Andaman Discoveries Blog

Friday, May 22, 2009

 

Inside Ayutthaya with SpiceRoads

Experiences in Thailand
By Leslie Welshimer


Our smiling, energetic guide, Nee, was waiting for us when we got to our hotel lobby at 7:30 a.m. We were immediately whisked away from Bangkok in a comfortable van to Ayutthaya, about 60 minutes away.

Jesse and I were the only guests on a Monday tour. SpiceRoads requires a minimum of two people to operate the tour. We felt like we were receiving the kind of VIP treatment reserved for people in the categories of rich and famous.

Nee, SpiceRoads guide, describes Wat Yai Chaimongkol.

After hearing rave reviews about SpiceRoads, we knew we wanted to do a tour during Jesse’s two-week visit in Thailand. Which one to do? SpiceRoads operates tours throughout Asia, ranging from one day to multi-day adventures.

We opted for the one-day Historic Ayutthaya tour sure that Jesse, an architect, would appreciate the sight of the ancient city. The chance to see Ayutthaya Historical Park, which has been featured on the UNESCO List of World Heritage since 1991, was too good to pass up.

Ayutthaya was once Thailand's capital. The governance ended in 1767, when the city was sacked by Burmese invaders. The ruins illustrate the city's powerful history.

The first stop on the tour was Wat Yai Chaimongkol, recognized by a towering chedi. We were driven to Wat Phra Mahatat, known for the tree roots that imbed a Buddha relic.

The famous Buddha relic imbedded in tree roots at Wat Phra Mahatat.





From Wat Phra Mahatat, it was time to begin our 25-kilometer cycling distance. The start of the tour was smartly planned from Wat Phra Mahatat to avoid traffic. We cycled on peaceful, flat roads to the Old Royal Palace and Wat Chaiwattanaram.

Lunch was served at a scenic restaurant along the Chao Phraya River. After enjoying a river-side meal with our guide, Nee, we completed the remainder of the 25-kilometer distance with a leisurely ride with scenic views of rice fields. I felt like I was being given a view of the area that visitors miss when traveling by tour bus.

The ride took us to a ferry to cross the river. Ren, our driver, greeted us with fresh pineapple, watermelon and drinks.

Bang Pa-In.

Our day’s cycling concluded at the ferry, which brought us to Bang Pa-In, the impressive summer palace of the kings of Thailand. Bang Pa-In has a history that dates back to the 17th century. Today it is mostly used for state events and rarely used as a residence.

Strolling along the grounds of the summer palace provided a strong contrast from the stunning ruins seen earlier in the day. The summer palace is immaculate, with European influences throughout. The landscaping could easily be featured in a magazine for the perfectly manicured grounds.

Our guide, Nee, and driver, Ren, were exceptional. I had expected a guide to mostly just lead the way to keep us from getting lost while cycling. Nee went far beyond that.

Jesse, Leslie and Nee relax on the ferry after completing the 25-kilometer bicycle ride.

At each stop, Nee stepped out of the role of cycling guide extraordinaire into the role of Thailand history expert. It enriched our experience to have someone with us with such passion and knowledge of the places we visited. We wouldn’t have learned even one percent as much without taking the SpiceRoads tour. Nee’s love of Thailand, and her job with SpiceRoads, was contagious.

Ren also exceeded our expectations. We joked with him that he actually was holding about 10 jobs during the tour. He was friendly and charismatic, so in a way, he too was a guide and ambassador for SpiceRoads. He was ride support, following us in the van to ensure any mechanical needs were met. He was a chef and possibly a mind reader, because the moment the thought, “I want fruit and water,” passed through my mind, the van magically appeared with Ren holding a tray of fresh pineapple and ice cold water.

Ayutthaya is worth a visit on travels to Thailand. We felt like we were given a glimpse into the past and gained a deeper respect for where Thailand is today. The SpiceRoads tour allowed us to spend plenty of time at each place wandering by foot with the expertise of Nee, answering any of our questions. The tour allowed us to gain insight about the surrounding areas, pedaling on peaceful back roads of Ayutthaya.

I’ll be sure to look SpiceRoads up again on future travels in Asia.

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