Ayutthaya is one of the most popular sights in Thailand, and with reason. It's close to Bangkok, so it's an easy daytrip or weekend getaway; there are beautiful ruins, evocative of Thailand's regal past; and the pleasant riverside atmosphere offers a soothing retreat. But the train ride from Bangkok to Ayutthaya is itself reason enough to make the journey. The view from the carriage windows offer beautiful subtropical landscapes, and a fleeting glimpse of how most of Thailand lives.
Bordeaux and I caught the train for Ayutthaya on Friday afternoon. From Hualamphong station, the old train slowly chugs and stutters out into Bangkok. The view from the railway presents a very different side of the capital than one usually sees. Spray-painted apartment walls are interspersed with humble houses of painted wood and rusted sheet metal, landscaped with laundry-lines and groves of banana palms.
Eventually the city trickles out into rambling suburbs and rice paddy towns. Most of the passengers in the train sat quietly, some napping, waiting for the train to bring them home after the long work week. I had brought a book for the trip, but found myself staring out the window instead. Wooden bungalows sat comfortably on bamboo stilts; lone spirit houses stood among flodded fields. The strangeness of the landscape was revealed in the different shapes and colors of the exotic birds that skim the waterways along the tracks: slim storks and awkward spoonbills hunted among sunken gardens, and crows crowded like black drapes on bare trees. We arrived in Ayutthaya just as darkness settled on the station, and the florescent lights clicked on.
The return trip to Bangkok on Sunday was markedly more lively, crowded with families and young couples returning to Bangkok after the weekend away. The aisles were regularly patrolled by merchants, offering iced sodas from plastic coolers, and fried chicken skewers from bamboo baskets. Bordeaux and I stopped a woman with a metal steamer, and bought two delicious steamed buns filled with a sour shredded vegetable.