Sukhothai and Ayuthaya, Thailand travel tips

Todd and I spent only a couple days each in Sukhothai and Ayuthaya, Thailand, and a lot of that time was spent at the Buddhist sites. Even so, we happened upon a few non-touristy gems and plenty of predictable mediocrity.

The Ratings Explained:

  • YEH – Like flying trans-Pacific with an adjacent empty seat. YEHs are as good as you can get, especially for your backpacker buck, although sometimes a YEH is only relative to the other worse options in town.
  • MEH – Like driving a economy rental car to an obligatory wedding. An intense level of indifference best describes a MEH experience. Got time to kill? Dong to burn? Checked your email? Sure, fine, do it. Whatever.
  • NAH – Like taking an overnight bus ride in any country where chickens outnumber people. NAHs are worth avoiding at all costs. Likely to cause aggravation, frustration, or a need for Cipro.

Where we ate and drank:

    Pad Thai at a Wat Festival - Sukhothai, Thailand
    Pad Thai at a Sukhothai wat festival | Photo by Lauren Girardin
  • Wat Eating – We got amazingly tasty and affordable food at street fairs in both Ayuthaya and Sukhothai. Keep an eye out for opportunities because there are more holidays in Thailand than incarnations of Buddha: YEH
  • Poo Restaurant, Sukhothai – We arrived in town at mid-day only to discover that most food slingers had shut down to avoid the heat or the between-meals lull. So, we were left to eat at this unfortunately named restaurant. The tofu curry was sadly tourist-bland, so we figure patrons come mostly for the lovely cold beer: MEH
  • Street food carts, Sukhothai – If you need a snack, take the hint of the constant stream of locals pulling up on their motorbikes, and get fried chicken from one of Sukhothai’s street food cart: YEH
  • Chopper Bar – We walked right through the inside to the second-story rooftop deck for a couple of beers with a view of nearby streets. They have food, but we went elsewhere for dinner: YEH
  • Ruean Rojiana Restaurant – We didn’t eat here, so this is more a comment on the state of restaurants in Ayuthaya than on this restaurant. Whether it’s from popularity, greed, or simply a reality of what a market of affluent vacationers will bear, most restaurants in Ayuthaya that have made their way into a guidebook are overpriced so much we just had to laugh at the prices and find something local: NAH
  • Night Market, U Thong Road, Ayuthaya – We sought out the much lauded night market in hopes of some local fare, and found a lot of heavily salted juice (blech), great deals on underwear and t-shirts, and some mediocre food. This night market is either past its prime or we had terrible ordering instincts. Food-wise it’s a meh: NAH
  • Street Lamp, Ayuthaya – Stopped in for breakfast and were bored by the tourist fare. Stick to the fruit and yogurt were fine: MEH
  • Day Market, third stall on the right, Chao Phrom Road (main road), Ayuthaya – We wish the Day Market was open at night, because the food was hot, fresh, and cheap. The menu was ill-translated, but the family running the place was friendly in a non-English-speaking kind of way. One word they understood was “spicy” and they delivered: YEH

Where we stayed:

  • T.R. Guesthouse, Sukhothai, website – P.U. was not our first choice, or second, but we didn’t book ahead. The sink was outside on a balcony for example. But, these are things you overlook after many months on the road. Well located (though most Sukhothai gueshouses are in the same neighborhood). Free WiFi (though the towns internet was broken most of the time we were there): YEH
  • P.U. Hotel Ubonpon, Ayuthaya, website – The supply of hotels in Ayuthaya is often outstripped by demand. Prices were much higher than in Sukhothai, though the town itself was more interesting. We had to take what we could get, and it wasn’t one of their better rooms, though it was clean but kitchy: YEH

What we saw:

  • “Bus” from New Sukhothai to Old Sukhothai Buddhist Park – If there was a sign for the bus stop, we didn’t see it. But, a friendly local used the international language of pointing, smiling, and holding a steering wheel to let us know, yes, this strip of sidewalk to wait for the bus. Soon a classic smoke-belching tuk tuk pulled up, the driver shouted something like “tourist bus,” and we trustingly loaded on board. At 20 bhat each (60 cents US), it’s gotta be a: YEH
  • Nap time in Ayutthaya, Thailand
    Nap time at an Ayuthaya wat | Photo by Lauren Girardin
  • Bike rentals, Sukhothai – Right across from the main gate for Sukhothai’s Buddhist park are many eager families hoping to rent you a bike. These were some of the newest, nicest, and best-maintained bikes we rented on the entire trip. Prices seemed fixed at 30 bhat (less than $1 US) each: YEH
  • Old Sukhothai a.k.a. Sukhothai Historical Buddhist Park – The park is a joy to bike, especially if you are looking to get away from the bustle of Thailand’s cities. With the ruins spread out over 17 square miles, it was easy to avoid the tour groups inevitable at any UNESCO World Heritage site. The only downside is the park is priced by zone, so you have to really shell out if you want to see everything. We didn’t, vising the Central and North zones only: YEH
  • Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (Buy the DVD) – Lest you think you can spend a few quiet hours resting on a Thai bus, be warned you will have some video blasted at you. We were lucky and were treated to Ong-Bak a classic Thai movie whose moral is, “Don’t Mess With Buddha”: YEH
  • Night Market, U Thong Road, Ayuthaya – Food is reviewed above. This was a nice way to spend the night browsing for bargains on things you need to replace after 6 months on the road, like underwear, t-shirts, and socks: YEH
  • Wat Phra Mahathat and Phra Si Sanphet, Ayuthaya – Though we biked by other wats, these were the two that stood out. Allow an hour or two at each for some relaxed wandering and tour-group avoiding: YEH