Saturday, May 4, 2024

Ayutthaya, Thailand: An Escapade Through History and Grandeur

Bright and early at 6 a.m (Bangkok)., I'm buzzing with anticipation for the adventure ahead! The tour guide's scheduled to swing by at 7 a.m., marking the start of my jam-packed one-day tour to Ayutthaya, all neatly pre-booked the day before. Ayutthaya has held a top spot on my bucket list for as long as I can remember, so you can bet I'm practically bouncing with excitement (Chonburi to Pattaya). Surrounded by fellow travelers, all of them seasoned Westerners, I find myself as the lone Indian in the mix, yet surprisingly, it feels like the perfect fit.

The hour-long journey to Ayutthaya is a breathtaking sight to behold, like stepping into a real-life postcard, with lush paddy fields stretching as far as the eye can see. Ayutthaya, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, whispers tales of its illustrious past, even as its ancient ruins stand as silent witnesses, drawing visitors from every corner of the globe.

Our first stop? Bang Pa-In Palace, affectionately known as the Summer Palace. We receive our briefing at the entrance, with the delightful option to either wander on foot or indulge in a breezy buggy ride. While most opt for a leisurely stroll, I decide to treat myself to the buggy - a choice I'm already patting myself on the back for. With a cheerful driver at the helm, I zip around the expansive palace grounds, capturing memories with every turn, and mesmerized by the sheer grandeur of it all. Upon entry, I quickly learn that decorum is key, so I happily invest in a traditional Thai sarong for respectful sightseeing.


Bang Pa-In Palace unfolds before me like a magnificent tapestry, offering a peek into the opulent lives of Thailand's former royals. From opulent residences to tales of royal extravagance, including whispers of multiple wives, children, and even mistresses, every corner exudes history and elegance. Though restricted from entering certain areas and forbidden from snapping photos in others, the exterior views are nothing short of picture-perfect.



In less than an hour, I've soaked in all that Ban Pa-In Royal Palace has to offer. With hunger gnawing at my belly from skipping breakfast, I make way for the nearby stalls, eagerly satisfying my cravings before rejoining the group for our next adventure.

 

Next stop? Wat Mahathat. Located at the heart of Ayutthaya, it's known as the "Temple Of Great Relics." This symbolic center dates back to the 14th century A.D. and once housed precious relics of Buddha. Sadly, it fell to ruins during the Burmese invasion, explaining why many of the Buddha images are headless. Despite its state today, Wat Mahathat remains profoundly meaningful and draws countless visitors. Here's a fascinating tidbit: it's home to Thailand's iconic Buddha head, encased in the roots of a bodhi tree. Absolutely priceless, leaving you pondering its mysteries.






From Wat Mahathat, we make our way to Wat Na Phra Men. This charming temple sits by the riverside of Lopburi and was spared from destruction during the war, making it a rare gem. Its crowning glory is the largest Buddha adorned with gold leaf inside the ordination hall. You'll also find other deity statues and the intriguing "Nine-Faced" Buddha here. Step into the small sermon hall on the right, and you'll encounter the Phra Khantharat Buddha image and more deity statues, adding to the temple's allure.



Nope, we're not finished with temples in Ayutthaya just yet. Our final stop was Wat Lokayasuthara, home to the largest reclining Buddha in Ayutthaya, measuring a whopping 32 meters long and 8 meters high. Impressive, right? We made a quick pitstop here for less than 20 minutes to marvel at this magnificent sight.


With the official Ayutthaya tour wrapped up, it was time to head back to Bangkok, cruising down the Chao Phraya River while enjoying a leisurely lunch onboard. Not a bad spread at all! Once again, I found myself as the only Indian amidst a sea of Westerners, who weren't exactly the friendliest bunch. However, I struck up a pleasant conversation with a young lady from Switzerland and we ended up sitting together for the cruise.

 

As I ventured up to the upper deck, I encountered a group of Italian guys who didn't speak much English, so communication relied heavily on gestures and a few scattered English words. After about 20 minutes of attempting conversation, the scorching sun prompted me to retreat to the cooler lower deck. There, I sipped on coffee and gazed out the window, taking in the temples and glimpses of Thai life along the riverside.





Back at the hotel by 5 p.m., I was still buzzing with energy and eager for more of Bangkok. A quick visit to the travel agent's office led to booking tickets for the Calypso Cabaret show that evening and arranging sightseeing for the following day. Stay tuned for the next chapter of my solo adventure in Bangkok.








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