A Travellerspoint blog

Tomb Raiding at Ayutthaya

sunny 34 °C

What I love the most about Thailand is the simultaneous predictability and unpredictability of everyday situations. To some, walking down the street to a constant chorus of “Where you go?” “Hey you!” and “Tuk Tuk, Tuk Tuk” could really rattle the cage, but to me it provides a constant source of amusement – on a good day that is. This constant harassment is the predictable side of Thailand; it happens all day, every day. What was also predictable on this particular morning was a woman in official train staff clothing, trying to convince us that the particular train we required had no seats – not ‘no seats available’ but that the train was lacking anywhere to park our backsides for the 2 hour trip to Ayutthaya. Of course she knew a taxi company that could take us there instead, but she was gone in the blink of an eye when we insisted we would check at the official counter first. We handed over our 100 Baht to the cashier who seemed amused by our question as to whether the train had seats and we made our way to the platform, reciting the story of what just happened while revelling at our triumph over the train scamster. “Honestly she must think we are completely stupid – a train with no seats – have you ever seen such a thing?!” We didn’t like to admit that we believed her for a good few seconds, enough to voice our doubts at the tickets office.

a constant chorus of “Where you go?” “Hey you!” and “Tuk Tuk, Tuk Tuk” could really rattle the cage

Next came unpredictable Thailand; A small girl peering out of the train window on the opposite platform with her dad flailing her arm about in a waving motion to catch our attention. I smiled and laughed and this went on for a good 5 minutes, the cue for a Thai guy standing next to me to spark up a conversation. Finally, the soot covered diesel train squeaked and rattled into the station and people shuffled forward into something that could loosely be called a queue – queues of the English variety don’t exist in Asia. I darted for a seat, but our new friend patted the space next to him and so we sat down. The exciting thing about 3rd class trains in Thailand is a) They are dirt cheap and I mean DIRT and b) There won’t be another tourist in sight and the locals never fail to provide and endless source of entertainment – A lady jamming bag fulls of flowers into the overhead luggage storage, random unofficial food vendors parading their goods in plastic buckets up and down the aisles, monks in their special ‘Zone reserved for monks’ and quite often school children that all want to shake your hand as you are desparately trying to find a seat. Today we had the pleasure of ‘Boy’ on our train ride. He spoke fairly good English but conversation was quite limited but once people clocked he was talking to us, everyone in a 5 metre radius were breaking their necks to join in. Boy was a business graduate who studied in Ayutthaya. I didn’t manage to get out of him what he was currently doing; he was too busy lavishing Ste with comments about how handsome he was!

Soon the party opposite became involved. “New Moon, New Moon” they called out, pointing at Ste. “You two are very beautiful and like celebrities” they chimed while nodding keenly. We, of course, were in fits. It turned out that the young Thai guy sitting opposite spoke fantastic English and was completely fluent. His name was Yut and he was studying computing. He was on a placement in Ayutthaya for 3 months and his dream was to come to London someday – but he told us that for the price of the airfare he could buy land and build a big house in Thailand, so it was just a pipe dream. He offered us to come and stay at his province when we next visit Thailnd and “not to worry about anything, I want to make you happy” - a common and heart warming phrase in Thailand. He wanted us to come and see the elephants there and also visit his local school to teach them English. What a kind gesture and a fascinating opportunity for the future I thought! It was a shame he wasn’t available to host us this trip! A considerable portion of the conversation also centred around when we were getting married “you should get marry soon” Boy insisted “Not too soon” we both laughed. The train ride was over quickly and we were soon on the baking platform snapping some photos and exchanging emails. Boy then insisted we get a tuk tuk to have Swensens (random) visit the primary school (also random) and to see the market (more normal) and that takes me onto part 2 of unpredictable Thailand.

