Thailand is a country known for its luscious temples, beautiful tropical islands, floating market, and wild nightlife but there’s a part of the country that gives a glimpse of its rich culture and history through its well-preserved ruins of the country’s ancient capital -Ayutthaya!
This majestic ancient city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991 and is one of the places you can visit if you have a limited time in Thailand as it is just a few hours away from Bangkok, the country’s capital city where two major international airports are located.
How To Get There
There are two major international airports in Bangkok which is the easiest gateway to Ayutthaya. Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang are both located in outskirts of the metropolis but Don Muang is easily connected to the train that goes to Ayutthaya via Don Muang Station just outside the airport. Take the train and get off at Ayutthaya Station. If coming from Suvarnabhumi, you have to take a taxi or bus no. S1(THB 60) to the city proper. Get off at Democracy Monument bus stop. From here, take the bus no. 35 to Hua Lamphong (THB 13). Hua Lampong is just next to Chinatown which can easily be recognized. Go to Hua Lamphong Station (this is the central train station also known as Bangkok Train Station). Get your ticket to Ayutthaya Station (THB 13 for 3rd class-seater). Get-off at Ayutthaya in about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Train to going back to Bangkok is THB 20.
Take the bus no. 3 or 77 (from any bus stop where you can see these numbers, i.e. Mo Chit BTS Station and Democracy Monument) and tell the bus conductor to Northern Bus Terminal (THB 7 to 12). Get off at the bus stop across the bus station and cross the bridge to get to there. Take the bus to Ayutthaya (THB 56). To get back to Bangkok, take the bus from the drop-off or check where the mini-buses are located (about 500m from the drop-off point)
Car, mini-buses or van, and river cruise are also available around Bangkok and it would cost more money. Chartering a car would cost THB 1,200-one way, mini-buses THB 400-one way and river-cruise tours from THB 2000.
Getting Around The City
Bike, motorbike, taxi, and tuk-tuk are the options in getting around. Usually, locals will offer a city tour in which you can choose where to go for THB 200 to 300 an hour. Renting a bike or motorcycles is a much cheaper option as you can rent them for a day for THB 40-50 for the former and THB 200 for the latter. We were a group of four when we visited Ayutthaya and we started getting around the city’s attractions 2pm with two motorcycles and we were able to go to 5 different temple ruins and finish around 6pm and return to Bangkok about 7pm. Other options are the boat, mini-buses, songteow –a large pickup or truck used as a shared taxi or bus and cyclo – a tricycled vehicle without a motor that can take 2 passengers.
What To Do and Places To Visit in a Day
TEMPLES, RUINS, and ARCHITECTURE
It cannot be argued that architecture holds the best lens to have a view of a place’s history and culture. There are plenty of old structures in Ayutthaya both in the original old city and the modern city it is today. here are 21 of them:
1. Wat Phra Mahathat
Probably the busiest of all the attractions in for Ayutthaya’s ruins, this temple is the easiest to spot around the city. Located in Naresuan Road, this temple is heavily damaged by the Burmese. Leaning prangs with Khmer style stupa are present in this temple looking frail against the ground. Headless images of Buddha can also be seen here. The most prominent image of this temple is the Buddha’s head covered all over by a tree. Entrance is THB 50 but for THB 220, you can visit 6 temples, including Wat Phra Mahathat, Wat Ratchaburana, Wat Phra Sri Sanphet
2. Wat Ratchaburana
This temple ruin is one of the most complete in Ayutthaya’s temple ruins. Visitors can also climb on its main prang and enter its eerie compartment because of the bats. It is also a great spot to catch the sunset as you can sit down facing the west whilst sitting on the steps of the main prang. Entrance is THB 50.
3. Wat Phra Sri Sanphet
It is the largest temple in Ayutthaya and found in many images of the city. It features a row of restored chedis or Thai-style stupas that are more rounded in appearance. The temple ruin is located in the former royal palace and was used for royal religious ceremonies. Wat Sri Sanphet used to house a 16-meter high image of Buddha covered with 340 kg. of gold. The image was set in fire by the Burmese to melt the gold, but the temple was ultimately destroyed in the process. Entrance is THB 50.
