A Better Way From Bangkok to Chiang Mai

On our first trip to Thailand we took the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Some said it was a long, grueling journey at 17 hours, but I say it’s not a bad ride. Grab a Singha or two from a vendor passing through and sit back and relax. For a short trip, this is the best way to make the journey. But if you have more time there is much more to see than the passing countryside. Here’s my proposal.

Ayutthaya

One of Thailand’s several early capitals, it was at one time the largest city in the world. The center of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, the city’s glory lasted through the mid-18th century before being conquered by the Burmese. What remains are the humble remnants of prior glory with ancient ruins scattered about town.

Getting There

There are two reasonable options for getting from Bangkok to Ayutthaya. And by reasonable I mean convenient and cost efficient. Yes you could a take a bus, but that will involve a Skytrain to the end of line in Mo Chit and then a public bus or tuk-tuk to the Northern Bus Terminal. I’ve yet to figure out the local bus system in Bangkok so that’s out of the question for me. The other unreasonable option is a boat up the Chao Phraya River, but these pre-booked tourist cruises will likely leave a dent in your pocket. So consider the two options below:

  1. By Train: trains leave from the Hualamphong station near Bangkok’s China Town regularly each day. The trip takes a little bit longer than the road at 2 – 2.5 hours. Tickets will cost you about 250 baht (~$8)
  2. By Minibus: a few select minibuses hang around Victory Monument waiting to take people to Ayuthaya. They will only leave when they are full and if your bags are too big they’ll spend the 1 – 1.5 hour ride sitting on your lap or you’ll be forced to pay for another ticket so they can occupy another seat. Either way one ticket should cost you between 80 and 100 baht (~$3).

What to Do

Bang Pa-In Palace

Bang-Pa-In-Palace
Bang-Pa-In-Palace

Wat Phra Mahathat

Wat-Phra-Mahathat
Wat-Phra-Mahthat

Wat Naphrameru

Wat-Naphrameru-Buddha
Wat-Naphrameru-Elephant

Wat Lokayasutha

Wat-Lokayasutha

Phitsanulok & Sukothai

Phitsanulok is a likely stop between Bangkok and Chiang Mai as a it hovers right around the half way point and has connection points by both train and by bus. Most use the small city as a jumping off point for Sukothai, but I’d say there’s enough here to keep you busy for a couple nights.

Getting There

Both trains and buses are convenient in Phitsanoluk with several options throughout the day. Expect around a four to five hour journey depending on mode of transport. One ticket on either mode should put you back about 300 baht ($10). Continuing on to Sukothai (for a day trip or an overnight stay) will take about 1 hour by bus and cost you about 50 baht ($1.50).

What to Do

Viewed from the outside Phitsanulok make look like your ordinary Thai transport town. While it’s not really catered to tourists it welcomes the few that pass through. I didn’t know what we would find during our visit and wasn’t expecting more than a place to rest my head. But there were a few hidden gems that peaked my interest.

Kuay Tiaw Hawy Khaa: Literally ‘Leg-Hanging Noodles’; a few shops line the river front north of Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat and offer some interesting seating options while you snack on several forms of noodle soup. The only thing in English that I saw on the menu was the coffee options. I pointed at pictures and ended up with a rice noodle soup with tom yum broth. The portions are small though so I ended up downing two bowls myself. Woops.

Ramnin-Hanging-Leg-Phitsanoluk
Leg Hanging Noodles at Ramnin

Other Food and Drink: While browsing through the night market, we stumbled upon a few other interesting food options. 1) Pak Bung Loy Faa: Flying Morning Glory; I love morning glory, but a few restaurants on the far south side of the market offer to make the delivery a spectacle in itself. It’s fried as normal in a wok and then tossed across the restaurant to the server who’s waiting anxiously to catch it on your plate. Sounds like fun. 2) I spied a few floating bars / restaurants along the river that might be worth a try. We didn’t make it across the river to check it out, but it’s on my list for next time.

Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat: If you’re a temple enthusiast take a pass through this temple to see Thailand’s second most revered buddha in the country. We’ve been a little templed out so just passed by on our way for some snacks.

Wat-Phra-Si-Ratana-Mahathat-Phitsanoluk
Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat

Sukothai: If the ruins of Ayutthaya intrigued you, Sukothai’s will too. Mostly because the ruins can be explored in a little more peace than the heavily-touristed Ayutthaya. Grab a bicycle for just a few bucks and cycle your away around the old city.

Uttaradit

Uttaradit is on no traveler’s radar. The most a normal traveler knows about this town is that it is a stop on the train line between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Not a stop that anyone has plans on getting off at. But we got off at that stop. Not because we were curious about what lies in this quiet, agricultural region but because we had other, better plans.

Because I have an aunt that grew up near Uttaradit. My mother’s long lost half sister whom she only found out about a decade ago. Because when my mother left Thailand for the US at just 10 years old, she left behind her Thai father who would go on to leave Bangkok for the northern countryside. Rumor has it that he was on the run from something and was most likely chased out of the city rather than having chosen to leave on his own. Either way, he started a new life on a sugarcane farm near Uttaradit complete with a new family. My mother’s Thai father has long since passed away, but this trip was the first time for her to see where he had spent the rest of his days after she left Thailand.

Before visiting the sugarcane farm, we made a pit stop for lunch. In a quiet little garden on the outskirts of town we chowed down on some northern Thai cuisine while learning about the local fable in the area. I can’t remember the details, but I do remember the moral of the story: never tell a lie.

Lablae Never Tell a Lie
Never tell a lie in the Lablae region
Uttaradit Garden Motorscooter
One of many passing motorscooters
Uttaradit Garden Restaurant
Garden seating at Mon Lablae

We continued even further outside of town, passing smalls stands on the street, kids running around and riding their bicycles, and lots and lots of sugarcane and rice before arriving at my Thai grandfather’s humble abode. Kristin and I sat quietly as my mother and her half sister and her Thai father’s new wife (take a second to wrap your head around that combo) chatted in Thai. I listened for anything that I understood in Thai (without much luck) and succumbed to looking at an old photo album where I finally found proof of my Thai grandfather’s rock star status.

The Traces Thailand
My Thai rock star grandfather (front and center)

I stalked the home’s resident pets…

One of the house dogs: Pepsi
One of the house dogs: Pepsi

And found some local produce…

Thai Vegetable Morning Glory Pak Bung
The most delicious Thai vegetable: Morning Glory
That Fruit Jackfruit
Thai jackfruit

All in all – should you visit Uttaradit? Probably not. But I’m glad we were able to tag along for the journey.

Uttaradit-Family-DSC08922

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