Sunday, February 16, 2014

Ayutthaya on Makha Bucha

While America was busy celebrating the Hallmark holiday of Valentine's Day on Friday, Thailand celebrated the less commercialized, more meaningful holiday of Makha Bucha, a Buddhist holiday celebrated on the full moon day of the third lunar month. It's a spiritual and holy day, marked by visits to temples for merit-making activities and candlelight processions and festivities by monks.

We had the day off from school, so we took off to Ayutthaya with a friend, J., a fourth-grade teacher who's one of our most favorite people here. A funny thing we discovered early on was that, even though she was living in Oregon and was born and raised in Colorado, she also has family roots in the same small, New England town where my husband grew up, so she knows all the same places and streets that my husband did growing up. Talk about the world being small! 

I don't know much about the history of Ayutthaya, but have heard it referred to as the old capital of Thailand, though a search on the 'net reveals it had been a Siamese kingdom for a few hundred years back in the day. The city is only a couple of hours north of Bangkok, so we took the train to get there. At 11 baht (or about 30 cents) for each adult and 6 baht for our little guy, the price couldn't be beat! It was a nice, clean ride, with the train windows wide open, the wind in our faces and hair, and pretty scenery.

Once we got there, we took a two-minute ferry ride (which cost 4 baht for adults and was free for kids) across the river to get to the guesthouse where we were staying. The guesthouse was a renovated schoolhouse and another one of those rustic, but charming, places, though this one was a little less restful and less charming than the one we stayed in at Ko Lanta.

Side story: The lady who ran the place was a bit obsessed with age. We overheard her repeatedly saying to other guests that she was "an old woman," which she was not -- I would guess she was in her mid- to late-50s. Friday night, she looked at me and declared that I was "very, very young!" I thanked her, but told that I was not "very, very young," so of course, she had to ask me my age. When I told her, she literally jumped back and gasped loudly in surprise. That totally made my weekend.
Where we stayed.
The building next door, where we had breakfast.
A pretty gazebo with tables and hammocks in the middle of a large pond.
The unique-looking tuk tuks of Ayutthaya. According to a tour book, this style originated in Japan.
That evening, we walked back to the pier and took a sunset boat tour of Ayutthaya along the river, which comes together with the Chao Phraya River, which is used by barges to ship rice and sugar to Bangkok. We stopped off at three different wats and then took the boat around the river to see the sights of the city. It was amazing to be at the wats on this particular holy day and see and hear the  Buddhist chants and rituals of the holiday.

Our tour guide was a sweet man who told us as best as he could, in his very limited English, about the history of the wats and showed us around at the wats where the grounds were more difficult to navigate.
On our way to the pier, we saw a parade of sorts celebrating the Buddhist holiday.
It was a pretty short parade: this was the second and last car of the parade.
Huge barges being towed by a tugboat. According to our tour guide, each individual barge is owned by a different family.
The little boat we hired for our sunset tour and our tour guide. And we got the boat to ourselves, which made it even nicer. It was a bit tricky getting on and off the little boat!
Our first stop was at a compound of wats popular with tourists. There, housed in one of the wats, was a gilded, 19-meter Buddha statue. My husband held our son up over the crowd so he could touch the cloth that covered the Buddha. Some people helped to get the cloth within my son's reach.
Parts of the wat from the river.
The 19-meter-tall Buddha. Look how small the people are compared to the statue. The crowd stood outside and looked into the temple through a large window.
Our second stop was a wat that was part of a park with ruins of temples. The main attraction there was a reclining Buddha. With the setting sun and people praying and meditating in silence, it felt very peaceful and spiritual. I could've stayed there forever just watching the sun go down, listening to the birds, and basking in the breeze and fresh air.
View from the river.
The middle, sitting statue represents the king of India, from what we understood, and the roosters represent cock-fighting because the king enjoyed the "sport."
The crypt where the bones of the first king of Ayutthaya are kept.
A shrine with another big Buddha statue.
The reclining Buddha statue amidst the ruins.
Statues seen through a window.
A view of the ruins.
A sunset view.
Our third stop was an expansive, open area of ruins. It was spectacular, especially with the sunset. 
The river at sunset.
A church building with Portuguese architectural features.
The temple ruins.
Another view.
The view looking towards the river.
After stopping at the three wats, we took a cruise around the river, during which we saw a baby crocodile sunning itself and Thai kids playing on the bank of the river. For our last stop, we were dropped off at the night market, where we browsed and had dinner. We had delicious Thai hot pot, which was perfect, while enjoying the view, and the sights, smells, and sounds of the night market, under the full moon.

