I had the lower berth in the train last night. I liked being able to pull back the curtain to check where the day was up to outside the window, and to pull back the curtain to the aisle to check who was up yet. Ben had the upper bed without a window and was cold with the aircon coming in over the top of his curtain.
The rice paddies started again in the night and temples sprung up. In one town the roofs had sprouted a forest of TV aerials. The train was about 30 minutes late approaching Bangkok, putting it in peak hour and making the last few k’s take nearly another hour. This gave us a better look at the apartment buildings, narrow streets and the corrugated tin homes on the edges.
I’d planned to stop in Ayutthaya instead of Bangkok to wait for the train to Vientiane. Being late in to Bangkok meant we really only had time to buy tickets for the next train to Ayutthaya, find the platform, and get on. We never even left the station. I had hoped to have a peek outside, maybe even do a lap around it, but the slow trip in meant I got to see other things instead. This train left on time but was running late before we got to Ayutthaya which made it tricky to know if we’d be able to tell when to get off. Maps and GPS are wonderful when they work, and they did. The train had drop down windows, rotating fans and a good few tourists. The wind coming in was lovely and cool, until it finally got around to raining and we put the windows up.
Several establishments near Ayutthaya train station cater for tourists like us – left luggage, bike hire, showers, internet and food all rolled into one. Riding around on bicycles was mostly pretty easy but there were a few challenging bits with traffic and trying to navigate an unfamiliar city. It’s surprising when you’re on your bike and what you think is a scooter overtaking you turns out to be an elephant. We’d just gone past the base for the elephant rides but I don’t know, I guess I thought they just went around the park, not along the road.
The elephants were amazing to see and so aware of all the traffic, pausing mid stride when crossing the road to let scooters past. But I can’t say they looked happy. One of the elephants going back the other way suddenly stretched out its trunk in the direction of my foot. I immediately had a bizarre image of it lifting me upside down by my ankle and shaking me to see if any food would fall out of my pockets. My reflex was to snatch my foot back like a girl. I don’t think I squealed.
Ayutthaya’s thing is ruins. Way back when, from about the fourteenth century, a whole bunch of temples and what not were built, kinda for Buddha, but perhaps mostly for some kings and princes. Then some other people came, knocked a lot of it down and chopped the head and torsos off the Buddha statues. The modern city is built amongst it all. We saw a very small part of it all and even then the scale of what must have been is impressive. And the scale of the destruction. When closer inspection reveals that it was rendered and ornately worked, the scale of the endeavour goes up in orders of magnitude. It was impossible not to try to imagine what it was like to be there – gardens, statues, music, kitchens, people.
We could have seen more with scooters and more time spent out and about, but I didn’t want to be one of those rushing back as the train is pulling in to the station. I like showers and food more and they keep me a better travelling companion!
This marked the end of the first week of my travels. It already felt like I’d covered so much ground and I still had more than four weeks to go till I arrive in Edinburgh. The next week takes us through Laos, starting at Vientiane, and on into Vietnam from where Ben will head home and I’ll be on my own. There’s a bit more time for sightseeing in this section, which I’m looking forward to.