(train breakfast and salty OJ)
Train bathrooms (in first class) are also showers. I don't know how you would be able to take your clothes off though in that tiny space, or where you would store your clean clothes while showering. The bathroom was dripping wet on all walls and the ceiling, so apparently someone had pulled off the contortionist trick.
The train trip from Bangkok to Ayuttaya, however, was not so pleasurable. We bought tickets for the next available train heading North to Ayuttaya. We didnt mind that it was an “ordinary” train, with only 3rd class seats (i.e. no air conditioning). We figured it was just a couple hours in the humidity. However, what we didnt count was that over half of the two hour trip was either sitting still, or moving very slowly, which means there was little to no breeze in the cabin!
(before we realized how many stops there are inside the city of Bangkok, before we actually head up to Ayutthaya)
We sat next to a very nice guy from Japan. We had brought some snacks on the train, and he happily accepted our offer to share with him. Either he was hungry, or felt obligated to accept our offer and thank us mightily, or both. I also offered some snacks to a presumably Thai guy who sat down next to me later in the trip, and he declined my offer. Maybe he was vegetarian...
Another highlight of the trip up to Ayuttaya was finally spotting what appeared to be a water or wastewater treatment plant. I saw some structures that could have been aeration basins, some geodesic domes that could have been digesters, and a building labeled “Backwash Pump Station”. I snapped a couple pics out our train window, satisfied that we can most likely check off Scott's scavenger hunt photo request.
(Thai waste water treatment plant)
Wednesday, 8/18 (by Juliana)
This was our first trying day. I hadn't slept well on the overnight train – although it was very comfy. A combination of stomach woes and sunburn made it so that I could doze but never really sleep deeply. The morning came way too fast, and with it a not-delicious attempt at western breakfast – unlike dinner the night before, this was not a good deal! We didn't see much of the countryside as we were already close to Bangkok and falling over each other trying to get dressed, brush teeth, and pack up before we reached the station. I still think the overnight train was a great experience – it just didn't fit what my body needed for this particular day.
(views from the tracks coming into Bangkok)
(what is it about transportation infrastructure that makes kids want to graffiti?)
We spent an hour at Bangkok's station, which reminded me of the Harry Potter scenes (no 47 and a half station or whatever it was though). No comforting western breakfast today - the station only had junk food for sale to supplement our odd train breakfast.
(Bangkok train station)
Our train to Ayutthaya was 3rd class with fans, which our first class attendant assured us was what we wanted. 2 hours later in the steaming heat, and crowded seats, with food and soda vendors yelling at us every 30 seconds (I began to hate the word “kah.....” which is how women end their sentences, especially for questions or propositions, such as “do you want my meat on a stick, kah.....” - all of that in Thai of course so you don't recognize anything but kah.... every 30 seconds!), I wondered how that attendant though this was a good transition for us. Also, I had taken a second scopase for motion sickness and since it hadn't been a full 24 hours since my last one, I was hit pretty hard with the dopey sleepiness side effect- but sitting next to strangers on a wooden bench made it really hard to sleep. Poor Ty didn't get much conversation out of me, but I do think he took funny pictures of me sleeping. we had a very kind japanese tourist aruond our age sitting with us- but we were both to tired to chat him up much. Ty shared street food with him, and he is somewhere in Ayutthaya now as well, so hopefully we can cross paths again and have a better conversation.
(this is your wife on drugs - sleep-inducing anti-motion sickness drugs, to be specific!)
We also struggled with our 7 bags on the 3rd class train. There was just no room, and passing between cars inevitably got me stuck with a backpack trapped in a doorway. I finally stuffed some smaller bags inside of larger ones – what we should have done before departing our first class cabin. Lesson learned!
(tiny doorways+lots of people+moving train+humid = argh!)
Our lodging in Ayutthaya (Luang Chumni Village Guest House) is wonderfully charming – an old teak house converted to a guest house, with a tiny verdant moat around it, tall-ceiling rooms, a large bathroom (downstairs but private), great AC and a most unique door: you step up to the doors, push them open into the room, then down into the room and close them behind you. Something like a 3 foot tall threshold, but it feels like being in a secret room or a treehouse.
(hooray for lodging! check out our cool room entrance!)
