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DAY 6: AYUTTHAYA

 
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RUINED TEMPLES & A NIGHT ON THE RAILS

Today, you’ll be swapping one UNSECO World Heritage site for another, trading in the forests of Khao Yai for the former Thai capital of AYUTTHAYA. You’ll have several hours to explore its atmospheric temples before boarding the night train to Chiang Mai. The cheaper and more interesting way of getting to Ayutthaya is on a local train; most hotels in Khao Yai run free scheduled drop-offs to Pak Chong Station to connect with the #72 train (฿245 for a seat in second class), which gets into Ayutthaya at around 1.15pm. Quicker and more convenient is to organise a private mini-van transfer, which cost around ฿2000 (with someone like Greenleaf Tours) for the two-hour journey.

In Ayutthaya, leave your luggage at the station (฿10 per piece) and head down the lane on the opposite side of the road to the pier at the end, from where a little boat chunters across the Pa Sak river every few minutes [daily 5am–8pm | ฿5]. Once you get to Naresuan Road (first right, first left), flag down a tuk-tuk to take you on a tour around the city (฿200 per hour) – it’s too far and too hot to walk, plus you can stay as long or as short as you like at each site and the kids will love buzzing between the temples in their own clapped-out three-wheeler.

First stop is WAT MAHATHAT [daily 8am–6.30pm | ฿50, children free], set, like most of Ayutthaya’s temples, in parkland near the centre of the town’s main island. The complex is littered with faded red-brick stupas and slanty pagodas teetering on the brink, though the most amazing sight is the head of a Buddha statue that’s being slowly swallowed by the creeping roots of a bodhi tree.

Older children might appreciate a visit to the (air-conditioned!) CHAO SAM PHRAYA MUSEUM [Wed–Sun 9am–4pm | ฿150], whose model displays and antiques, particularly the gold offerings discovered in a crypt under Wat Mahathat, help put Ayutthaya’s ruins into context. Otherwise, ask your tuk-tuk driver to push on to WAT PHRA SI SANPHET [daily 8am–6.30pm | ฿50], the most important temple in all of Ayutthaya. Work your way around the site to the three huge blackened chedis (you’ll see their coiled spires from a distance), which were built over 500 years ago to house the ashes of three kings of Siam.

There’s an impressive gold Buddha statue in the neighbouring VIHARN PHRA MONGOL BOPIT [daily 8am–5pm | free], but most kids will be happy to bring their temple tour to a close after Wat Phra Si Sanphet. Dinner is probably calling by now, anyway, so grab a bite to eat in one of the restaurants that overlook busy Pa Sak before taking the ferry back across the river and then walking up to the station in time to catch your OVERNIGHT TRAIN TO CHIANG MAI. It’s a great experience, the novelty of sleeping in bunk beds whilst you’re on the move vying with the journey itself, the train clacking along the tracks, occasionally stopping at tiny rural stations en route, as the Thai countryside outside your window gradually changes from arid plains to palm-fringed rice paddies.


TOP TIP There are two SLEEPER TRAINS FROM AYUTTHAYA TO CHIANG MAI: the #9 (which leaves Ayutthaya at 7.45pm) and the #13 (departs 9.07pm). You can travel in connecting first-class carriages (each carriage has a bunk bed sleeping 2 people) or, if your kids are older, opt for the communal dorm-style carriage in second class, where the beds have curtains for privacy. The #9 train is newer and swankier and has a more convenient departure time, but it’s slightly more expensive (from ฿6515 for a family of 4 in first class and ฿4540 in second, versus ฿5910 and ฿3980), arrives quite early in Chiang Mai (it pulls in at 7.15am) and gives you less time in Ayutthaya. You’ll need to book your tickets in advance (you can do it up to 60 days ahead) with a company like Asia Discovery, who will physically buy your tickets for you at the train station and then deliver them to your hotel in Bangkok (฿300 fee). Arrive at Ayutthaya Station at least 30 minutes before departure. And don’t bother with the bland overpriced breakfast on board.




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