This month we head to the former capital of Ayutthaya. While its ruins may be its most famous attraction, the city has a few new highlights that make it worth revisiting.
Directions: Head out of Pattaya for Motorway 7. Just past Suvarnabhumi Airport, turn onto Motorway 9 and follow the signs for Bang Pa In, then Ayutthaya.
Ayutthaya has had the same old attractions for longer than most - about 300 years. So it’s welcoming to know that the city has recently come up with a few new places to try out.
The temple ruins from the time when Ayutthaya ruled Southeast Asia are impressive and are still the number one reason why tourists go there. But the city has a few new places that come in handy once you’re ‘templed out’.
One of these is Ayutthaya Floating Market. Set just outside the old city’s moat, it’s similar to the Pattaya version. Laid out over a canal, the wooden walkways are home to all manner of shops. Some sell Thai snacks, some sell souvenir T-shirts, others sell handmade craftwork. There’s a pleasant, old-school feel to the place, thanks in part to the all-wooden structures, and it’s an interesting place to browse. A sign of its quality is that it’s not just a tourist attraction - more Thais go here than foreigners. Given that’s the case, it’s no surprise that food is a serious issue here. There are custard snacks, fried snacks, noodles, som tam, you name it, they’ve got it. There are a few pavilion areas where you can sit and eat, but most tend to sit on the floor in a large covered spot and tuck in. Traditional shows are put on throughout the day for visitors to enjoy.
Next to this market is an Elephant Village, which does rides around a nearby temple and back. If you fancy paying double what the locals do, which amounts to 2,400 baht an hour for a two-person ride, then be our guest. The sight of a baby tiger in a cage, which is dragged out for photos, was enough to put us off. If you really want to get on an elephant there are far better options, one of which we’ll come to shortly.
Another floating market doesn’t quite live up to its name, but is interesting for a totally different reason.
The Khlong Sa Bua Floating Market doesn’t really float and it isn’t really a market. It is, however, Thailand’s only water theatre. The entry fee includes a buffet and seating next to a large pond, where the show takes place five times a day (but only at weekends). Performers in traditional silk dress seem to float out onto the water (thanks to submerged platforms just underneath the pond). The stories differ but all involve elements of humour, and in some-cases fire-breathing and acrobatics. The show is beautifully-performed by a group of actors who help preserve this unusual art form. Tickets range from 99 baht to 199 baht. If you go in the afternoon it’s cheaper. We’re not sure why, maybe they run out of food by then.
In recent years, the Sepaa Play was rarely seen, due to a lack of artists and dancers, so it’s good to see one of the more unusual art forms being kept alive. If it’s tradition that you like, then you will adore another of the city’s new attractions - the Million Toy Museum. (Pictured here right) A mere 50 baht entry fee gets you access to this incredible two-storey collection of antique and modern toys. The museum was founded by Krirk Yoonpun, (Pictured at the bottom of this column) a children’s illustrator and avid collector. The collection goes from a 90-year-old doll right up to a model of Yoda, with just about everything in between. There is a huge collection of general toys downstairs, all neatly displayed in glass cabinets. Among our favourites was a display of old postmen toys throughout the years. Upstairs, there are some lifesize statues, including one of Superman, and endless Japanese robots. You imagine Krirk’s wife must have been pleased the museum opened as she could finally get her house back. The collection numbers about 30,000 - it’s not quite up to the million mark yet - and is a superb array of pure nostalgia. We love the care and attention that’s gone into this place, it’s clearly a labour of love for Krirk and the results are wonderful. If you had a favourite toy when you were a child, there’s a good chance you can find it here. You may even be able to buy it, as there’s a small shop attached to the museum.
Our final stop on our trip to Ayutthaya is at the Elephant Palace. The palace isn’t actually very palatial - it’s a bare-earth centre where 90 elephants are cared for. Some of the elephants used to help with logging before it was banned and they were effectively laid off. Other elephants killed villagers and were thought to be too dangerous, so are now houseed here. Some of the elephants are used to give short rides around the temple ruins - a good way to raise the income that’s needed for their upkeep. The palace itself is no tourist attraction as it’s where the animals are fed and looked after - in fact they actively discourage day-trippers. If you are serious about learning more about the elephants you can stay there, for a minimum of three nights (12,000 baht). In return, you’ll get to live with the elephants, bathe them and learn how to be a mahout.
The ruins may still be the star turn in Ayutthaya, but the floating markets, toy museums and elephants mean there are now several other good reasons to check out the city.