So you’ve walked the streets of Khao San road in Bangkok more times than you dare to count and you’ve explored the Grand palace, Wat Benchamabophit and the floating market. You’ve gone for enough Thai massages to balance a year of backpacking and you’ve experienced the best nightlife this city’s got to offer.
You need to see something different. Something culturally significant. Something that would make you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. Something to ease your urge for wanderlust
Real life exploration.
My recommendation: Head over for a day trip to Ayutthaya!
Way way back, when dragons still roamed the Earth (ok, not that far back) Thailand was known as Siam. And Ayutthaya (Full name: Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya) was its capital.
Want to know more?
Read this bit for a quick history lesson; else skip over to the actual itinerary details.
A brief history lesson:
Founded around 1350, Ayutthaya was strategically located between the Malay expanse, India and China to become the prosperous international trading capital of Asia and then the world.
Over the next four hundred years, the city thrived into the heart of the Siamese Kingdom, one of the most beautiful and one of the wealthiest of its time.
Merchants declared Ayutthaya as the finest city they had ever seen. A centre of global diplomacy and trade.
By 1700 Ayutthaya had become the largest city in the world with a total of 1 million inhabitants.
All this came to an abrupt and inevitable end when the Burmese invaded and captured Ayutthaya in 1767 and almost completely burnt the city to the ground forcing its inhabitants to abandon the city.
Today, this Unesco World Heritage site, 85 kilometers north of Bangkok, is a mere image of its once grand size and splendour.
Ayutthaya is filled with palaces, Buddhist monasteries, temples and religious monuments of great historical and cultural significance – even in their ruined state and is one of the most impressive ruined cities of Asia.
So how to do it:
1) You have the option to do this as part of a tour.
These are easily arranged during your time in Bangkok from the hundreds of tourist touts all over. You can’t miss ‘em
So you’re an adventurous spirit that does his/her thing, I like you! Fellow kindred spirit.
If independently, how to get there? You have three options:
a) By train
Trains depart regularly from Bangkok’s Hualamphong Train Station. This is the cheapest and most scenic way of reaching Ayutthaya.
About 1.5 – 2.5 hours to get there (depending on the type of service)
Second-class seats (A/C) cost around 300 baht while third-class is just 20 baht.
The railway station in Ayutthaya is not on the island but across the river a short ferry ride away. Ferryboats run every few minutes and cost 5 baht. Alternatively, tuk-tuks are often found in front of the station, with the cost of a trip into the historical centre around 60 baht.
b) By minibus/van
Minibus service operates from the Victory Monument square in Bangkok. To get there, take BTS Skytrain to the Victory Monument station. Across the station, you will find the mini van station.
There is a stand next to the buses where you pay after which you then get a numbered ticket that you take to your driver. The vans depart once full, so you might have to wait just a little (They usually go every twenty minutes though)
Rate is about 80-100 Baht per person. (This varies so be sure to check beforehand)
1.5 hours to get there
c) By bus
Buses operate every 20 minutes or so from Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal (Moh Chit*) directly to Ayutthaya, with the last bus leaving at 18:00. First-class air-con buses charge 56 baht.
1.5 hours to get there, but could be 2, as buses stop frequently and the possibility of traffic in and out Bangkok.
How to get around
Navigating your way around the island is not too hard. Since Ayutthaya is essentially an island, a ring road, called U Thong Rd, circumvents the island completely. Most temple ruins are clustered at the northwest of the island, while accommodation and nightlife are to be found around the northeast.
You have two options:
- 1) bike
- 2) tuk-tuk
You can rent a bicycle for around 50 baht per day. It’s sounds terribly romantic to be biking around all day amongst ancient ruins, but a couple things to bear in mind:
The bicycles are not necessarily well maintained, so be sure that they work properly.
It’s extremely hot during the day. Make sure to have a map of the city and take a big bottle of water with you.
There are numerous bike rental facilities all next to each other so be sure to shop around and find the one with the best option for you.
Since you are on your own schedule, it is recommended that you begin your explorations early, before the tour groups arrive from Bangkok.
