Hello! Apologies again for being remiss with posting (insert wai). We have had some serious internet woes and would be updating often otherwise. There is so much we want to share! So let’s get to it, shall we?
On the second of July, the Embassy had a cookout to celebrate the Fourth of July. There were hamburgers and barbecue beans, a lively Marine band, lychee popsicles, pie eating contests, and of course, a mechanical bull. Naturally. Celebrating two days early meant Colby had the day off on Wednesday: a day trip to Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Siam, was in store.
Since Ayutthaya’s two hours away, we decided to hire a private driver for the day. Best investment ever. Our driver doubled as a guide, which was nice, because Ayutthaya is spread over six square miles. Most travel books suggest renting bicycles to explore the sprawling ruins, but why do that when you can have air conditioning, a translator, and a guide all for less than $100 a day?!
First, let’s do some Ayutthaya background: Wat in Thai translates to temple. All the “wats” in Ayutthaya are smaller parts of the giant ancient capital city. In the mid 1700s, the Burmese invaded Siam and destroyed almost all of Ayutthaya. The remains, consisting mostly of stupas and Buddha statues, are scattered all over the area. The stupas, which are religious monuments, are especially impressive and due to their size, are more in tact than the Buddhas. Many of the stupas we saw were shaped in the expression of nirvana.
Secondly, the Thais have a saying that Colby and I had both heard before coming to Bangkok, but we now understand it much better. No doubt you’ve heard it too: Same same, but different. The Thais say everything is either same same, or not same same. All I know is that we’re going to return to the states saying, same same instead of similar!
Anyhow, all the wats in Ayutthaya are, as our driver told us, same same but different. Wat Yai Chaimongkol has the highest stupa, Wat Mongkolbopit has the most enormous buddha, Wat Phrasrisanphet has a glorious sequence of stupas, and Wat Mahathat has the most-photographed buddha in a tree*. But really? They’re all fairly harmonious and get quite repetitive
especially on a hot day.
We started out with a visit to Wat Yai Chaimongkol, which has the biggest stupa and another large, reclining Buddha. We made wishes as we dropped 10 baht coins from the top of the stupa tower into a small pool below. I don’t know why, but I always feel like wishes made in Thailand are just a bit luckier than those made elsewhere!
Next we toured Wat Mongkolpit, with the largest bronze Buddha you’ve ever seen. While we were there, the worshippers were doing a ceremony to wrap the Buddha in a new shade of dress.
This isn’t a great picture, but you can see the drapes of fabric being hoisted, by pulley, upon the enormous Buddha. I’ve read that the different robes signify various festivals and the alternating seasons.
On to the next, same same temple, we saw the beautiful stupas (and perhaps our favorite ruins) of Wat Phrasrisanphet. Colby and I found it
fun odd that visitors are permitted to tromp through the ruins, as there is no real footpath. Ayutthaya as a whole is a UNESCO protected site, and there are restoration projects in place, but it’s sad to see trash and leftover construction supplies about the ruins.
Finally, we ventured to Wat Mahathat, with the famous Buddha wedged in a banyan tree. We were very hot by this point, so we snapped a few photos, rested in the shade, a prepared for the next leg of our Ayutthaya adventure.
Hot and hungry, we had our driver take us to Sai Thong, a Lonely Planet recommendation for the best food in Ayutthaya. We, along with every backpacker in Thailand, enjoyed the yummy food and the big, cold bottles of Singha.
Our bellies full, we rounded out the day with something I’ve always wanted to do. I mean always wanted to do. Ride elephants! For those of you who know me well, you know I’m impulsive but in no way a risk taker. That’s why, once we were atop the giant creature, things got a little scary. But mostly, things got exciting!
Scary element #1. There was a weight imbalance on our little elephant bench. This meant that I had to sit on the very edge of the bench–when I looked down, I saw only ground and no elephant back below me. Scary element #2. Elephants lumber back and forth when they walk. This means that for a whole three seconds you’re tilting way up, and then you plummet down like a elephant see-saw. Once you get used to it, it’s actually relaxingly rhythmic. Riding this sweet creature was one of the most relaxing things I’ve done on our trip so far.
Our elephant was gentle, and our elephant driver was pretty great, too. I was
scared surprised when he invited us to take turns riding on the elephant’s back–sitting atop its massive back and feeling its whole body constrict and relax as it swallowed and sprayed water was a crazy thing! It was a bucket-list event for me, and I was living pure joy as we traveled atop the elephant, its massive ears flapping against my legs in the Thailand sun.
So there you have it, our day in Ayutthaya! We hope you’ve enjoyed these pictures; sorry to be so longwinded, but there’s much to show and share! We’ll update in a day or so. Love to all, Nat & Colby.
*When the Burmese destroyed the wats, they destroyed so many of the Buddha statues. Buddha bodies remain without heads, heads are oddly positioned on the ground and trees, and hands rest upon walls.