By the time we reached Ayuttaya yesterday we were pretty tired and verging towards the incoherent. We had swung from 12 hours sleep to virtually no sleep again. We subscribe to the kill or cure treatment of jet lag ie set the alarm for 7 and get up and cycle 77km regardless of the number of hours sleep. That meant that we were in bed by 9 and woke at 7am but had 3 hours awake in the middle of the night because of the weirdness of jet lag.
However, we woke refreshed and got up leisurely ready to explore the amazing city of Ayuttaya. Founded in 1351, it was the Royal capital of Thailand and had developed into a thriving city of a million people by the mid 1600s, double the size of London. It was also a centre of international trade as the Siamese kings sought to maintain independence whilst keeping on good terms with bigger neighbours, notably China, and also deal with the emerging European interest in South East Asia, including the East India Company (a form of licensed, privatised conquest vehicle with built in deniability for the English Crown – the Wagner Group of its day) . The city developed a highly sophisticated court with amazing artwork and courtly forms of dress. It was strewn with temples and must have been astonishing to European traders. But it suffered an ignominious fall when the city was captured and ravaged by the Burmese in 1767. Skilful diplomacy without brute force on the battlefield could only get the Siamese kings so far.
We visited the city on our first trip to Thailand, when we saw the main temples. Since then a new Chao Sam Praya National museum has built to house the treasures that had been found between 1956 and 1990 in various of the Wats (temples). These were found mainly buried in crypts up to 17m underground and miraculously had not been discovered. Thousands of gold artifacts were unearthed – relics and offerings to Buddha. The exhibition was very well laid out in the lovely new building. The detailed gold metalwork and jewelry was incredible. It was paid for by selling off a proportion of the artifacts that were found – selling part of the family silver to create a permanent home for the rest. An interesting approach which has produced a world class museum.
We then pedaled to one of the main temples slightly out of the centre, Wat Phra Maharat. As well as the beautiful if rather faded temple buildings, we were intrigued that the place was full of people dressed in magnificent costumes. At first we thought it was a wedding but there were far too many people for that, as well as an absence of obvious brides and grooms. As we left we realised the street opposite was lined with shops hiring out the costumes – it seems to be a Sunday morning passtime to hire yourself a traditional Thai costume for the day and then be photographed by your loved ones in a multitude of poses!
We managed to get ourselves hopelessly lost getting back to the guest house as google maps took us off in the opposite direction. All good practice for pedaling our trikes in traffic and responding to the numerous people who shout, wave and give us a thumbs up. I suspect some must wonder what disability we have that causes us to use such a strange form of transport. The trikes get far more notice than we ever did on a bike and neither of us feels totally comfortable with being someone to look at and point. I wonder if this like being a very minor celeb is like? If so, count us out (not that we ever had a chance to be “counted in” of course). We try to be unfailingly polite in our responses but we will probably get tired of it before long!
A quick lunch in a small hidden restaurant opposite the guest house which was full of Thais (delicious of course) then off we went for an afternoon cycle to Ang Thong. David plotted a route on the west side of the Chao Praya river, which looked the quieter side, and soon found ourselves cycling through paddy fields and small villages.
We stopped at a little village shop and brought bananas for a few pennies. I had forgotten these delicious small sweet bananas – like nectar for cyclists – much more healthy than chocolate bars and less likely to melt in the heat. The wahoo said it was 36 degrees (in the sun) and it felt high humidity, so counts as a “challenging” climate but we know that we will adapt to this as the days go on.
We rolled into the modern town of Ang Thong and to our basic motel. It was rather lacking in charm but being Thailand it was spotless and we like it because there is space to set up our stove outside and brew up our tea and coffee and relax after a good day. We have the delights of the longest lounging Bhudda early tomorrow and prepared for it by doing some lounging around of our own.