4. Wat Phra Mongkhon Bophit
This massive building houses a huge image of Buddha cast in bronze. Originally located on the east outside Grand Palace, it was transferred to its current location and covered with glittering mondop. It was badly destroyed by fire during the second fall of Ayutthaya and the presently seen structure is renovated and lacking the beauty of craftsmanship of the original temple. Sanam Luang, where the royal cremations used to take place was formerly located on its open east sanctuary or wihan. Entrance is free.
5. Wat Phanan Choeng
It is an active monastery located south of the city. It has been around even before Ayutthaya was founded as Siam’s capital. It houses the oldest cast bronze image of Buddha built in 1325 A.D. called “Phrachao Phananchoeng” in subduing evil attitude. To the right side of the main hall is a room with a collection of Buddha images painted with many individual unique pictures in bright colors and gold. An obligatory donation of THB 20 is collected if entering from the riverside.
6. Bang Pa-In Royal Palace
This magnificent structure, also known as the Summer Palace is formerly used by Thai kings. The original palace complex is built beside the Chao Phraya River in Bang Pa-in District in Ayutthaya by King Prasat Thong in 1632 but it fell into disuse and covered with wild plants until the restoration made by King Mongkut in the mid-19th century. Enclosed in the complex are Chinese style royal palace and throne chamber called Wehart Chamrunt or Heavenly Light, a royal house called Warophat Phiman or Excellent and Shining Heavenly Abode, a lookout tower in bold colors named Ho Withun Thasana or Sages’ Lookout, and a pavilion standing in the middle of a pond called Aisawan Thiphya-Art or Divine Seat of Personal Freedom. Most of the present buildings in the complex were constructed during the time of King Chulalongkorn. Entrance is free.
7. Wat Niwetthammaprawat
Probably one of the unique things visitors will see in Ayutthaya, this Buddhist temple looks like a Western church with its Gothic Revival architecture. It was commissioned by King Chulalongkorn in 1876 to serve as a royal temple within the expanded Bang Pa-In Palace complex. It was designed by Italian architect Joachim Grassi and one of the many buildings built during King Chulalongkorn’s reign that reflected modernization. It was completed in 1878.
8. Chedi Phukhao Thong
This Buddhist tower or chedi is a 50-meter structure in Phukhao Thong village in Ayutthaya. Visitors are allowed to climb up to its halfway landing whereas a panoramic view of the city and nearby rice fields can be seen. It was built in 1569 by King Bayinnaung of Hongsawadi in Mon style to commemorate his victory of taking over Ayutthaya. As time went by, the temple was neglected and was restored by King Boromakot during his time. It was restored in new chedi Thai style with a square plan with indented corners and was built on the base of the ruin.
9. Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Probably the most familiar image of the city, Wat Chaiwatthanaram is widely used in postcards from Ayutthaya. Surprisingly, this temple situated on the southwest of the old city is not part of the Historic City of Ayutthaya, the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in 1630 by King Prasat Thong, its name literally means “the Temple of Long Reign and Glorious Era” and was designed in Khom style. It was used by the king and his successors for religious rituals. Princes and princess were also cremated on this temple. It’s notable for its the 35-meter prang surrounded by smaller prangs in a rectangular platform and its chedi like chapels with relief painting of the life of Buddha. Entrance is THB 50
10. Wat Lokayasutharam
Situated west of Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, this temple ruin also known as Wat Phra Non or Temple of Resting Buddha is suggested to be built in the middle period of Ayutthaya’s history. As the name indicates, this temple is home to a 40-meter long and 8-meter high image of reclining Buddha lying on lotus buds with the head supported by the right hand. The statue is restored in 1954 and renovated in 1989 through then prime minister Thawal Thamrong Navaswadhi.
11. Wat Phutthai Sawan
Located on the west bank of Chao Phraya River in Sampao Lom subdistrict, Wat Phutthai Sawan is an iconic image of Thai ancient architecture. It was the most important royal monastery during the reign of King Ramathibodi I (the first King of Ayutthaya Kingdom). The area where this temple stand is the first settlement of the King in 1350 before the foundation of Ayutthaya as capital. Wat Phutthai Sawan was then built through the king’s command in 1353 when Ayutthaya was declared the new capital. This temple is also one of the temples which survived in Burmese destruction of Ayutthaya in 1767 and numerous structures remained in good condition that visitors can see like the Khmer-style Prang on Pai-tee pagoda base among others.
