Buddha statue in the main part of the park
One of the things that struck me as I was taking my (rip off) taxi onto the island was how built up it was, my map in LP made it seem as if there was hardly anything there. The guest vhouse was also bigger than I'd thought it'd be as well, as I arrived at the gate a French couple let me in which is a good job as the 85 year old owner would have ignored the bell because of the rain. She also said she didn't think I was coming as it turns out her sister had taken the message incorrectly and she thought I was arriving at 1pm not leaving Sukhothai on a 1pm bus. It all worked out for the best anyway. I quickly dropped everything off in my room and went to find somewhere for dinner.Â I'd arrived in Ayuthaya hoping to hit the night market for dinner but because of the bad weather my hostess told me that it wouldn't be open, so instead I went around the corner to see what the ferang orientated places had to offer, Tony's place wasn't too bad, cheap and cheerful and hit the spot, at least it seemed to be run by Thai's.
Not sure who this goddess is
I felt pretty tired, even though I'd basically sat on a bus all day so walked home to enjoy a good nights rest in my big double bed. The next day I was awake bright and early and enjoyed breakfast in one of the little huts/ gazebos overlooking the very large fishpond at the back of the guesthouse, it'd been raining for most of the night (I'd heard it pounding on the roof) but thankfully it appeared to be easing up. By the time I got to the main section of the ruins it had pretty much stopped but it was still really muggy. I'd been reading how you could take a ride around the ruins on an elephant as part of a rescue program run by the founders of Elephantstay (www.elephantstay.com) who maintain the only Royal Elephant Kraal in Thailand, many of the elephants here were left in the streets begging and the program gives them safety and work.
Taking a ride
The signs to find the Kraal were pretty shocking (I think my poor sense of direction may have not helped much either) and after directions a few times a tuk tuk driver took pity on me and whizzed me round to the entrance of the Kraal for free. I have to say that I was so excited by the prospect that I ended up feeling a little disappointed when I actually got to ride the elephant, only because I thought you got to see the entire park, infact it only takes about half an hour and covers a small proportion. I still enjoyed it though and felt good that I'd contribute to a decent conservation program. The nearest Wat of any great note was nearby Si Sanphet with it's three huge chedi (stupas) which I can imagine are an impressive sight against a blood red sunset.
Elephants sway to the music playing
Like a lot of the buildings in India the ruins were covered in the evidence of monsoon rains which further added to their aged look. Next I walked round to Wat Phra Mahathat which is home to the image that most people see when Ayuthaya is mentioned in any guide book, a Buddha head embedded in Â twisted and tangled tree roots. The rain returned at this point and it made taking pictures difficult, also the drainage around many of the sites was pretty poor and the rain had come down so heavily that it was difficult to access certain areas as they were flooded, particularly when you're wearing flip flops! Just walking between sites was treacherous enough and I'd almost slipped in the car park at Wat Phra Mahathat but miraculously retained my balance.
I decided that I'd manage one more site then call it a day as the rain didn't look like it was going anywhere and I still had a good portion of the following day as well. The last Wat was that of Ratburana and I felt like I'd saved the best for last. It houses a beautifully preserved prang that was built in the 15th century. The prang itself is also incredibly detailed with patterns and statues of gods around its lower levels. You get a great view of it as you enter the site where it's framed by another remaining doorway.Â You could actually get inside the prang and down into its lower levels (though there wasnt anything to see down there) and it also some great views across the site so I decided to hang out there away from the rain for a while.
An elephant with its Mahoot
Â When the rain became a drizzle I made and move and thought I'd quite like aÂ tuk tuk back to the guest house but when I asked the guy how much he was charging almost as much as bus to Bangkok! I told him this fact and all he could do was give me a wry smile as I reluctantly trudged back. I'd got talking to two other travellers, Â Denise & Reinhart, who were on the same floor as me at the guest house and after chatting for a while we agreed to go out to dinner together. We went to another of the many Farang orientated places on the guesthouse strip (the night Market still wasn't running due to the weather) and while we were eating we noticed a band was setting up so we stuck around to see what they were like...terrible is the answer! After they had butchered the Beatles 'Hey Jude' we paid up and headed across the road to Tony's Place to escape what can only be described as cat strangling.