Train Fwends

Train Fwends

This tuk tuk driver had skin as thick as a saddle and a rough, unusual looking face. Boy and Mr tuk tuk man spoke in Thai which was then repeated back to us with a good 90% of the conversation lost in translation. We weren’t quite sure where we were going when we climbed into the unusual tuk tuk, that looked like something out of shoe people. Well we arrived at Swensens and just when I thought it was time to say cheerio to Mr tuk tuk, he waltzes into Swensens, pulls up a Pugh and orders a chocolate Sundae. So there we are, two ‘farangs,’ a tuk tuk driver the size of an elephant eating a tiny chewy choc sundae and a camp Thai guy tucking into a banana split. We tried to hold back the giggles as he whipped out some beaten postcards of the local sights. This was THE mother of all efforts I have seen from a tuk tuk driver to get some customers! I was half expecting a bill for 400 Baht for the ice creams, but no, we finished and everyone paid separately.

Right, we must be off to the school now I thought, but no. Mr tuk tuk was still talking in Thai to Boy, who then left almost without saying bye and looking a little upset. Mr tuk tuk must have told him to do one! This is when he whipped out his scrumpled tour sheet and started to discuss everything except the price. After the fourth or fifth attempt he flipped the paper over to reveal the 300 Baht and hour fee. We laughed. And then came some serious bartering. “We only have 300 baht for the rest of the day and we need to get back to Bangkok!” It took a good 5 minutes to get him down to 300 Baht for 2 hours and still we felt like we were being robbed. But we did want to see the ruins, we didn’t have much time and it was searing hot. We had agreed on 4 of the most popular ruins and we chugged off down the road.

Sh-sh-sh Shoooepeople

Sh-sh-sh Shoooepeople

Ayuthaya Centre

Ayuthaya Centre

In the centre of the old sacred city is Wat Phra Mahathat which was built in the 14th century. This was our first stop and we were already looking longingly at the passersby with their sunbrellas, it was stifling and this was cool season! The ruins were like something out of tomb raider, with towers and satellite chedi on the verge of toppling over. There were hundreds of Buddha’s dotted about the place, all missing their heads. In the centre there was a large stone Buddha with its head intact and gold leaf fluttering on its hand like an insect’s wing. Orange wax dribbled down its stone seat and onto the parched grass. But the temples most visited image was not this, it was the Buddha head emerging from the entwined roots of a tree, like something out of Sleepy Hollow. It took us a while to hunt it down without a map, but it was as strange and eerie in the flesh as it appeared in the photos I had seen. You were allowed to take a photo with it but you had to kneel below the height of the Buddha’s head, so as not to be offensive to the image. We headed back to our chariot and on to the next sight.

Toppling Prangs at Wat Phra Mahathat

Toppling Prangs at Wat Phra Mahathat

Stone Buddha Head Emergin from the Tree Roots

Stone Buddha Head Emergin from the Tree Roots

Buddha Dressed in Silk

Buddha Dressed in Silk

Gold Leaf on Buddha Hand at Wat Phra Mahathat

Gold Leaf on Buddha Hand at Wat Phra Mahathat

Ste was excited about this one…and so was I! Wat Lokayasutharam, now in ruins was once home to the colossal reclining Buddha, that now lies basking in the sunshine amongst crumbled brick walls. This is the Buddha that is featured in Street Fighter and so when no one was looking we whipped out a couple of moves for the camera. Swathes of bright yellow fabric rippled silently across its 37 metre long body in the breeze. Its head was propped on a lotus flower 8 metres above us. This reclining Buddha had a good atmosphere surrounding it, not as stuffy as the reclining Buddha in Bangkok, but nowhere near as detailed, especially around the feet region.

8 Metre High Feet of the Reclining Buddha

8 Metre High Feet of the Reclining Buddha

Reclining Buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam

Reclining Buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam

Last of all we managed to get a quick undisturbed glimpse of Wat Chai Wattanaram before literally 400 school kids showed up! The Wat was built in 1630 in the late Ayuthaya period by King Prasat Thong, to commemorate his mother. The central prang that is flanked by 4 smaller ones, is thought to contain Lord Buddha relics and It was built to represent Mount Meru. Lining the walls are numerous decapitated Buddhas. It didn’t fail to impress and Ste even took the treacherous climb up the near vertical stairs up to the central prang. The school kids cheered and clapped as he reached the summit in one piece. We hurried back to the tuk tuk hoping to fit in one more ruin but he insisted there wasn’t time.

