Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How NOT to Get to Thailand’s Ayutthaya Historical Park

One of the reasons I wanted to go to Thailand was to visit all the archaeological ruins. The first set of important ruins, Ayutthaya, is situated a bare forty miles north of Bangkok. And according to my guidebook, it would be a short train ride to get there.
            However, I messed up on something crucial: getting to the train station. My first terrible mistake was agreeing with my friend, who thought it would be fun and easy to travel to the train station via the canal. In theory this should have been simple. We were staying near the Grand Palace. There was a canal stop only a short walk from our hotel.
Ayutthaya. Photo by D.R. Ransdell
            What we weren’t prepared for was the utter confusion at the water landing. People were scurrying to get into one line or the other, and there were several different express boats that stopped at the same place.
            But I was armed. I’d worked on Thai for over a month, so I bravely asked for the right boat to get to the train station.
            The first lady I asked looked at me as if I were completely crazy. The second lady looked away when I reached my second badly pronounced word. My third victim, a male teen, pointed to the boat that was just pulling away.
            My friend and I waited on the banks. Another line had already started forming. After a brief wait we were able to make our way onto the boat. But then came another surprise. The boats go SO FAST (after all, they’re express boats!) that the drivers have to put up plastic flaps so that people don’t get completely soaked with canal river water. This was bad for us because it also meant that we couldn’t see where we were.
Ayutthaya, Wat Mahathat  Photo by D.R. Ransdell
            We sped to the first stop, where our speed mobile paused for about ten seconds as people scrambled on and off. Then we were zipping through the canal again. Neither my friend nor I had caught the name of the canal stop, but we didn’t have a chance to communicate with one another. Instead we were thrown back into our seats as the driver gunned the engine.
            We reached the second canal stop and had no better idea where we were. Again our vehicle paused briefly before speeding away. But then I got a clue. I saw tall buildings through the cracks of the makeshift plastic awning. We were in the business district. We were in the heart of modern Bangkok.
            We were miles from the train station. At the next stop, we scrambled out.
            Smarter travelers would have found a cab and gotten to the train station the “easy way,” but now that we’d reached a modern section, we couldn’t find any cabs. It was only after a big fight that we even figured out where we were on the map.
Wat Rachaburana, Ayutthaya. Photo by D. R. Ransdell
            We were way off course. My friend had insisted on an early start, and I had begrudgingly complied only to lose everything by getting us so far of course that we had to find a bus to get back in the right direction of the train station, and after that we had to cover another few blocks on foot. By the time we got to the station, we found we’d just missed one connection and had to wait for the next.
            I was seething at my own incompetence, but my friend calmly took a seat at the train station after finding an English-language newspaper. By the time we finally caught a train, it was nearly noon.
            By then I’d made a pact with myself. No more attempts to speak Thai. We just didn’t have the time!
            Train stations aren't usually so hard to find--or are they? What's your own worst experience of trying to reach a train station?
For a fictional account of a trip to Ayutthaya, please see www.drransdellnovels.com/thai-twist.html

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Grand Palace, No Misnomer!

The first time I went to Thailand, I got to Bangkok after dark. The month was December, so it wasn’t late, just dark. After a harrowing ride to our hotel (given that our taxi driver was trying to outrun all the vehicles on the road), we arrived at the Queen’s Hotel. The friend traveling with me would have been glad to have spent the rest of the evening relaxing over a nice dinner. But I had other plans. I was determined to go see the outside of The Grand Palace. I was able to insist on this for a simple reason: the important royal complex was close by. I knew that because I had rather purposefully chosen a hotel that was close to two major attractions, Wat Pho and the The Grand Palace itself.
So despite jet-lag, I dragged my poor friend out on the street so that we could walk past The Grand Palace as our grand introduction to Thailand. Even though we could only see some of the rooftops of the buildings inside the complex, I was still thrilled. The rooftops were orange with green and white tips, so they were particularly distinctive. We could also glimpse the tops of chedis, or ceremonial mounds. The high wall around the complex prevented us from seeing anything else, but we didn’t care. We took a long loop around the building just to get an idea what it would be like when we managed a full tour the next day. 

The Grand Palace complex was so rich in history, in decoration, in importance, that we should have gone back several times. We didn’t have that luxury, so we tried to take in the whole thing in a single afternoon (after spending an exhausting morning at Wat Pho!). We missed quite a few things (as we found when we went back a few years later), but no matter. We got a sense of the fine complex. We saw the outside of the royal quarters. We enjoyed the decorations with fanciful warriors. More significantly, even though he was very, very far away, we got a glimpse of the Emerald Buddha, which is one of the palace’s most cherished claims to fame.

We came away with a sense of the grandeur of Thailand and its world importance. We felt privileged to have seen its delicate fine architecture and its cheerful decorations. By the end of the day we were exhausted but excited to be anticipating three weeks in such a fascinating country. 

My recent novel THAI TWIST is a cultural romance about two sisters traveling in Thailand. Most of it is fiction. But it starts with one sister being dead tired after arriving in Bangkok and the other insisting on a walk to The Grand Palace. In this case, art definitely imitates life!

To find out more: 
Author website:
Novels website:

Google+ Badge