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Money Out Of Ruins

"At the northern Thai bus terminal, I asked for a ticket to Aranya Prathet on the border with Cambodia.  So much for local comprehension.  I ended up in Ayuthaya instead."  Doug Knell, Doug's Republic

It's October 2005.  Less than a week after my arrival in Thailand, I started to make tracks from Bangkok, and those tracks, by accident, took me here.

Maybe I should have read up more on Thailand's past.  For over 400 years, Ayuthaya was the capital of the Ayuthaya Kingdom.  Put that into perspective.   That's almost twice as long as the United States of America has been around as a country.   In 1765, 40,000 Burmese invaded Ayuthaya and laid siege to the city.  It took the Burmese 14 months of pounding the s--t out of Ayuthaya before it officially surrendered and was burnt to a crisp.  Today, Thailand officially gets the last laugh by looking the other way as Burmese illegals "sneak" in to Thailand, just so that the Burmese nationals can work as maids and toilet cleaners, some even in the very capital their ancestors burned down a long, long, long time ago!  Buddhist karma at work.


Not a far cry from the Cambodia I was supposed to be visiting

Without Ayuthaya's remnants lying about as tourist attractions so close to Bangkok, so close that you can take a boat from Ayuthaya right to the capital 76 km away for a relative king's ransom, the place wouldn't get nearly as many visitors as it does.  Thailand is doing its best to squeeze out as much money as it can from the ruins, a competition it's been losing with neighboring Cambodia for decades and another in a long list of reasons why the two countries aren't best friends.

When I realized I was in the 'wrong' place, I licked my wounds and decided I'd make the best of it for one night. The tuk tuk driver dropped me off at a local guesthouse filled with other Western travelers.  I was immediately asked by an effeminate staff member of the hotel if I wanted to book a boat trip with them.  "Everyone does one," he lisped.    

Ayuthaya map 
Three rivers for the price of one means three times the good times without paying extra

And looking at the map above, it's easy to see why.  While there are plenty of ruined temples to see within the confines of the sort of island created by the three riverways which surround it, a fair share of temples are more scenically visited by boat.  Covering the same ground (or water) by tuk tuk would take more time and offer less in the way of touristic good times.

Doug's Ayuthaya Experience

Most by-the-book tours are boring and you're unlikely to remember any of your fellow tour participants.  I can remember all six.

There was a seriously obese Dutchman (seen in pic below) who shaved his head like a monk and swaggered -- or more like waddled about -- with his shirt off.  He tried to sound learned and wise and after speaking with him on the boat for twenty minutes, I realized he was a sage of sorts, a true maestro at living off the Dutch welfare state.  He sponged off family at home in Holland six months of the year, then came to Asia the other six months to spend those Dutch welfare checks in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar.  The euro checks went very far back in '05, before the European Union's financial woes, and he was getting and eating a lot of pad thais, tom yam gungs, and mango rices based on the size of his torso.  If anyone knows how I, too, can milk the Dutch welfare state, please send in your suggestions.   The person who helps me most lucratively soak off Holland's generosity will win a 14" Sony Trinatron television set from 1981, which I willl likely get the Dutch government to pay for, too. 

Ayuthaya river trip river tripGolden Buddha
Ayuthaya in a nutshell (l to r):  Doug admiring the Chao Praya River after getting off the boat;  Doug posing in front of the many 500+ year old temples Ayuthaya is famous for;  Doug adjusting to life on land after a local Ayuthaya boat tour;  the Big Buddha at Wat Phanan Cheong near the confluence of the Pasak and Chaopraya Rivers and the Dutch settlement

There were two young Irish girls who spoke only to each other.  Then there was 20-year old Jake, a long-haired Australian on his way back home after the usual stint working in Europe.   I was on my way to Australia in the next few months and queried him with a few basic questions.  Jake spent the majority of his time at the guesthouse in the company of British Dicky, whom I was later to share transport to the Ayuthaya train station.   Dicky and I traveled Khorat together and stayed in touch for several years after.  Dicky later told me during our own travels that young surfer-looking Jake was making the very best of the Thai female nightlife. The last two on the boat trip were two Brits in their 30's, Roderick and Stefan.  Roderick was tall, thin, bald, not immensely attractive, and spoke in a monotone.  Stefan was a bit chubby, gregarious, and quite effeminate.  I confirmed that the two men were a gay couple when we got back to the guesthouse and I got a look at their room housing just one double bed.   They were quite open about their homosexuality.   Stefan worked as a hairdresser and could be; Roderick had spent the first three-and-a-half decades of his life working on the family farm and hiding his true identity. 

I dined with the two that night, and the next day, traveled about Ayuthaya with them.  Roderick was very good about staying in touch by e-mail, much better than I was.  I suppose I lost a lot of interest in staying in touch when, months later, I was in Melbourne (Australia) and found out, long after the fact, that the two of them were in Melbourne at the same time and had made no effort to get in touch. Sometime in 2008 or 2009, Stefan befriended me on Facebook.  In 2010, Roderick came back to Thailand for the first time since '05.  He let me know he was around, but I was not in Bangkok, the only place he intended to visit, and didn't have the time or inclination to invite him down to Hua Hin.  He never even hinted at coming down for a visit.  As of early 2011, Roderick and Stefan were still together after seven years.

Eight years later I revisted Ayuthaya for a day trip with my wife and a friend visiting from Korea. We got dropped off on the outskirts of town, rented three ramshackle bikes, and visited 2 or 3 temples. I think by then, the other two had seen enough Thai ruins for the days.  

Is It Worth It To Come Around?

FederbrauIf you're only in Thailand for a short two week holiday, I'd probably give Ayuthaya a miss. If you're plannign to spend 5 days in Bangkok, I could advise you to trim one day off the Bangkok stay and devote that same time here.

I'd say it largely depends on whether you get off on visiting ruins.  Have you already been to the wondrous and much more famous Cambodian ruins of Angkor Wat?  Were you thrilled by it?  If Angkor Wat didn't light your fires, how is the much less important and far more ruined Ayuthaya going to do it for you?

What about pay for play pickup action if that's your kind of thing?  Connoisseurs head to Ayuthaya's Grand Street named after the Grand Street Hotel on the corner of Grand Street and Rojana Road.  Frankly though, if you're coming up to Ayuthaya to dip your wick, you truly are desperate.   That's like flying all the way to Italy to eat Chinese food. 

Thailand's best indigenous beer, according to Doug, which then makes it an irrefutable fact, is Federbrau, supposedly brewed according to the Reingeitsgebot, the German Purity Law.  This is Thailand, so anyone can state whatever they want and not get called to task on it. At this point in time, I wouldn't be shocked tomorrow to see frontpage headlines that Federbrau is about as pure as the cheerleader everyone on the football team has 'dated.'  Federbrau is brewed by Cosmos Brewery, owned by Chang and based in Ayuthaya.  Could that be a reason to show up?  It'd me a lame one. Cosmos doesn't offer brewing tours, and Federbrau, although not an easy brand to always find, can be procured throughout Thailand if you're willing to spend the time look for it. 

Bask in the ruins or don't come at all. 


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Insights From A Travel Mastermind

  Ayuthaya has the Cosmos Brewery and tons of ruins and a boat tour. Come to Wat Phanan Cheong on the Chao Phrya for a Federbrau