Discovering the world on $20 per day ......................

Post 306: Ayutthaya ... continued

Last night I sat in the Riverside Hotels floating restaurant eating fried chicken with cashew nuts and boiled rice, nicely washed down with a large bottle of Singha beer, no ice. I’d eaten there before, it’s definitely the same hotel that I stayed in more than twenty years ago. A hundred hotels and guest houses in Ayutthaya and I’d accidentally returned to the place where my love affair with Thailand had begun. Another bottle of Singha beer. A tug boat towing five huge Thames Barges chugged slowly past making the restaurant sway in it’s wake. A cargo of something heading down the Chao Phraya River towards Bangkok and in the opposite direction, a charter boat with a happy party of revellers aboard. Two girls stood on a platform on the top deck, staring at a large TV screen and singing their little hearts out. The table next to me had stopped their chatter to stare at me. They probably thought that I was mad, or possibly just that I was a normal ‘Farang‘. I was laughing, side-splitting uncontrollable laughter. The girl’s were singing a far too familiar song, Ra Ra Rasputin. They were Thai and had the unique Asian way of mispronouncing the ’R’ and the ’L’. Think about it for a moment, but you really had to be there ….. mai pen rai

This morning it was raining. Proper rain that was as loud as it was wet. Overnight, my crash helmet had been sitting in the basket on the front of the little Honda. Upside down, a perfect receptacle for harvesting rainwater and bugs. Not a problem. I seem to be the only person in Ayutthaya who wears a crash helmet anyway. It’ll dry out eventually … mai pen rai

By 9am the rain has stopped and I ride on amazingly slippery roads to what is probably Ayutthaya’s most famous ancient ruin. The monastery of Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon. Of all Ayutthaya’s ancient sites, this is probably the best preserved and therefore, the most visited. It’s still quite early but the car park is already filling up with local tuk-tuks and tourist buses from Bangkok.

Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon dates back to the 14th century, our 14th century not there’s, which I think makes it around seven hundred years old. I guess that it also makes the term ’Ancient’, quite subjective. I’ve frequented pubs in England that are far older than this, but here in Thailand anything that is relatively old actually feels positively ancient. I don’t know why that is, it just always feels that way. Despite this being Ayutthaya’s most well restored and manicured historical site, I don't love it but I do quite like it. It’s not ’mysterious’ or ’tranquil’, there are too many tourists for that, but there is still something quite beautiful about it.

Close to the entrance is a white statue of a reclining Buddha. It’s much larger than the reclining Buddha at Wat Phutthaisawan and having been quite recently restored, it looks a little out of place amongst the crumbling walls that surround it. On the small altar in front of the statue there are a mass of burning candles, flowers and incense sticks, evidence that this statue is well revered. Normally I’d leave my own offerings, as I did at Wat Phutthaisawan yesterday, but here I’m getting more of a feeling of ‘Disney’ than ‘Destiny’ …… mai pen rai

Around the imposing Chedi, the tall pointed tower at the centre of the complex, sit rows of statues wearing yellow silken drapes. In the hands of each statue sit’s a small carton of water, a daily offering from the monks of the monastery. These statues all seem to have kept their heads, so I suspect that either the invading Burmese forces didn’t reach this side of the river, or perhaps the Thai restorers have just been amazingly busy.

By 11am, the whole area is crawling with tourists and a small army of touts are lingering around the entrance selling everything that nobody ever wanted. Time to leave ….. mai pen rai

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