One of our servers was a girl between eight and ten years old. She was so cute and fantastic! I pointed out to my son that the girl was working and serving us. He was amazed, and sat there silently watching her, thinking about it.
A view of the night market.
Clay hot pot, in which we cooked chicken, pork, noodles, vegetables, and basil for flavor.
Our view at dinner.
On Saturday, we rented bikes from one of the many bike rental shops in town to explore the city and other ruins towards the middle of the city. My son really wanted a bike of his own, but bike rentals here don't really have kid-sized bikes for rent, so he had to settle for sitting on the backseat of my husband's bike. It was such a fun way to explore! It was faster than walking, yet we could go at our own pace, and was much cheaper than going with a tour (each rental cost 40 baht for the day!). The weather started out overcast, which was perfect, but it heated up pretty quickly, though the breeze we felt while biking was great.
Picking out bikes.
We rode to the ruins of a temple closest to us with a famous attraction we wanted to see, and spent a couple of hours there. My husband rented earphones for an audio tour of the grounds and educated the rest of us on the history of the place. 
The scenery -- with orange- and red-colored leaves, the red bricks, and the red-flowered tree -- painted a picture of autumn. But the temperature and humidity disagreed.
The monks walking amongst the ruins and trees made for a gorgeous picture, but I didn't capture it in time.
Some of the ruins. It was so expansive that there was no way I could capture the entire place.
Capturing J. capturing the ruins close up.
The attraction I alluded to above: one of the classic images of Thailand, the Buddha head entwined in tree roots.
It was amazing to see in person.
More ruins.
A hidden statue.
A spectacular view.
There were rows and rows of these headless Buddha statues throughout the ruins.
This dog caught all the visitors' attention being perched high up on one of the towers.
The most complete Buddha statue at this wat.
An expansive view of part of the ruins.
Another view.
After taking our time going through the site of the first ruins, we took a break for coconut water and ice cream, then got our bikes and biked through the park to see other ruins and sights along the way. 
Another statue somewhere else in the park.
Wasn't sure what this was about...
...until we saw groups of elephants walking down the streets carrying tourists.
We made our way out of the park and across the city, where the Million Toy Museum was located. It's a museum with toys from all over the world ranging from 50 to 150 years old. Both the space and toys inside were interesting. At the museum gift shop, to my son's delight, J. offered to buy him a small toy as a memento. I don't think her status as his favorite person could get any higher at this point. Although childless, she is amazing with children. I can see why her students love her so much.


This wall was so much fun with pictures of authors and book and cartoon characters hidden all over it. We spent several minutes here, finding different characters such as Alice from Wonderland, Angry Birds, Snoopy, Hello Kitty, and Eric Carle.

After touring the museum, we had a leisurely lunch at the restaurant next to it. Then we biked back across town to the bike rental shop to return our bikes, walked back to our place of lodging to get our bags, and got a ride on one of the unique-looking tuk tuks to get back to the ferry to get across the river to the train station. Our train home cost the adults 20 baht each (but my son was free) because it was the express train with much fewer stops. We had about an hour before our train arrived, so we hung out at the train station and cooled down with some Thai iced tea. It was another relaxing and enjoyable ride home.

I think this trip was one of the most enjoyable trips I've been on in Thailand so far. It was a quick and easy trip, it was so fun to travel with a friend experienced in world travel, and there was plenty to do and see, but we still had plenty of time to relax. A little sad to see it end, but I know we'll be back for more.

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