Wat Chai Wattanaram

Wat Chai Wattanaram

decapitated Buddhas

decapitated Buddhas

Braving the Stairs of the Central Prang at Wat Chai Wattanaram

Braving the Stairs of the Central Prang at Wat Chai Wattanaram

Central Prang Representing Mount Meru

Central Prang Representing Mount Meru

The journey back was far more sober than the morning, albeit faster, the driver must have put his foot down. I could have collapsed into bed when we got back, but it was straight into the shower and into the taxi to Khosan road to meet Pippa. We didn’t have too much trouble finding her, and it was great to finally meet up in her home country. She took us to a lovely restaurant that overlooked the river where we shared our Thai experiences and feasted on seafood. She also insisted on footing the bill which was very kind, so we bought her a couple of cocktails in her favourite ‘Hippie’ bar on Khosan. Great night, but she had to be off early as she was going to Samui the next day. We waved goodbye to another familiar face and headed off to find a taxi, while trying to avoid the “You see Ping Pong?” We had a look at the menu – yes a menu…with a list as long as your arm, that goes something along the lines of ‘Fanny shoot banana, fanny blow out candle, fanny open bottle…and so on. “Not tonight we insisted” and jumped into the safety of a passing taxi.

Posted by CarlaTracy 05:55 Archived in Thailand Tagged temples Comments (0)

5.5 Tonnes of Gold

sunny 34 °C

I remembered vaguely a story I had once heard about a solid gold Buddha that was disguised with such intricacy, that for hundreds of years people believed it to be just an average plaster Buddha image, until it was knocked during transport and the plaster chipped away to reveal the gold jackpot inside. Arriving in Bangkok had me wondering whether this famous gold Buddha could be close by. It wasn’t until last night, while flicking through our seldom used rough guide to Thailands beaches and islands that it was there, staring me in the face under the Bangkok coverage section! ‘Wat Traimit and the Golden Buddha’ this Buddha was in fact cast in the 13th century and brought to Bangkok by Rama III, encased in stucco, which was common ruse for concealing precious images from thieves during transportation. The Buddha was actually on its way to Wat Traimit in 1955 when the plaster broke away and the secret was revealed. Wat Traimit is now the home of the most valuable Buddha in the world – it is made from 5.5 tonnes of solid gold, and cashes in at over 10 million USD, by weight alone! This could not be missed.

Wat Traimit (Golden Buddha Temple)

Wat Traimit (Golden Buddha Temple)

Wat Traimit Home of the Golden Buddha

Wat Traimit Home of the Golden Buddha

11.30am ish and we were standing at the temple compound which is situated 200m down Thanon Tri Mit, close to Hualampong subway station in Chinatown. The midday sun reflected blindingly off the pristine white temple walls; I popped down my sunglasses for a better look. It was certainly the only building in the area that had received a thorough spit and polish; it shone out like a dazzling gemstone in a neighbourhood of ramshackle little shops, smothered in charcoal black from the toxic air pollution. On the street, a white cat smudged so grey that it had acquired camouflage in its concrete habitat, was a stark reminder of the city’s pollution problems. At least it was perfectly obvious that our 40B entrance fee was actually going on the upkeep of the temple as they say it does.

Praying Outside Golden Buddha Temple

Praying Outside Golden Buddha Temple


A few stairs tackled slowly in the heat and we were in front of the worlds’ largest golden Buddha. You could have got dressed in the morning using this Buddha; it was buffed to perfection. Adoring crowds knelt beneath it praying, amongst people fumbling with cameras and others hop scotching over those who were seated to get the perfect backdrop for their photo. Everyone was in good spirits though and I chose a spot near the wall to sit and get a better look. In my opinion this Buddha had a particularly hypnotic face – it wasn’t gazing at anything or anyone in particular, just downwards, in a languid and accepting fashion. It was like looking at a beautiful painting, of say, a calm sea or a sunny meadow that instantly relaxes you. But the crowd continued to grow and jostle to get photos and so we vacated.