The people here are very kind and helpful, especially compared to Koh Samui (polite but strictly business staff there). However, while our hosts speak wonderful english, no one else in Ayutthaya seems to. My guess is that since everyone comes here on day trips in large buses, there is minimal interaction other than with the guides, on both sides. This made our afternoon touring quite unproductive. Still tired and a bit loopy, feeing grungy from the train, and wondering if we'd wasted time traveling up here to be given the run around, I started to have a meltdown – my first for the trip, and hopefully only!
(our cute guest house lobby)
Our host suggested we wait to see the ancient wats until tomorrow, so we could rent bikes and get started in the cool of the morning. It was so hot and sticky, we decided to go to the aquarium for a/c and minimal effort on our part. Except, the aquarium doesn't exist, per our host. It turns out it does but its around 45 minutes away. He suggested a history museum of the area instead – we agreed.
It turned out to be quite expensive, very small, lacking interesting artifacts, and void of English translations for the ones that were there. There was also no A/C – all the rooms were open to the humid air outside. Since it was a complex, we still had to wander between buildings in the afternoon rain, although it was nothing near to the monsoons we were getting used to waiting for (or running through).
(interesting buildings but they are mostly empty inside!)
At the top of one of the buildings, a 4-story tower with wild staircases, we got wonderful views of the city that made up for the lackluster collections. We could see the tops of the famous ruins, the large river, old and new buildings and temples, and tons of trees. It was beautiful!
(observation tower made it worthwhile)
(views from the tower, including the awesome ruins we are here to see in the background!)
(view from inside the tower)
Next we tried to get a tuk tuk to take us to the elephant villaged and floating market nearby. After taking a very high fee based on poor communication and a general lack of tuk tuks interested in tourists (we were glad to get anyone at that point!), we realized that the “floating village” was a Universal Studios style set for tour groups.
(this "floating village" looks more like a sushi boat buffet!)
Perfectly manicured, filled with shops and fake little boats selling one or two gimmicky gifts, the entire place could only have been a few years old. It was as inauthentic as you could find, and crawling with giant Chinese tour groups of all ages, all in matching clothes and clogging the walkways taking group pictures. This was about when I started to loose it – remember this is the tail end of a very long trip! The real floating market had been one of the sights we couldn’t fit into our trip, and I was really excited to find one.
(The sign is off in more ways than one!)
In addition to that let down, the elephant village was near by and those poor creatures were not treated nearly as well as the ones we had visited in the hills – these lived in town, surrounded by loud buses and tourists all day. It was heartbreaking. We got the tuk tuk driver to get us home after several attempts (apparently she wasn't familiar with the old part of town we were staying in), and paid her for the full hour we asked her to remain for us, even though we ran through the fake village in under half an hour. Walking to dinner, the effects of little sleep and even less food over the last 2 days took over, and I was the grumpiest girl in Thailand. I tried to just keep my mouth shut, and Ty tried not to laugh at me. He was very patient.
Then, as can happen on vacation, everything turned around in a moment. We were walking down a trash-littered street (Ayutthaya is much dirtier than Chiang Mai – we think because there are at least 3 giant boarding schools filled with students who drop their snack and lunch waste wherever they finish eating). Something moving caught my eye adjacent to a park with a large pond – I thought it was an alligator. Turns out it was a monitor lizard (they look like small komodo dragons), about 3 feet long and trapped on our side of the fence. Awesome!
It took him several feet and 2 funny attempts through too-small holes before he could find his way back onto the park/pond side of the fence. By this time we were across the street from our restaurant, and I was happy again
Dinner was fantastic – mild and somewhat familiar Thai food (California Thai restaurants mostly serve southern style food, which includes the region we are in) that was the first meal my stomach didn't churn over (including western ones) for this trip. We were right on the river's edge, watching the rain and clouds move across the city and old teak boats (gussied up for tourist dinner cruises) plying the Chao Phraya river. We got all of the effects of the river cruise without the high fees. By the time we walked home, the sun had come out and begun a beautiful sunset on the river, and the rain had stopped. We stocked up on water and chocolate at the 7-11 near the hotel, and are now having some comfort food to end the night before bedtime at 8:30 pm. I can't wait to sleep! We also both admitted that we are getting a little homesick and looking forward to the end of the trip. Hopefully that's just the side effect of our long day of disappointments, and perhaps the stress of learning about a new city. If not, there's only 5 days left!
(view of the river from our dinner restaurant. We ate the same food as these guys, but without the touristy boat ride)