I’m struggling through Bangkok’s hot and noisy Hua Lamphong railway station. My huge kitbag containing my worldly possessions and teaching resources. isn’t helping. Clutching my 15-baht ticket, I’m travelling by train from Bangkok to Ayutthaya. It’s about to depart.
As I pass through the ticket barrier in this century old station the attendant smiles, points to the platform I need and politely indicates that I should “hurry up “. I quicken my pace and head towards a nondescript blue and white train – the all third class service to Ayutthaya.
I reach the back carriage as a conductor wearing an impressive uniform and with a very red face starts enthusiastically blowing his whistle.
The Ayutthaya train is now departing
My instinctive reaction is to heave my bag through the nearest door and I dive in after it, and I do, much to the delight of the grinning Thai passengers who are enjoying my theatrics. I’m giving confirming their belief that all foreigners are crazy.
They help me place my bag in the overhead rack and I gratefully but gingerly sit on the hard bench style wooden slatted seat. The carriage has no air conditioning or ceiling fans that are working and it’s hot and stuffy inside.
On the platform, the conductor continues to whistle up a storm but the train remains stationary. I start to relax and reflect on where I’m headed and what I’m going to do when I get there.
I had secured a teaching job at the Bang Pahan High School out in the country about 30-40 minutes from Ayutthaya where I was going to live. There was a lot consider. A new city and a new country. It’s my first teaching gig, I’m going to have to find a place to live and school is starting next week. And how hard is this seat.
A wave of a green flag and a final whistle blast and the train is lurching reluctantly into life. This takes me out of my thoughts as we slowly make our way through the teeming city and into the suburbs north of Bangkok.
There’s something different about rail travel in Thailand
The train gains momentum and delicious cool air comes in through the open doors and windows. Suddenly, in spite of the hard and uncomfortable seat, the carriage seems more enjoyable.
We’re about 30 minutes into our journey when we make the first stop and food and drinks sellers come aboard. They wander through the train offering an array of mouth-watering hot and cold food and beverages.
My fellow travellers come alive and soon we’re munching on great street food washed down by cool drinks. The food gets people talking and laughing and they include me in the fun.
The suburbs give way to the countryside and I’m taking in the ever-changing scenery. Farms with endless rows of vegetables, small villages surrounded by tall palm trees and bright green rice fields stretching to the horizon. The breeze coming in is refreshing.
The train stops frequently and at one large station I lean out the door to take in the organised chaos on the platform.
Passengers coming and going, freight and mail being pushed around on ancient barrows and the food sellers carrying their baskets on and off the train. The urgent and shrill sounds of a whistle and the deep blasts of the locomotive horn add to this fascinating scene.
It’s not long until my new friends are telling me that we’ve almost reached our destination. Finally, about two and a half hours after leaving Bangkok we’re slowly rattling and swaying across a set of points and with a screech of brakes, grind to a halt in Ayutthaya.
Welcome to Ayutthaya
The first challenge is to actually get off the train. There’s no platform so I’m stumbling down the steps to the ground. I cautiously drag my bag across four active rail lines (on the busiest stretch of track in central Thailand) towards the station about 50 metres away.
I’m looking carefully from side to side as I search for trains that may be passing through. Rail safety Thai style isn’t something I’ve ever encountered before but everyone else is relaxed.
Outside the station, there’s a brightly coloured tuk tuk fleet waiting. Their drivers are smiling and waving to me in anticipation that a hot and perspiring foreigner with an oversized bag will be a prime target.
Crossing the Chao Phraya River
Stubbornly though, I set off across the road and down the small lane opposite, heading in the direction of the river. At the end there’s a terminal from where the ferry crosses to Ayutthaya city.
Within a few minutes, I’m handing over my 5 baht and joining the locals on board the ferry for the 5-minute river crossing.
Although the cool breeze is mixed with diesel fumes, it’s still refreshing as we chug across the swift brown current, dodging the river traffic, debris and vegetation floating downstream.
I step from the relative peace of the river into the busy city centre and struggle down the narrow crowded footpaths, dodging an assortment of obstacles.
I am following my trusty map to the street known locally as Soi Farang (foreigner street) and soon find Tony’s Place, a popular backpacker establishment where I plan to stay a few nights until I can rent an apartment.
Quick and friendly check in formalities completed, I drop my bag in my room and I’m heading out into the afternoon sun to explore my new city.
Exploring the city
Ayutthaya is an incredibly interesting place. It’s an UNESCO world heritage listed island but not in the ocean or on a lake. Located on the central plain north of Bangkok, it’s surrounded by three rivers whose courses have created an island at their centre. The island can be accessed by two road bridges and a ferry service.
As the former capital of Siam, the ruins of this once famous and important world city are evident everywhere.
It’s a hot and humid afternoon to be walking but away from the busy city centre it’s actually quite a peaceful and remarkably interesting place.
I’m walking around the streets and in every neighbourhood I see ruins of buildings, palaces and temples dating back 700 years.
These are the remnants of what must have been a city with highly complex buildings and temples. Spectacular chedi from the former glory days appear in the most unlikely places including empty blocks of land surrounded by modern houses in developed neighbourhoods.
Incredibly interesting scenery
There are lots of mainly Thai visitors studying the ruins and taking photos and there are a few groups picnicking in the grounds. I see an occasional herd of cows chewing happily on the grass. They’re oblivious to the famous ruins they’re wandering around.
All this walking (and culture) is making me thirsty so I wander back to Soi Farang and into a restaurant/ bar called Chang House.
I’d been told to look for Chris Bell who is a teacher in Ayutthaya. I walk in and ask where I might find Chris. A cheerful young guy stands up with a big smile and says “I’m Chris – can I buy you a beer?”
I’m soon learning more about Ayutthaya, where to live and the realities of teaching over a few drinks with Chris. This has more relevance than any internet search engines and guide books. His friendly, easy going nature and sound advice makes me feel more confident about living and teaching here.
Chris proved to be a huge help to me throughout my year in Ayutthaya. He is now a teacher in Italy near Venice and I’m sure, enjoying life.
Early night tonight. I’ll have a big day coming up tomorrow finding a home.