12. Wat Phra Ram
This restored ruin is located in Ayutthaya Historical Park and closely situated in Grand Palace and Wat Phra Sri Sanphet. The monastery was constructed to be the cremation site of King Ramathibodi I, the first Ayutthayan monarch. There are numerous chronicles that tell about the date of its construction with 1369 the earliest possible date. Khmer style of architecture is very visible on its phrang and looks similar to Angkor Wat. The existing structure is very striking that if visited in good weather, it will have a postcard-worthy photograph as its red bricks shine through the light of the sun. The surrounding ground is grassy making it a perfect place to lay down after visiting so many temples around the historical park.
13. Wat Thammikarat
Although the ruins in this site are quite visible, this is a functioning wat. It has a large chedi and a huge roofless sermon hall or viharn. The viharn has tall leaning columns that look like it’s gonna fall and a tree cascading one side of its wall. Wat Thammikarat is said to be already built before Ayutthaya was founded. This temple is also has a hall called Wihan Phra Phutthasaiyat, and houses a north facing image of reclining Buddha with a length of 12 meters and both feet inlaid with glass mosaic. The Wihan was built by King Ramathibodi I’s queen consort upon her daughter’s recovery from illness. The wihan has a base surrounded by 52 lion statues. A huge bronze Buddha head of King Ramathibodi I’s period also used to be on this time but is now exhibited at the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum. Entrance is THB 20.
14. Wat Yai Chai Mongkol
This chedi was constructed in 1592 as suggested by Phra Wantarana Mahathera Burean to King Naresuan the Great. It’s part of the monastery built by King U-Thong, Wat Pakaew which accommodate the monks ordained by Phra Wantarana. Other buildings present at the site of this temple are Phra Chedi Chaimongkhon – a memorial for King Naseruan’s victory over the king of Burma, Wihan Phraphutthasaiyat – used for religious rituals and meditation, and the Ubosatha Hall – the main hall for the brotherhood of monks and was built by King U-Thong.
15. Boran Palace (Wang Luang)
Wang Lang which translates to Rear Palace was first mentioned in King Chakkrapat’s in Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya that goes back as far as 1565 A.D. when he settled in the palace upon retiring from the throne. The palace which is located in the east bank of old Lopburi River now Chao Phraya. King Suthammaracha retreated on this palace before he was arrested for charges of sexual advances to Prince Narai’s sister and consequently executed in 1656.
16. Wat Maheyong
Another Buddhist temple, this ruin was originally erected in 1438 through King Borommarachathirat II. It consists of chedi that is supported by 80 sculpted elephants and an ubosot or ordination hall which is currently being used for worship. It was restored in 1711 by King Thai Sa.
17. Chedi Wat Sam Pluem
Chedi Wat Sam Pluem can be easily located as it stands and welcomes visitors on its dead-center location in the middle of Rojana Road that serves a traffic rotunda. The style of its chedi suggests that it was built during the Middle-Ayutthaya period. The chedi was renovated King Borommakot during his reign (1773-1758). Except for its beauty, the chedi has become a marker for tourist going about around the area.
18. Prasat Nakhon Luang Palace
This site used to be a royal residence and sanctuary. It is located on the east bank of the Pa Sak River. Prasat Nakhon Luang is one of the 5 royal residences outside the ancient city of Ayutthaya cited in old documents. The design of this palace is based in what palaces looked like in Angkor back in 1631. King Prasat Thong sent a Siamese delegation to Angkor with a task to bring back plans of the old city. He consequently ordered a royal palace to be built based on the documented plans, one of which is the Prasat Nakhon Luang. It was plundered during the Burma – Siameses War of 1766 to 1767. It was presumed that the central phrang of this palace collapse during the invasion. New constructions were added on top of the old sanctuary. A western-style building containing footprints of the Buddha carved in stone were house in the new structure. In 1935, this site was declared a national monument.
19. Wat Kasattrathirat Worawihan
Located along the west bank of Chao Phraya River, Wat Kasatrathirat is an active monastery being used by the Buddhist ministry. Its small phrang and ordination hall were surviving part of the original structure having most of its buildings built recently. It is assumed that the temple was built in the middle Ayutthaya period but it remains vague. The principal phrang is thick and round shape with stairs to access the niche inside. This structure is not very much aligned with other Ayutthayan phrangs. It was badly destroyed during the Burmese invasion. It was then overhauled by Prince Khrom Khun Isranurak, nephew of King Rama I during the Ratanakosin Period during which it also changed its name from Wat Kasara to Wat Kasatrathirat. More buildings were added during in the reign of King Rama IV and construction took 14 years to complete in 1879.