5.5 Tonnes of Solid Gold

5.5 Tonnes of Solid Gold

The Golden Buddha

The Golden Buddha

Dedicated Worshippers Paying Their Respects

Dedicated Worshippers Paying Their Respects


View From Wat Traimit

View From Wat Traimit

A twist and turn down a few streets lined with steamy soup cafés and BBQs grilling various odds and ends and we reached a Chinese noodle soup restaurant for some breakfast outside the marine department. The river taxi was a while coming, and although we had every intention of getting the special tourist sightseeing boat taxi that bobs slowly the muddy river, we just jumped on a regular river taxi to save time. And there is nothing quite like a Bangkok river taxi ride; the boat would happily speed off while you still have one leg on the platform and people are literally wrestling to jump aboard! It doesn’t cost much, literally around 14B per journey, no matter the distance. Wat Arun was our next destination and as the taxi stops the opposite side of the river, we needed to get the 3B ferry to the other side.

Soupy Noodles Outside the Marine Department

Soupy Noodles Outside the Marine Department

Bangkok Rier Taxi - Watch Your Step

Bangkok Rier Taxi - Watch Your Step


What Arun is a famous Bangkok landmark, and once upon a time, it even housed the Emerald Buddha. Wat Arun differs a great deal in appearance to many other of Bangkok’s Wats which sparkle in the sunlight, covered in shards of mirror, in a cacophony of colours. From a distance Wat Arun does anything but reflect, it absorbs; with its muted mosaic walls of sun bleached crockery. Yes crockery! From anything further than a few metres away Wat Aruns colours muffle together to produce something unrefined, almost dirty looking. But upon closer inspection, these thorn-like projections that form the body of the temple are elaborately decorated with dusky toned flowers made from broken porcelain. The mythical Kinnari and Yaksha demon statues, that support the various levels of the tower, are similarly decorated. It’s kind of like a collage!

Central Prang at Wat Arun

Central Prang at Wat Arun

Floral Crockery Design

Floral Crockery Design

Crockery Mosaic at Wat Arun

Crockery Mosaic at Wat Arun

Even more amazing are the precariously steep stone stairs that lead you, in a death defying fashion, to the 81m high summit of the central prong. Both hands on both rails, I ascended one tentative step at a time; Ste bumbled up, camera rolling in his hand. I shouted a few precautionary words from above, sounding a little like his mother. The views from the top were tremendous, especially on such a sunny day. From here we could also view the other four prongs that encircled the main tower; they looked pretty miniature now from this great height.

Vertical Stairs at Wat Arun

Vertical Stairs at Wat Arun

As we were leaving, a line of Glittering Thai style headdresses caught my eye and I pointed them out to Ste. Seconds later I saw a woman getting dressed into a complete outfit, including hat. “200 Baht” the merchant blurted, “Ahh too expensive” I said. She then lowered her voice “I charge them 200 but for you 100” it took a moment of thought, but it was only 2 pounds, so why not. In flurry of material I was transformed and walking awkwardly to avoid the heavy headdress toppling off. The woman showed me various poses with my curly metal finger extensions and I spent the next 10 minutes having my photo taken by Ste and a few passer bys.

Just for a Bit of Fun Outside Wat Arun

Just for a Bit of Fun Outside Wat Arun

We caught the ferry across the river and took a stroll to Kho san road which is Bangkok’s backpacker hub and where we would have been residing if we hadn’t stayed in Verity’s uncle’s spare condo!! Woohoo. And thank GOD we weren’t staying there. Backpackers spilled into every available inch of space and people were already stumbling about the streets from afternoon drinking. You could buy fake documentations from random street vendors, including British driving licences and even degree certificates! Random. We paused only to purchase some flag patches to sew onto our backpacks.

