Travel in Thailand Historical Places / Temple Ruins
All over Thailand there are many great historical sites with old ruins that fascinate you and stimulate your brain to consider how the world used to be. Most of the best preserved ruins are in the central, northern and northeastern areas of the country. As you travel around different parts of the country, so you will notice different styles of ruins in different areas.
One of the great things about the ruins in Thailand is that these truly fascinating historical sites are affordable to enter – especially when compared with such historical sites around the world where an entry fee of $US 20 to see a European castle is not out of the question. Where I do have a problem with the pricing of such attractions in Thailand is the blatant dual pricing that is in effect at so many of these sites. Ayuthaya, Sukhothai and the various other locations with historic ruins all charge the foreigner three to four times the price that the Thai pays. More often than not, the Thai pays 5 – 10 baht and the foreigner pays 20 – 40 baht. To really rub salt into the wounds, at all of these places, the prices for foreigners is listed in English and the prices for Thais listed in Thai script including using the seldom used Thai script digits. This way, 99% of foreigners do not know that they are actually being ripped off by being asked to pay more for entrance to the site than the Thais. While I do not condone it, a friend of mine claims that at many of the sites, it is possible to walk in side or back doors without having to pay. His justification for this being that if they would charge the same price for foreigners as they do for Thais, he wouldn't have to resort to this. In my opinion, he has a fair point so if you get a chance, jump the fence! Having seen him in action, I can confirm that this is VERY easy to do – especially at many of the sites in Ayuthaya.
Heading north from Bangkok, about 20 km or so south of the main temple area in Ayuthaya is the Summer Palace at BangPa In, pictured below. Now this is a very impressive attraction with lovely, manicured grounds and a very warm feeling about it all. There is a bit of history in the palace with various buildings on the grounds being home to previous generations of royalty. To get to BangPa In, most people get off the train at the BangPa In train station and get a motorbike or a tuktuk to the palace. Alternatively you could get there by car. The Bangkok to Ayuthaya bus may stop somewhere around there but frankly, I do not know. The palace grounds are not that big and unless you are feeling lazy or have bad legs, I wouldn't recommend taking the electric power vehicles to drive around the palace. They cost 400 baht an hour for foreigners or 250 baht an hour for Thais, but either way, I think they are a little in the expensive side. Besides, an hour is not really enough time to get around, read some of the history and of course, take lots of photographs. BangPa In, like so many of the attractions in Thailand, really is a photographer's paradise so bring lots of memory cards or lots of film! Entry price is 100 baht and for Thais is cheaper, just 30 baht. Grrr. You would almost certainly visit BangPa In the same day you would visit Ayuthaya.
Ayuthaya is really easy to get to from Bangkok – in fact it's perfect for a day trip if you are not planning on going any further north. You can either take the train from the main train station at Hualompong which takes about an hour and a quarter and costs a whopping 15 baht (probably increased since) or alternatively, you could take a bus from Mo Chit bus station which costs a bit more but gets there quicker. If you ever find yourself at either Victory Monument or Future Park Rangsit, just north of the airport, from both of these places several minibuses offer a service to Ayuthaya and just depart when the van is full. Keep a look out for vans with small plastic or cardboard signs in the window or on the side that are usually in Thai, occasionally English. Just ask one of the guys hanging around the vans and they'll point you in the right direction.
Once you have arrived at Ayuthaya, you have to decide how you wish to get around. You have a few options available to you and far and away the cheapest is to hire a bicycle at 30 – 50 baht for the day. Ayuthaya is flat so getting around on a bike is easy. The only problem is that some of the ruins and temples are quite a way from each other so you will have to do quite a bit of cycling and further, while they are not too difficult to find, one can also get lost! Road maps can be damned confusing in Thailand!
The ruins at Ayuthaya are spread over a wide area and in many ways the entire town is an historical park. Just wandering / cycling or driving around, there is no shortage of eye candy and exploring is half of the fun. Most people seem to head for the main temple in the centre of town with the three pagodas but there are some equally impressive temples round about. Like I say, explore and see where you end up. I maintain that to see Ayuthaya comfortably, a car would be best, but if that is not possible, you can hire a tuktuk for a few hours to take you around. They charge around 400 baht for 3 – 4 hours and will take you to 3 or 4 of the best temples. If you're lucky, the driver might even speak enough English to give you s bit of history about each of the temples. alternatively, if you know where you want to go, you can just hire a different tuktuk to take you from one historical site to another which will cost 40 – 60 baht per journey. The central area of Thailand can get very hot during the day and Ayuthaya is no exception. Many people find that by mid afternoon the heat has got to them and it is time to either return to a local guesthouse or make the trip back to Bangkok.
