Even with only two days in Bangkok, I am glad I took my friends advice and headed 80 km north to the old Siamese capital, Ayutthaya, now a UNESCO world heritage site.
To get from Bangkok to Ayutthaya my friend and I met at Victory Monument on the north side of Bangkok and took a van. A single van ticket cost 200 baht. The van rides takes one hour to one and a half hours depending on traffic.
The old capital was founded in 1350 A.D. by King Ramathibodi and in 1767 was greatly damaged during its conflicts with Burma/Myanmar. What remains is a cultural, religious, and historical haven all types will love and appreciate. The old temples and structures and the new shops and restaurants mix successfully together giving visitors a potent sense of the 600 year old city’s past while also housing a bustling community. Visitors can travel the length of the city by car, taxi, bike and more.
My Thai friend, a Buddhist and frequent Ayutthaya visitor, served as my guide through the cities many historical landmarks. We chose to hire a private pick-up truck taxi for the whole afternoon for 600 baht each for the three of us, so maybe 900 baht each if there is only two of you, a pricey but time efficient choice as it took us many hours to see only half the cities landmarks. Rates are negotiable, Thai people get a better deal, so learn some basic Thai phrases and sweet talk your way into a cheaper price.
However you decide to travel, you can pick and choose which of the many temples you would like to visit. Other than temples, Ayutthaya also offers a historical museum and elephant sanctuary. The historical museum homes many Buddha sculptures, currency, gold filigree works and other treasures honoring the Buddha. Elephants can be visited for petting, taking pictures, performances or even going for a ride.
Each temple or other site in Ayutthaya requires an entrance fee, some sites are free while most tickets run 20 baht. The more popular and sites including the museum and Wat Mahadhat run 100-200 baht.
Our first stop was at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, the main stupa remains in great condition and was my favorite landmark on the tour. Also, at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon is the gorgeous 15 meter reclining Buddha draped in brilliant gold fabric.
We also stopped at Wat Mahathat, the enchanting temple with a Buddha head entangled in two neighboring bodhi tree roots. When taking a picture with the Buddha head you will be asked by an officer to kneel, your head should never reach higher than the Buddha head.
The city is surrounded by three merging rivers, designating the city into different cultural regions as well as giving visitors consistent water views. For lunch we visited the floating market with many shops and restaurants. You can stroll along the wooden boardwalk, buying goods from the stores or from the men and women selling their wares from their narrow boats. After shopping we ate som tum, a Southeast Asian favorite, made from unripe green papaya with lime, chilis, fish sauce, peanuts and other varying ingredients, pad Thai, and an iced Thai milk tea.
The floating market in Ayutthaya also offers free staged performances. After eating our delicious traditional Thai meal we enjoyed an incredible show depicting the war between Thailand and Myanmar. The actors used real blades when clashing against one another. WWE wrestling would be put to shame by these synchronized champions. The actors created a dramatic experience by taunting the audience, throwing fire, gushing realistic blood and even including a scene with a child actor getting disemboweled.