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Thailand: Ayutthaya

sunny 34 °C
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The local train from Hua Lamphong in Bangkok to Thailand's old capital Ayutthaya took 3 hours and cost a princely 60p for the two of us. The ride was clammy to say the least. Out bare skin adhered itself to any nearby surface; the old leather upholstery, the metal window frame or worst of all, someone else's skin. A few of the fans in the car weren't working and so, in true Wizard of Oz style, we melted.

By the time we arrived at Ayutthaya we'd just about managed to coagulate again and, overheated and laden with heavy bags we tried to find the bicycle tour office we'd found earlier in the day that was supposed to be only a few hundred yards up from the station.

We reached the blue-dot on our Google map and there was no office to be found, so, royally pissed off, we walked back to the station and commandeered a tuk tuk to take us to our hotel; Ayothaya Riverside House.

Now by this point we'd walked past one dog on our journey to the elusive bike tour office which had sprang up and aggressively barked at us. In no position (and with no inclination) to either assert dominance or run away, we crossed the busy road to the other side hoping the traffic would put it off coming for us. Which it seemed to.

Arriving at our hotel we were dishevelled to say the least, but relieved to be checking in. The hotel had accurately named itself; it was indeed on the riverside, built of teak wood in a traditional Thai style with lots of interesting antique bits an bobs lying around. It became apparent very quickly that the hotel manager; Ya, was an undoubted muso. There were guitars propped up, a sound system and microphone and soon enough the dulcet tones of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Bob Marley and ACDC.

Our room was small and dark (owing to the wooden structure and 'hut' like quality) but it was clean and quaint and comfortable. The toilet was shared and the nearest shower was on an open deck; private but with no roof with fruits from the above tree knocking you on the head every so often.

We managed to call the bike tour office and book on for the following day. We were told that the office is where we walked to but that it's not signposted at all and so everybody struggles to locate it. For fuck's sake.

By now it was early evening we were ravenous, so we had a quick look online and saw that there were plenty of restaurants in walking distance. I must say that we'd heard a few negative stories about Ayutthaya's stray dog situation but, always keen to judge for ourselves, we tried not to let any preconceptions sway us.

After only a few minutes and less than a hundred yards, the ubiquitous presence of canines (seemingly stray or 'soi' as they're known in Thailand) became very apparent. The first few we encountered were on their own and although they didn't outwardly intimidate us they were markedly less placid than their Indian or Myanmarese counterparts. Our anxiety heightened with every step as we looked down our desired route and saw dog after dog after dog. The route we'd mapped sent us into a large open courtyard with what looked like restaurants backing onto it. We started walking through the yard and saw a dog in the distance. We then saw a woman walking towards us from the other side. She stepped past the dog without issue which lifted us a little, but as soon as we approached further (still more than 50 yards away), the dog stood up and started loudly barking and growling at us.

Now if you haven't gathered already, Lauren and I are neither confident nor very familiar with dogs. In fact we're both a little phobic. I am especially fearful as I was attacked as a toddler. Our pre-existing angst certainly didn't help in this situation, as we all know, dogs can smell/sense fear.

As soon as said dog starting edging towards us, with head up high and hackles engaged, we hurriedly turned around and walked back the way we came. In this moment I was in full panic and, having completely lost my appetite urged Lauren to agree to go back to the guesthouse. She (still desperately hungry) compromised by suggesting we walk to the nearby 7/11 and at least get some snacks. Getting to the shop involved crossing a large highway but at least we knew the dogs wouldn't follow us into a line of traffic. Lauren got her snacks and tried and failed to cajole me into buying some food for myself.

Unfortunately on our way back, more dogs had appeared, and although not barking, they started approaching us. already highly anxious I began hysterically crying and power-walked back to the highway where in my panic attacked wisdom I thought death by lorry-flattening was far more appealing than a dog bite. Lauren kept it together but was also shitting a brick. I managed to flag us a tuk tuk and, as I was in no position to speak, Lauren told the driver to take us back to Riverside House. The driver understandably snickered at our request informing us that the hotel was "a 2 minute walk away". We reiterated our request and he very kindly obliged. In the back of the open tuk tuk I sat, semi-fetally, sobbing, keeping one eye on each dog we passed. Back safe and sound after probably only a 20 minute excursion, I spent the rest of the evening regretting our trip to Ayutthaya and longing for home.

Thankfully by morning we both felt fine. Excited for our bike tour and relieved we'd arranged for the same tuk tuk driver to collect us at the porch the night before, we pushed the previous day's silliness to the back of our minds.

This time round we found the biking office and met our tour guide Sao; a 26 year old women from Eastern Thailand who looked about 15. We were the only two on the 'Colours of Ayutthaya' tour which meant I could annoy Sao all day long with question after question. The tour spanned 30km in blistering heat through a large portion of Ayutthaya - rural, suburban and urban. We were shown villages, rivers and the famous ruins. We also rode through an elephant park (what used to be the royal elephant park we were told) where we saw plenty of white faces aback depressed animals and park workers using sticks with large metal spikes on the end to ensure obedience. We were saddened and angered by what we saw and din't want any part of it. On our way out we disapprovingly shook our heads at our fellow tourists laughing and joking, taking selfies; oblivious to the new mother elephant furiously rocking back and forth beside them.

The rest of the tour though was very interesting and challenging and it was nice really getting to know Sao. Alongside plenty of birds, we did encounter dogs during the ride, and yes, they were also aggressive. One particular pack chased us, snapping at our feet. This is when Lauren and I transformed into roadrunner and 'meep meeped' so fast on our two wheels that we could have left burn marks on the tarmac.

Our legs and heads sore and flexed we returned to our guesthouse to shower and chill out for a few hours before we head back to the train station to board our sleeper-train to Chiang Mai. For the next few hours we sat in hammocks, me writing and Lauren reading yet another book (she really puts me to shame). On the direction of Ya, we also got familiar with the hundreds of fish out in the river; I put my feet in as directed and behind me, Lauren took some fish food and threw it at my feet, making the fish collide, jump and nip at my appendages. This reduced me to a giggling teenager and washed away the dog-worries. At least there were some harmless animals in this town that don't want to give me rabies, I thought.

But then I was bit by a massive bastard fucking ant and I hated everything again. Only kidding. But I did still hate the dogs.

I don't think the dog-woes have plagued our memory of Ayutthaya. They probably would have had we not gone on the bike tour as the likely alternative would have been us hauled up in the guesthouse counting down the hours until we could leave.
if you're reading as a potential or soon-to-be traveller, please don't be put off by our experience. The ancient ruins of Ayutthaya are really worth seeing and who knows whether what happened to us is common or not. I suspect anyone with even a fraction more familiarity, rationality and common sense when it comes to dogs would be just fine.

I can't deny that we were glad to be moving on from Ayutthaya, but we also felt a little accomplished that we'd faced it; perhaps not quite head-on, but bum-on at the very least!

Posted by advensha 04:37 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand ayutthaya travelling backpackers scared rabies stray_dogs 711 riverside_house old_capital ayutthaya_biking bicycle_tour real_thailand

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