Why my memory hadn't kicked in to remember the experience of cover band at Riverside in Chang Mai five years ago I'll never know, they do say the mind likes to supress trauma! The next morning before checking out I bought a ticket (against my better judgement) through travel agent opposite Tony's Place that would get me to Koh Phi Phi
and included the price of the ferry ticket as well. I calculated this would work out cheaper than doing it on my own and thought it would be less hassle so it seemed like a good idea. I'd also seen Reinhart in the travel agents and he said Denise had to go to hospital as she'd developed some kind of infection and her leg had ballooned, he was going to see her later so I told him to tell her to get well soon.
Hopefully it wasn't anything serious. I then went back to the guest house and hired a bike to allow me to go in search of the remaining temples I'd missed the previous day. I started off by heading towards the one furthest away, Wat Chai Wattaram, but after searching for the good part of an hour I finally gave up and thought i might have better luck trying to find Wats Chetharam and Lokaya Sutha. I'd seen these depicted on postcards the previous day and thought looked worth visiting. It took so long to find either of them as the signposting and the map in my LP were dreadful, the problem with the map in my LP was that it didn't show all of the ruins so you had know way of knowing where you were in relation to what you wanted to get to. As they say though it's more about the journey than the destination and as I result I stumbled over several Wats that I hadn't intended to visit and actually the best one I visited that day was just such an example, tucked away by the river, Wat Choeng Tha was pretty impressive with countless statues, all of which were in amazing condition and it's setting by the river made it even prettier.
Chedi at Wat Phra Mahathat
Time was running out and I wanted to make sure I could fit in a decent lunch before my tuk tuk picked me up from the guest house so I peddled back as fast as I could, dropped off the bike and walked around the corner to grab lunch. Fed and water I went back to the guesthouse and was pleasantly suprised when the tuk tuk arrived 10 mins early, I was still sorting things out so the guest house owner told him he had to wait. We picked up the other two guests who were taking in the trip then we were transfered to a minibus to Bangkok. We arrived on the outskirts but the driver didn't speak very good English and could only say the word car and gesture in the general direction of other vehicles in the car park and then proceed to drive off. The German couple were as bemused as I was and I was starting to think we'd been scammed when a young Thai guy who spoke very good English waded in to help us out and after some question, examining our receipts and a phone call he told us someone was on their way to meet us.
Statue of Ganesh
Sure enough a guy on a motorbike showed up (we weren't all going to fit on that that's for sure) and hailed a taxi for us for the next leg of the journey, the ubiquitos Koh San Road. We were wondering if we were going to get stung for the taxi but true to the tour companies word the guy on the motorbike paid the taxi driver. We arrived at the 'bus stop', basically a load of Market stalls with tarp over the top and were told to make sure we were back here at 5.30, which was basically in an hour and a halfs time, apparently the motorbike guy thought wandering around the human pressure cooker that is Koh San Road with huge backpacks for 90 mins is the done thing. We took it in turns to watch each others large packs so we could go to 7-Eleven and as more backpackers started to arrive we felt a little more reassured (when I wasn't watching huge rats scurry by that is).
The 'VIP' buses eventually arrived and so began the start of the most ludicrous ticketing system ever; to distinguish who wad going where you were giving sticky labels with the name of the place you were going as well as a coloured sticker, a highly organised outfit I think not! After shepherding people onto the right bus we were off and it was time to get comfy and watch cheesy movies or try and sleep, I opted for the former to start with. Next stop Surathani where we'd change to minibuses again at whatever ungodly hour we'd arrive.