Khosan Road

Khosan Road

Tuk Tuk Taking a Break on Khosan Road

Tuk Tuk Taking a Break on Khosan Road

Crossing a couple of 6 lane roads, we reached the October 14th memorial statue, which was nothing to write home about. Next was the Democracy monument which was illuminated by the afternoon sun. I was just snapping a photo of 5 Thai school girls cramming into the back of a taxi when a man approached us. It was a familiar spiel, he was obviously a tuk tuk driver pretending he gave a damn about our lives, we played along with him. The inevitable question eventually came “So where you going” and he instantly proceeded to tell us about all these places he could take us for only 40B, to which I replied “I’m not going to any damn suit shops, no tailors, no no no!” or something like that “No I not take you to tailors” – “So what is the catch” I replied, by this time we were having a giggle, its best to keep it light hearted. We reluctantly agreed and he led us to tuk tuk. My arse cheek had literally touched the seat when he said we would have to go to the TAT (tourist travel agency) so he could get his free petrol voucher for taking us there. “Whatever” we both laughed and he raced off into the traffic, dodging buses and heading into the oncoming traffic. A tuk tuk ride in Bangkok, however unsafe, will put a smile on your face. Darting through lanes of traffic at breakneck speed is better than any white knuckle ride I know.

He did as promised and took us to the Golden Mount Temple, so far so good and our feet finally got a rest. He showed us the entrance, how strangely helpful. We speculated about what the catch would be, as we ascended the huge spiralling stairs that led to the top of the golden mount. The goal, the gleaming gold Chedi, that sits on top of the Golden Mount structure. There was a narrow indoor staircase before we emerged once again into the daylight and were blinded by the lustrous golden blaze of the bell shaped Chedi. Tiny fluttering red flags radiated from its mighty pinnacle like a maypole. Bells with people’s names written upon them, tinkled in the wind. There were hundreds of bank notes pinned to lines that surrounded the giant Bell. People prayed and tourists gazed. It was certainly a sight. We rang the lines of oxidised brass bells as we headed back down the Mount. There, we were greeted by our super smiley tuk tuk driver.

Enormous Golden Chedi at the Top of Golden Mount

Enormous Golden Chedi at the Top of Golden Mount

Bell Offering at Golden Mount

Bell Offering at Golden Mount



Chedi Reflection

Chedi Reflection



Mr tuk tuk man then insisted we visit the TAT so he could get his petrol voucher. We were ushered inside as he roughly pointed out the direction of the 45m tall Buddha and told us to meet him back outside the TAT after we had made the short walk to see it. Sitting in the TAT, we made it completely obvious that we had no intention of making any travel plans today and managed to shrug the agent off fairly quickly. We then strode down the busy road; there was no Buddha in sight. “He’s bullshitting us isn’t he?” I repeated “I bet there’s no Buddha” as we stepped over sleeping dogs and random refuse that had tumbled out of shop doors and onto the pavement. Ste disagreed at first, but as we made our way further and further away from the TAT, he was also starting to have his doubts. We were about to give up when a street with market stalls appeared to our right, and then over the tops of the buildings popped the head of the towering gold Buddha. “There is a Buddha!” I shouted, and some Buddha it was! It was glowing gold in the soft afternoon sun. Its feet were as wide as a bus and it soared above us through a cloud of burning incense. To be honest it was pretty gaudy looking, but still impressive.

45 Metre Standing Buddha

45 Metre Standing Buddha

Golden Statue at the Standing Buddha

Golden Statue at the Standing Buddha

But more interesting to me was the graveyard. I know it sounds morbid, but at this particular temple the graves were walls turned display cabinets, fronted with glass and containing decorative earns and photographs of loved ones. Beside one earn there was also a small glass bowl which appeared to contain fragments of bone! I’ve not seen anything like it before, but it had a better feel about it than a depressing grey graveyard.
Of course when we returned to the TAT Mr tuk tuk driver had buggered off. What a surprise. We weren’t in the least bit bothered, as we had visited a couple of places we wouldn’t otherwise have known about, for free. We managed to navigate ourselves back to the river taxi as the sun was setting and made our way back to the flat to rest our tired limbs.

Posted by CarlaTracy 21:36 Archived in Thailand Tagged buildings thailand bangkok buddha gold wat_arun Comments (0)

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