islamic food, as there are many Muslims there, I was on a hunt. Upon recommendation from our hostel owner, we went to Bang Lan Night Market, which he said was larger and less touristy that the other night markets in town.
He really nailed it with the less touristy part. For being one of the top tourist destinations in Thailand, I was surprised to only see 2 other white people total at the market. They didn’t have Muslim food, but we still got really good Thai food, which I’m never going to complain about. I would definitely recommend going here for a cheap dinner out.
Creature Comforts – Stumbling onto Places that Reminded Us of Home
Busaba Coffee Shop
Lauren is a vegetarian, which when coupled with the language barrier makes eating at the food stalls a struggle sometimes. So on Sunday morning, we set out in search of a nice coffee shop. The one Lauren found on trip advisor was closed(classic), but next door we found an adorable little cafe, complete with wifi AND air-conditioning! Plus, after being in the boonies, anything where you could eat indoors seemed exciting. Really starting to dig Thai coffee culture.
The cafe kind of went for like a Vera-Bradley-meets-Starbucks vibe. They had a section where you could buy stationary and little makeup bags, but they also had western-style coffee drinks. Complete with Carnation, of course, because Thais put that stuff in everything.
Lauren opted for waffles, and despite thousand year-old temples it may have been the most beautiful thing I saw in Ayutthaya.
Chang____(The name was written in Thai)
On Saturday night we finally managed to find something that felt like home. I don’t exactly know the name of it because the name was written in Thai, but it had “Chang” written on it in English, in script that made it look like it was associated with Chang beer. I wish I knew the actual name so I could recommend it, it was at an intersection on Khlong Makharm Riam road and Pa Thon road, if that helps.
The AIR-CONDITIONED bar, that was actually INSIDE, with doors and windows for once, actually felt like the US. I finally saw Thai 20-somethings,the crowd consisting of trendy young Thai people drinking Chang, Leo, and beer Singha. There was a live band, singing in Thai, of course. There was also some kind of a British-theme going on, with low mood lighting and pillows emblazoned with the British flag at every table? After finding a US throw pillow in a Thai co-workers car the other day, I’ve learned not to question decor. I ordered a MOJITO which I was stoked about because I haven’t had a cocktail in weeks, nor have I seen cocktails that weren’t tourist bait since I arrived here.
After 2 days of temple ruins and ruining my skin with sunburn, Lauren and I(with the assistance of Thai people once again) hopped on another bus to get back home. You know how I always say that people stare at us in our province for being white, due to the lack of diversity? While we were stopped at a gas station somewhere in Suphan Buri, a gas station attendant popped his head into our van, seized us up for a moment, blurted “farang” (foreigner) and popped out. I’m going to try that in the US sometime and see what happens.
All in all, Ayutthaya was a good start to Thai travel.