20. Wat Kudi Dao
Located North East outside of the old city island, Wat Kudi Dao or Monastery of the Star Dormitory is an enormous restored ruin. Today, many structures and chedi in situ can be seen with principle chedi constructed in Sri Lankan style. This chedi is located at the back of the sermon hall with highly intact walls. The square platform of the principal chedi has a terrace whereas visitors or worshippers can walk around counterclockwise three times. It also has a collapsed spire that can be seen on the ground below. Wat Kudi Dao has a second sermon hall which features gravity-defying wall that looks like ready to fall anytime. It monastery’s rectangular enclosure wall have a width of 63 meters and length of 256 meters. On this temple, a building with Muslim influence on its architecture can also be seen. The building’s northeastern corner is overgrown by a large Bodhi tree. King Thai Sa’s brother made efforts in the restoration of the said temple. Later he became King Borommakot.
21. Phet Fortress
Pom Phet or Diamond Fortress in one of the sixteen fortresses of the old city of Ayutthaya. It is located in the southeast at the convergence of Pa Sak and Chao Phraya River. It is the most important fortress that protected the old city harbor where foreigners were checked before they can pass or unload. Phet Fortress features a Western style of architecture being designed throughout its history because of the involvement of European architects and engineers through King’s Narai’s interest with their skills.
MUSEUMS, NATURE ATTRACTIONS and VILLAGES
Aside from ruins, temples and old palaces, visitors can also check out the culture and history, old and recent through its museums like Chao Sam Phraya National Museum, Chantharakasem National Museum, Thai Boat Museum, Japanese Museum, Million Toy Museum, Wang Chang Ayutthaya, Ayutthaya Historical Study Centre, Baan Hollanda and Krunsi Walking Street.
Another fun way of experiencing the culture and the place’s way of life is through its local markets as it reflects the local economy, the people’s needs, and taste, and preferences. Visiting a local market is also a good way of finding the authentic taste of the local cuisine as local vendors tend to stay true to their traditions and heritage cooking while still adopting the innovations of modernity. If visiting this old capital, local market options include the Ayutthaya Floating Market, Kong Khong Market, Chao Phrom Market, Krunsri Market, and Wat Suan Luang Sopsawan.
Where To Eat
There are several eateries and restaurants around the city. Coffee Old City, Sala Ayutthaya Eatery and Bar, and Malakor Kitchen and Cafe are vegetarian-friendly and offer local cuisine. Additionally, Burinda Restaurant, Nongnine Bike & Bar & Restaurant, Earl Thai Restaurant, and Latte Bear Coffee offer cheap eats. Another option is sidewalk stalls and markets like Chao Phrom Market and Hua Raw Night Market. There are eateries just outside the train station which offer great tasting meals (THB 50 to 150). Also, bikes, motorcycle, and tuk-tuks gathered outside the train stations so finding a ride is very easy.
Where To Stay
Hostels and hotels are scattered around the city from budget to more luxurious options. If visiting for a day, staying for a night is not really recommended as it is very close to Bangkok. Should you really want to witness the city during the night, hotels like Vasana Design Hotel, Pludhaya Resort and Spa, Ban Sabaidee and hostels like Bai Fern Homestay, Ayutthaya Bouchic Hostel, and Green Hostel are some of the properties with good reviews and decent prices.
A day trip in Ayutthaya won’t cost too much! A whole day rent of a motorcycle is more or less THB 200. It’s more than enough to go to 10 or more sites depending on your energy level, the time you wanna stay in a place, and the way you engage on what it has to offer. A decent lunch would be around THB 200 also. When I visited, I had a plate of shrimp with rice which was THB 100 plus a small bottle of soda for THB 15. Budget for entrances varies but if you want to just go around the ancient city, there’s a package ticket that will let you in into six heritage sites for THB 220. After soaking into the day’s heat, you will definitely want a nice snack or maybe dinner before going back to Bangkok which will cost around THB 20 to 200, of course depending on what you will have. I had a cup ice-cold soda which cost me THB 20, sausage for THB 20 and a tetra pack of milk for THB 10. Then for the train back to Bangkok, it was THB 20. All-in-all, I personally spent THB 587 or around USD 19 during our day trip.