Day 42: Ayutthaya, Thailand. We started the day with a much needed morning of admin – catching up on messages, checking our online post re-direction service, sorting out finances. Lil prefers to write one long list and blast through a heap of stuff in one go, rather than doing bits and pieces every day.
We were thinking of going to Chao Sam Phraya museum or to the Summer Palace this afternoon, but ended up doing something entirely different.
Lil had read about Lopburi, another historical city and one of the oldest in the country. But while the old buildings and history are a draw, what really caught our attention was the thousands of monkeys that roam the old town in Lopburi. Any opportunity to get close to wildlife, and we’re there.
We headed out of the guesthouse, and just around the corner Lil yelped as she almost stood on the tail of a snake, over a metre long. Turns out it was dead though it looked like it had only recently been killed – probably hit by a car or a motorbike and managed to slither as far as the hedgerow before dying. A beautiful snake (we think it’s probably a sunbeam snake), but again we were happy not to encounter the live version that closely. A layer of bright red insects had already started to crawl over it to nibble at his flesh, urgh.
We walked to Ayutthaya train station, southeast of where we’re staying. It’s a 5km walk along busy streets, up a rickety set of concrete steps underneath a motorway, then along the side of the motorway itself, while traffic screams past. There was a painted sign on the ground indicating it’s a good idea to hang onto your kids (or is that a rabbit?)
We’ve noticed that hardly anyone walks anywhere here – transport is either motorbikes, cars or occasionally bicycles. The town doesn’t cater well for pedestrians, and pavements are either in a state of ruin, or impassable due to street stalls, parked cars or bikes, or construction.
We made it safely to Ayutthaya train station. The station was built in 1921 and the original structure is still in use, making it one of Thailand’s oldest railway stations. The main building and ticket hall have been superbly preserved – lots of exposed wood, old train time signs and notice boards, and fabulous curved teak seats on the station platform.
The train arrived on time and we headed towards Lopburi, happy with our 3rd class seats and open windows.
Lopburi is a pretty relaxed small town split into two parts, the old town and the new town. The majority of sights are found in the older, historic area and it’s easy to walk from place to place.
We headed straight to Phra Prang Sam Yod, an ancient Khmer temple from the 13th century, and otherwise known as ‘Monkey Temple’. This is where most of the town’s Long Tailed Macaque population hang out. And holy crap, there are thousands of them – roaming around the temple grounds and streets, draped over railings, hanging off balconies and power lines, sitting on top of cars, running across busy streets and generally causing mayhem. We’d been warned to put hats, sunglasses, jewellery, drink bottles and phones in our bags, as they’ll quickly snatch anything in sight.
Lil wasn’t keen on entering the temple grounds, where there were hundreds of them running around the grounds and climbing on and over people – one guy had three on his shoulders and one sitting on his head. We both love wildlife, but we’re still very wary of getting bitten or scratched by animals. Some people also buy food to hand feed the monkeys, but there’s no way in heck we were going to do that either.
Every afternoon a couple of volunteers stand at a small concrete area across from the temple, and feed the monkeys. They call out to them and they come scampering from the temple and across the busy street in front of cars. Traffic tends to give way to the monkeys, though we could tell a lot of drivers were frustrated with them getting in the way and climbing on their cars and into the backs of their utes. We saw one monkey catching a ride by climbing inside a tuk tuk where some terrified tourists tried to remove it by swiping a bag at it.
When we’d had our fill of watching monkeys (with Lil shrieking occasionally when they got too close or we had to walk past a bunch of them on the footpath), we decided to check out the rest of the town, then had a late lunch and headed back to the station for the return trip home.
Lopburi station is another fabulous railway station, with a great old fashioned ticket room, robust teak seats and a large slightly goofy looking gold monkey statue at the end of the platform. A cleaner had rested their mop against the monkey, making it look even more comical.
The train journey back to Ayutthaya was spectacular, as we watched the sun setting across banana plantations and rice paddies.
We got back to Ayutthaya, made our way back through the town, and decided to pop into a tiny restaurant and bar close to our guesthouse that we’d spotted the previous evening. It’s only the size of a small living room, with a few small tables covered with printed plastic tablecloths with flowers and cats. It can seat around 15 though this evening there was only the owner, his family, us and three other locals. The owner is a musician who sings and plays guitar and harmonica, he was awesome. He played a selection of English songs from Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton and Neil Young and then got his younger brother to sing a number of Thai ballads – his voice was just incredible. We had no idea what the lyrics were, but were totally engrossed. It was just the best evening and we were made to feel so welcome – the guys next to us kept clinking our glasses and shouting “family!”
Then home to the guesthouse, for a bit more travel planning and a good night’s sleep. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.