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A Day in Ayutthaya

by Tara

What a luxury it is, to sleep in a wide, clean bed, and to wake up tangled in a pair of warm, floppy arms. This is what I think as I extricate myself from Tyler's embrace, now padding to the window, bare feet creaking on wood, listening to the sound of Thailand's rainy season. Pulling open the sheer curtain, there are slate skies and a river all polka-dotted with raindrops.

I shuffle back to bed, and we begin the day with one of our favorite activities: writing and programming together. The two of us quietly working, tapping away on our laptops, it's almost like we're settled in at home.

Bann Kun Pra Guesthouse, Ayutthaya

Except, we have no kitchen, which means that I can't spend the morning kneading dough or peeling apples for a pie, as I am yearning to do. But no matter. When the rain stops, I go in search of food, and return having visited a bakery, a coffee stall, and a traveling ice cream stand. Our breakfast is a sugary one, with a loaf of sweet bread covered in shredded coconut, two small cups of coconut ice cream, and a tall cup of iced coffee to share.

After eating, we get packed for the day, and head out on our bicycles to explore the town. Ayutthaya is famous for its temples, so I've picked one for us to visit from our guidebook: Wat Mahathat, with its iconic, oft photographed buddha-head-surrounded-by-bodhi-tree. This is our only destination on this wet, sleepy day.

Wat Mahathat Doggie

A short bike ride, a quick ticket purchase, and then a quiet wander leads us to what we came to see: the Buddha's head. It is pretty awesome, so we wait until the groups of tourists dissipate, and slip into the roped-off area, taking turns capturing it.

Wat Mahathat Buddha Head in Bodi Tree Wat Mahathat Buddha Head in Bodi Tree

The rest of the Wat is nice, but it is sprinkling again – soon, we're squishing through the mud just to see more old red brick walls. It is a sight to behold, but we're just not that into it. I have a sneaking suspicion that temples will become like cathedrals in Europe: beautiful, each one unique, but a bit uninteresting after awhile.

Wat Mahathat Buddha Wat Mahathat Buddha Wat Mahathat Buddha

It is a special thing, to step away from one's homeland, where life often slips by unannounced and unexamined. The chance to observe so many foreign cultures firsthand, and to experience the shift in perspective comes with it, is something I have grown to cherish. Constantly observing and evaluating, measuring new experiences against old beliefs, it is an invigorating process of personal growth.

Today, it is with this in mind that Tyler and I approach an urban elephant camp. Here, I meet one of the animals for the first time! It is really exciting, but I'm a little nervous – even the baby elephant is bigger than I am!

Tara & Baby Elephant

Though this place doesn't seem to be overtly abusive to the creatures (in fact, it is run by a highly respected elephant rescue organization), it's the concept itself that I just can't get behind. These absolutely enormous, soulful-eyed creatures are here, on display in the city, for tourists.

Many have bright red seats fastened to their backs, and they're pacing antsily around in a pen, unable to get out, until someone pays for a ride around town. In the meantime, the elephants are chained…

Elephant Chain

…and made to pose in ridiculous positions:

Elephant Posing for Tourists

…and prodded with sharp pointy objects if they don't do as they are told:

Elephant Rider & Sharp Stick

I suppose we do similar things at home. Horses are kicked with spurs and whipped, and huge, majestic whales are made to do silly tricks. I'm really not sure how I feel about all of this. What I do know is that right now, I don't want to be entertained, and I don't want to ride around town on an elephant's back.

I'd rather stand wide-eyed from a distance, experiencing the intensity of the single moment in time in which I've been lucky enough to witness such a noble creature in the wild. And if I can't do that, then I'd rather not see elephants at all.

It's not all depressing, though. My favorite part of our visit (the only part that doesn't leave me with an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach) is when everyone's attention is turned away from this baby elephant. It may seem impossible for such a huge creature to be stealthy, but I swear, the little dude sneaks over to a big basket of cucumbers…

Baby Elephant Stealing Cucumbers

And absconds with a few of them!

Baby Elephant Stealing Cucumbers

YEAH! Go baby elephant, go!

Back at our guest-house, huge barges bellow by, taking up the entire width of the river with their enormous loads. As we sit outside on the porch together, night falls, and along with it, a few more rounds of intermittent rain. Save for the boats roaring past, it's another quiet night in Thailand.

Boats on the River Bann Kun-Pra Guesthouse Entryway Wet Leaves Bann Kun-Pra Guesthouse Waterlillies Bann Kun-Pra Guesthouse Lobby Bann Kun-Pra Guesthouse Stairs Bann Kun-Pra Guesthouse Bann Kun-Pra Guesthouse Balcony View
In Years Past and Future
2009 - October's Bright Blue Weather


Sounds like you won't be in Ayutthaya for Loi Kratong - it's pretty spectacular. However, you will of course be able to pick up Loi Kratong festivals elsewhere, it's on the 21st Nov I believe, just in case you weren't aware. Some nice pics by the way.
Posted by Tony on November 17th, 2010 at 2:25 PM
Tony - Nope, we won't be there for the festival, but thanks for letting us know! Actually, we're in Cambodia right now, so unfortunately, we'll miss it completely. We are pretty excited about the water festival here in Phnom Penh though! It starts in just a couple of days. :-)
Posted by Tara on November 18th, 2010 at 9:58 AM
What beautiful photographs and very evocative writing - lovely stuff!
Posted by Alastair Humphreys on November 18th, 2010 at 11:01 PM
Thanks, Alastair! Glad you're enjoying our site. :-)
Posted by Tara on November 19th, 2010 at 9:20 AM
Love that baby elephant! Just like Arvid when he's discovered cookies lying around in the kitchen... :)
Posted by Mia on November 19th, 2010 at 5:08 PM
Hi T&T,

Greetings from Albuquerque, New Mexico! I've been reading your blog from your entry into Bangkok. My partner and I are going to travel around SEA for two months starting in March. Biking is a passion of mine, and I dream of touring the world on two wheels every day.

But anyway, this post caught my eye. I haven't read far enough ahead to see if you've gone to the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai, but I imagine from your comments that you might really enjoy it. From what I've read on their website (www dot elephantnaturepark dot org), they take in old and abused elephant to let them finish out their lives on a big patch of land. No chains, no pointy sticks. It's possible to go hang out with them for a day, a week, etc. Feeding and bathing them are all part of the package. They also have profiles of each member of the herd - there are some pretty harrowing stories of the abuse some have gone through...

Anyway, just wanted to bring that to your attention. I find your blog to be such an inspiration. Peace and good riding to you.

Posted by Jesse on February 9th, 2011 at 7:42 PM
The guest houses you stay in are beautiful! Are they really expensive?
Posted by Charlotte on March 29th, 2012 at 2:12 PM
Hi Charlotte! Yes, some of the guesthouses we stayed in were very beautiful. If I remember correctly, this one cost about twenty dollars a night, which was on the high end of the spectrum. The others we stayed in ranged from six dollars to fifteen dollars! Not a bad deal. :-)
Posted by Tara on April 1st, 2012 at 11:15 AM