It’s not that usual to travel 10000 kms away from home and get to repeat destinations – that is, away from travel hubs such as Bangkok, Hong-Kong or Kuala Lumpur. And yet, bizarrely, I have enjoyed the experience several times in Thailand, in Kanchanaburi,Samet and in Ayutthaya during my 2019 un-solo trip.
Repetition can be an enlightening experience for the reflective traveler. “We both step and do not step in the same rivers. We are and are not”, said Heraclitus in his famous fragment. Well, the Ayutthaya I visited in 2020 was the same than the one I encountered for the first time in 2016 – and then again it was not. I was not.
In 2016, Ayutthaya provided a welcome break from my week in Bangkok. I had discovered the pleasures of slow travel during my stay in Chiang Mai, and so took the slow, scenic way there – that’s 3rd class train with plenty of stops and vendors hopping on the train car to sell us snacks and Thai cross-words. Forgoing AC was perhaps unnecessary, but I felt it was cool (no pun intended) to be able to claim I was traveling like a local, the full package for 30 Baht.
Compare 2019, where K. and I deployed all our ingenuity and planning skills to make the most of a weekend in Bangkok, packing in two rooftop bars -one with a pool-, several street markets, a boat ride to Wat Pho, lots of walking (Silom, Chinatown) and, of course, the inescapable visit to Talad Rot Fai. To squeeze a morning of temple hopping in Ayutthaya, we had to take the usual tourist route, that’s a taxi to Mo Chit van terminal, followed by a speedy trip (60 Baht) to our quaint homestay, walking distance from the entrance of Ayutthaya’s historical park.
I love Ayutthaya. In fact I recommend it to anyone spending any time in Thailand, even those pursuing more beach-oriented vacations. The historical park is beautiful -especially in early morning or late afternoon lights- and can be easily navigated on foot or by bike. There’s plenty of greenery, which somehow helps alleviate the relentless heat.
Further, staying overnight will allow you to get a glimpse of life in a middle-sized provincial Thai town, complete with a small night market. The pad Thai was OK, but K. insisted that the last round was cooked without added sugar. Mai sam nam tam, I declared, authoritatively. Then we hit soi 2 for some drinks and live music. I wondered, is this where I ended up three Summers ago, with Laurie the Dutch chef and the hotel restaurant waitress who joined us for drinks?
Back then some enthusiastic band was playing Metallica covers as we played pool. The music was too loud for our Thai friend, so she left Laurie and I together. Laurie told me about her long trip. She’d rent a motorbike and ride to whatever destinations were recommended by locals. I’m looking for something, she said. Not sure what yet. It was there and then that had my first inkling that Thailand was the destination for so many people: the young female solo traveler as much as the rowdy gang of Brits, the middle aged French couple reading the Guide du Routard as well as the white skin Chinese looking for the perfect selfies while their companions eat away in a beach restaurant.
Regarding the visit itself, I repeated several of the temples I had seen three years ago: Wat Phra Mahatat -famous for the image of Buddha in the tree- and Si Samphet. This year we added Wat Ratchaburana. Plus, of course, the modern Wat Phanan Choeng, with its huge golden Buddha.
It was in that temple that I ran K. through the offering protocol, with the flower, the incense and the golden stickers. Just like I had been taught to by Janjira in Amphawa three years before. Or as I had done with Ek so many times.
I thought about Ek, his never ceasing smile, and prayed Lord Buddha for his happiness now and after death.
After three historical temples, a modern one, and lots of walking, K. and I decided to call it quits. It was hot and we were hungry. A pitstop at a regular Thai eatery was in order before picking up our luggage and the guesthouse and heading back to the City of Angels for more repeats.
Want to know more? As I’ve mentioned before, it’s hard to go wrong with Travelfish.org and its tips on SE Asian destinations.