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Ayutthaya: Temple Hopping in the Ancient City

After 4 whole days of eating and shopping endlessly in Bangkok, it was time for us to head back to Singapore. We had a 2120 hrs Jetstar flight home, and I needed to figure out the best way for us to get to the airport from the city. To get to the city from the airport, we had chartered mini-buses through Klook at the price of S$37.73 per bus. We could do the same to return to the airport. However, I had always wanted to visit the ancient city of Ayutthaya and since we had almost an entire day to spend in Thailand before heading to the airport, I thought we could kill two birds with one stone by chartering mini-buses for the day to take us to the temples in Ayutthaya AND drive us to the airport! All that was arranged through Klook once more, and we paid S$166.19 per mini-bus to charter them for 10 hours.

The 2 mini-buses arrived at our hotel at 0830 hrs. Our plan was to get to the airport by 1830 hrs, so we would have sufficient time to enjoy the facilities in an airport lounge. That would be exactly 10 hours of charter. We piled our luggage into the buses and off we went to Ayutthaya. It took close to 1 hr 30 mins to cover the 85 km from Bangkok, as our buses traveled rather slowly.

Our first temple of the day was Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon. Built by King U-Thong in 1357, this temple is known for its 7-meter long reclining Buddha in saffron robes. For a temple this old, it was very well preserved.

We spent 45 mins exploring Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon before moving on to Wat Chai Watthanaram. This temple was constructed in 1603 by King Prasat Thong, in memory of his mother’s residence on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. It was burning hot in Ayutthaya that day and we couldn't stand being out in the open for long. We only stayed for 15 mins at this temple before running for shelter in the air-conditioned bus.

It was only 1130 hrs, but the drivers suggested we head for lunch first to beat the lunch-time crowd. Aside from ancient temples, Ayutthaya is also known for their grilled giant river prawns. Many seafood restaurants in the area serve those grilled prawns, and my pick was Pae Krung Kao Restaurant at 4/1 Uthong Road. This riverfront restaurant was close to the temples we were visiting, so we didn't have to make a substantial detour for lunch.

The price for grilled giant river prawns is pretty standard in Ayutthaya. Locals and foreigners pay the same price for the delicacy. At Pae Krung Kao, they charge THB700 (S$31) per prawn. Not something to sneeze at, considering the wages of an average Thai. The prawn was halved and grilled over a flame till the golden prawn butter bubbled. It was served with a small dish of Thai dipping sauce. The flesh was sweet and the prawn butter was delicious, but regular-sized prawns actually taste better because their flesh is more tender. For THB700, I should be able to get a whole lot more flesh from regular-sized prawns than a single giant river prawn too! I would say it did not live up to the hype.

After lunch, we were dropped off at Wat Mahathat for more sightseeing. This temple is famed for Buddha's head being wrapped in the trunk and roots of a very old tree.

Perspiration was trickling down our faces by the time we were done at Wat Mahathat. We bought some ice lollies from the shops outside the temple to cool off, and contemplated aborting our plans to visit the temple opposite, Wat Ratchaburana. The architecture and design of the 2 temples seemed very similar in pictures.

Eventually, we decided to skip Wat Ratchaburana and move on to our last temple of the day, Wat Phra Si Sanphet. This temple was initiated by the first King of Ayutthaya in 1350 and has 3 very distinctive chedis. It is one of the holiest temples in Thailand. We saw tourists exploring the area on elephant-back there, but we didn't try it ourselves.

After skipping one temple because of the sweltering heat, our temple-hop was complete by 1430 hrs. With time to kill, we asked the drivers for recommendations for places to go for a last-minute massage before our flight. They made some phone calls, then suggested a place near the airport, and we readily agreed.

Everything worked out perfectly in the end, with us getting a final rub down for a reasonable price and making it to the airport by 1830 hrs. By paying S$166.19 for a full-day charter (10 hrs) of a Toyota Hiace mini-bus van which could take 8 passengers with luggage, it cost about S$21.00 for each of us to have a daytrip to Ayutthaya, have storage of our luggage in the meantime, be taken to a reputable massage parlour, and be dropped off at the airport. Not too shabby indeed!

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