I have a strong record for getting pleasantly lost and getting injured in the most ridiculous ways. No travel adventure (or, if I’m honest, a regular day getting ready for work in the morning) is a true Kiki Roaming Adventure unless I get horribly lost, embarrass myself or get stupidly injured. And when Jupiter aligns perfectly with the moon, all three can happen.
But it makes for great stories and, I hope, for a good giggle. After all these years, I’ve just come to accept my clumsiness and terrible sense of direction to be a part of who I am at the core of my very being. Not even GPS can help me (I’ve tried).
I can’t even begin to explain the grandeur of these temples.
Train Station Adventure
Let me begin by saying that on my second venture through Bangkok, I decided to stay in a non-touristy neighbourhood. The English level in the Pin Klao area is basically non-existent. It also has the most ridiculous morning rush hour traffic I have ever seen in Bangkok.
My plan was I to visit Ayutthaya, a small town featuring temple ruins, which is a couple of hours away from Bangkok via train.
Around 5:30 a.m. I left my warm, cozy bed to walk through a dark alleyway to get to the main road and search for a cab to get to the train station. No cabs were stopping as everything was so busy and they already had a passenger. I crossed the walkway bridge, hoping I would have better luck on the other side near a shopping mall. I was right – in the sense that there were tons of cabs available…just none of them would stop for a tourist.
The few cabs that would stop did not understand where I wanted to go because they didn’t understand English. I thought I was brilliant by having the name of the train station and address written on paper…except it was written in English characters that the driver could not read.
So, I did the only logical thing. I would say the name of the station (Hua Lamphong) followed by what I thought to be the international sound for train. Yes, I actually said “Hua Lamphong choo choo!” with the hand gesture of the conductor pulling down on the train whistle the way children do. This was met with a polite smile and the driver shaking his head no and driving off (possibly fearing that I was unstable). At this point, I started wondering if Thai trains sound differently than North American or European trains. (FYI, they don’t).
After 1.5 hours, I finally got a cab that seemed to know where I was going (I was able to get the word “train” written in Thai by a kind passerby). I got in the cab and patted myself on the back for my brilliant levels of resourcefulness. Until the cab driver brought me to a SkyTrain station (above ground rail station) that had the same name. Although I have no issues with the SkyTrain, I had no idea what stop might be close to the train station and I knew asking someone in English was not going to be a fruitful option.
Not to be discouraged, I shook my head no (with a smile) and moved my arms to indicate a large sphere-like shape and saying “big train”. The driver smiled and then we were off again and finally made it to the train station. Don’t ask me how making a large sphere-like shape was more effective than “choo choo” but it was. So there’s your daily travel tip.
When I got to the train station to buy my ticket, the ticket agent was not keen to sell me one. Only third class tickets were available and they generally don’t seem to want to sell them to tourists. She finally agreed to sell me a ticket after I kept insisting (15 baht for “ordinary train”…$0.60 CDN) and I made my way to the platforms to hop on the train, which is a bit of a guessing game at first as your ticket doesn’t tell you which platform to go to (and my sense of direction is abysmal, as we all know).
Third class was completely fine. It is basically a bunch of benches, without assigned seating. So, you need to get on the train early or fight your way onboard to score a seat. I was lucky enough and got a seat. There is no air conditioning in third class (just a fan nailed to the ceiling), but this was not a big deal as it was uncharacteristically cold the day I went to Ayutthaya. In fact, I was regretting not wearing pants and a large parka that day.
There’s also no real signage or messaging on a PA system to let you know what station you’re at or which one is coming up next. So, you need to keep your eyes peeled because if you look out the window, you can sometimes see a sign or a rock painted with the name of the next station.
All this to say that after 2.5 hours on the train, I made it to Ayutthaya, ready to explore temple ruins.
Immediately across the street from the train station, you can rent a bicycle for the day ($4), which I highly recommend. The sites are fairly close together, but some are 5 km or more apart. It is easily walkable as well, but on a chilly day, I preferred to cycle and I wanted to make sure I could see everything before taking the evening train back to Bangkok.
You can also get a free map of the area and the temple ruin sites from the cycle shop and from most hotels/guesthouses along the main strip. Avoid the convoy of tuk tuks waiting outside the train station trying to convince you to hire them to drive you to all the temple sites. There’s nothing really wrong with hiring the tuk tuk, but they will charge you between $60-$100 CDN for the day (+ you need to pay admission to certain temples on top of the transportation price from the tuk tuk). That $4 bicycle is looking pretty good right now, isn’t it?
Ayutthaya was a former capital of Thailand (Siam), then known as the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, and was considered as one of the biggest cities in Southeast Asia and a regional power for 417 years.
In 1991, Ayutthaya became an UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are over 50 sites to see in Ayutthaya, including temple and palace ruins, as well as wats. All sites vary in size from a quick and easy stroll around a ruin to a lengthier visit to a ruin with multiple structures.
I won’t list them all, but suffice to say that if you enjoy this kind of thing, you will love Ayutthaya. Just make sure you’re up to snuff on your international train sounds.
- Insist on buying a third class train ticket to save some money as the tellers may not be willing to sell one to you.
- Bring your own snacks as there is no canteen on the train. However, before the train leaves and at a couple of stops along the way, where people will board the train for a few minutes to sell food and water.
- If you can, have your hotel write out the name of the train station in Thai characters or ask them to teach you how to say the words “train station” in Thai.