When the van pulled over, three men approached us, each holding a postcard or two, which highlighted the must-see temples: one temple was glazed by the later afternoon light; the most curious and the common among their postcards, is the photo of a smiling Buddha’s head nestled, entangled in a web of tree roots. Everything looked well-thought out, the head in harmony with nature.
We gave the postcards back and set off on an unguided cycling adventure.
In Bangkok, we let our feet bring us to the ordinary and the wonderful. We did not have a solid itinerary to follow: no specific temples to visit.
I am wary of the things that I am supposed to do wherever I am in a foreign place. Tick off this. Tick off that. Through our strides, we learned more about Bangkok, most of the time while munching pineapple or grilled squid or anything new to the eyes and nose.
On our last day, we chose Ayutthaya, a UNESCO heritage site, over the floating market—which becomes Bangkok’s landmark in my head. It is always a personal quest to try not to see the places that define a city. In Ayutthaya, we never saw Buddha’s head—a bad decision for some maybe, but we did not really mind.
T and I rented a bicycle each and pedaled through the streets. The bicycle rental place provided us a map, which T checked once in a while, knowing I could not be trusted when it comes to directions, but he was no better than me.
I pedaled on. I puffed. I huffed. My bare shoulders and face were sunburned. Sweat trailed down my spine. It was a hot midday. T was ahead together with a European who got lost on his way around the ruins and decided to pedal with us. I often stopped and took photos of the ruins looking regal and proud by the streets. He would look behind him to assess how far I was from them.
It did not occur to me at all that I was slow. The people I was with had longer legs; their pedaling was much forceful than mine. T and I met again in a temple that caught our fancy. It was heartwarming to see offerings and gifts to the deities of ruined pagoda made of brown bricks.
The temples in Bangkok made me feel that faith comes in lavish architectures; in Ayutthaya, I felt that faith remains intact despite the ruins. The smoke from the lit incense sticks made a lazy and calm ascent. Beside them was a little packet of rice and a bunch of flowers.
At the back of one pagoda, rooster statues were placed as offerings or gifts. Prince Naresuan, according to one story, wagered a bet with a Burmese prince that Ayutthaya would be freed if Naresuan’s rooster won.
Perhaps it was all too lazy for us to not know the names of the temples we stumbled upon on our route. We turned left, we turned right, we pedaled straight ahead, with the promise of a quick catch-up in the next prang or monastery—or what was left of their splendor— before pedaling on our own to the next pagoda.
The checking of the names came afterward. The head of a smiling Buddha can be found in Wat Maha That. Wat Phra Ram served as the background of tourists riding the elephants. T wanted to go to Wat Chaiwatthanaram, but we got lost on our way there.
The modern Bangkok being patterned after Ayutthaya did not add up in my head. But perhaps it is the classic case of definite beginnings not determining the future of a place.
Perhaps because what we experienced was the old Ayutthaya, its ruins all preserved and the Bangkok we experienced was the ones meant for the outsider.
But either way, we were more than satisfied with our own cycling affair in the city of ruins and with our walking affair in the city of temples.
There is something about a young couple pedaling in ruins. The whole thing was very metaphorical and foreboding: the romantic yet pessimist poet deep inside warned.
Ayutthaya is a love story. Not romance—because romance is a flailing, flapping thing like a flatlay meant for Instagram. Like summer days in a nostalgic, warm filter. It is a love story in its glaring blues, saturated greens, and beautiful ruins.
Had a train to catch back to Bangkok, the European had to pedal ahead of us. T adjusted his pedaling to pace with mine. So there we were, a Euro-Asian couple, pedaling side by side, learning a lesson or two on ruins.
1. We stayed in Rambuttri Road, Khao San Road’s twin. We taxied to BTS, bought a train ticket to Victory Monument where the vans to Ayutthaya are stationed. If you are confused where to get off, the locals are more than willing to help you with the direction.
2. The van ride from Bangkok to Ayutthaya takes about 50 minutes.
3. The van’s final stop is the street where you can rent bicycles. There are locals as well who provide day tours around this heritage site.
4. Bring water and wear sunscreen. The streets are not treed and can be really hot.
5. Wear comfortable clothes but avoid wearing short shorts and plunging necklines.
6. A do-it-your-own day trip to Ayutthaya can cost between Php300 to Php500.
• Jona Branzuela Bering is a writer and photographer from Cebu, Philippines. When she is not traveling, she gardens, teaches, and becomes the slave of four cats. Follow her travels on Instagram @backpackingwithabook and her blog Backpacking with a Book.