There are other old ancient ruins all over the country and I gather that the ruins at Sukhothai, in the north, are very impressive. Further, scattered throughout Isaan are various ruins such as those found at Phimai, not far out of Korat. These historical sites tend to be quite busy at the weekend and on public holidays. During the week they are usually a lot quieter though if you are really unlucky, you may get there at the same time as a few hundred Thai school students.
Lopburi is a funny place. I had lived in Thailand for well over five years before I visited it and during that time, no-one had said much to be about it, so I wasn’t really expecting too much. When I finally made it there, I was almost dumbfounded about not having visited it sooner. It is a relatively small city, but there is plenty to see and do and you could easily spend a day wandering around, looking at the wealth of attractions.
There is a huge old palace and beautiful grounds which is pretty much in the middle of city. The ground are huge and you can get a fairly good feel for what was once the old capital. There are these huge doors there that took me a while to figure out, oh, they're for the elephants! Anyway, in what I believe is called something like the old city palace, you have the grounds to explore and a very nice museum to wander through. Entry is a ridiculously cheap 30 baht.
Scattered around the city area are various temple ruins, most of which are a few hundred years old. None are as impressive as the ruins of Ayuthaya or Sukhothai, but are worth looking at nonetheless. Perhaps the most popular attraction in the city of Lopburi is the temple ruin in the centre of the city that is home to hundreds of monkeys. These little monsters are everywhere and they are a great laugh though be careful as they are famous for stealing things from visitors and have been known to run off with sunglasses, wallets and cameras! It is a little perturbing to see the monkeys run across a major inner city intersection between two temples and a bunch of shops, but the traffic seems to slow down for them and they seem to get by ok. The monkey temple is probably the pick of the Lopburi attractions. You could do Lopburi as a day trip from Bangkok or on the way heading either north from Bangkok or south, back to Bangkok.
You're well and truly in the north when you reach the old town of Kampeng Phet. Although home to the Kampeng Phet Historical Park, I get the feeling that not a lot of visitors make it to this town and fair enough too. There are a lot of historical parks in Thailand and the one here is not the most impressive, but that is not to say that it is unimpressive either. Quite different from, any of the other historical parks, this one is in a semi forested area just a few km from the city centre. On the day that I was there, there were no other visitors at all which gave it all an eerie silence. A few local Thais were exercising in the area but apart from that, it was deathly quiet, almost a little unnerving in a country where one gets used to constant noise. If you are touring around the north by motorbike or car and / or you are particularly fond of such historical parks, then this town is worth checking out. But if you are reliant on public transport or are feeling a little templed out, then Kampeng Phet could be cross off your itinerary. If you do stay in Kampeng Phet, I found the Phet Hotel in town to be very pleasant and offered good value for money. 650 baht or a single room which was nice, and as with many reasonable hotels in the provinces of Thailand, it included a buffet breakfast too!
Many people seem to overnight in Phitsanulok, a very pleasant northern town that must be a bit past the half way point from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. The city itself is pleasant without being startling to the foreign visitor and it has a nice river running through it along with a nice temple complex with a one of those large Khmer style phallic whatever you call them things in the middle. Yeah, yeah, old Sticky doesn't know what they're called in English. To find out more about the lower north of Thailand, check out the travelogue that I wrote and used as the opening piece in the Stickman Weekly column of 19/10/2003.
It took me a long time to get there but I finally made it to Sukhothai and boy, was I impressed. The main Sukhothai historical park has several very well restored temple ruins (if that makes any sense?) within one large park which would probably be a couple of square kilometres, a size that you could just about walk around. To me, the ruins up here are a lot more impressive than Ayuthaya and are easier to get around and more stunning visually. The ruins themselves are quite some distance from Sukhothai town itself, some 20 km or so I'd say at a guess. There is a charge to get into each of the temples within the park, or you can just buy a 30 day pass which gets you into all of the temples within the historical park, all of those just outside it, which are a few, and some others quite a distance away. The pass is priced at a very fair 150 baht, whereas each temple, if entered individually, would cost 30 baht. The strange thing though is that at almost every temple I checked out in the area, I was never once asked to show a ticket. That is not to say that I condone people just wandering in without paying, but it would be possible. While more impressive than Sukhothai, at least to my eyes, it can be seen in a shorter amount of time due to the close proximity of al of the ruins. You could conceivably see most of it in less than 3 hours, though some people will no doubt want to spend the entire day.
I still haven't made it up to Sri Satchanalai and hope to do that the next time I am up in the north, I will check it out. If it is even half as good as Sukhothai, pictured below, then it must be something really worth visiting.