Alternatively, you can get around town by tuk-tuk.
Only official tuk-tuk drivers can pick up passengers from the train station. There is a tourist board displaying the status of all the Tourist Officials.
You can also flag down tuk-tuks directly from the street and try to hire them with the greater possibility of a lower price.
The price varies depending on the season, the amount of ruins you wish to see and your bargaining skills, but are usually in the region of around 300 baht per hour.
Points of interest:
1) Wat Phra Sri Sanphet
The grandest, holiest and most beautiful temple in ancient Ayutthaya, Wat Phra Si Sanphet built in 1448, was the venue of royal ceremonies and also served as a private chapel of the royal family.
Three towering bell-shaped Chedis frame the most historically important temple in old Ayutthaya, where the ashes of former Kings of this Kingdom lie.
“This temple once housed a 16-meter high Buddha covered with over 300 kg of gold, but the Burmese set fire to the statue to melt the gold and destroyed the temple in the process.” My guide exclaims, pointing to the ruins scattered throughout. “The city was completely destroyed by the Burmese in 1767.”
Opening hours: 8:00 am to 6:00 pm daily
Entrance fee: 30 Baht
2) Wat Phanan Choeng
Located on the South side of Ayutthaya, this monument is one of the oldest. “Wat Phanan Choeng is different from the other temples we will see today,” my guide advises. “It is one of the only temples still in use today and you will notice many Thais and Chinese worshipping here.”
Inside you are sure to be impressed by an equally impressive 19-meter Buddha structure, Phra Chao Phananchoeng, which is housed in a specially designed large building.
3) Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon
This ancient royal monastery was built way back in the middle of 14th Century and is located a few kilometers southeast of Ayutthaya Island.
While standing at the base, I am told that it was built by King U-thong in 1357 A.D. for the use of the monks who had returned from Ceylon after studying some ancient teachings.
Be sure to climb up the chedi for great panoramic views of the surrounding city as well as the hundreds of yellow dressed Buddha statues in massive rows that surround the complex. At the top you will also get a glimpse into the ancient enclosed space with the opportunity to cover the Buddha statues in gold leaves.
Since most of what you will be interested here is situated outdoors, be sure to arrive during the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the midday sun.
Opening hours: 9am – 6pm
Entrance fee: 50 Baht
4) Wat Mahathat
Wat Mahathat (meaning Temple of the Great Relic) was one of the most important temples of the Kingdom. This importance is symbolised by its size, being the largest in the region.
This massive compound was used as a Royal monastery and was the residence of the Supreme Patriarch or leader of the Thai Buddhist monks. Believed to have been built during the early Ayutthaya period, way back in the 14th century, this temple is located almost right in the center of the old historical city.
Wat Mahathat also offers the mystical Buddha head that is comfortably intertwined in the roots of a gigantic fig tree.
Note that when taking pictures of the Buddha head that include yourself, make sure you kneel to show respect, as it is considered holy by Thais.
Opening hours: 9am – 5pm
Entrance fee: 50 Baht
5) Wat Lokayasutharam
The important feature of Wat Lokayasutharam is a huge reclining Buddha image, called Phra Bhuddhasaiyart, that appears to be sleeping peacefully.
37-meters long and 8-meters high, the head is placed on a lotus, and the legs overlap squarely to show the equalized toes.
Many other reclining Buddha images are to be found in the Ayutthaya complex, but this one is the largest and probably the most impressive.
6) Wat Phu Khao Thong
A couple kilometers north of the town is yet another impressive monument- a huge white chedi set in a large open field.
“Originally built in 1,387 by the second king of Ayutthaya kingdom. When the Burmese took over Ayutthaya in 1569, the Burmese king built a Mon-style chedi on top of the former temple to celebrate his victory over Ayutthaya and the Siamese.” I listen attentively, my eyes meeting the triangular centrepiece at its crown.
“The statue of King Naresuan, built a few hundred meters away in front of this Chedi is also of historical significance.” My guide continues
We had arrived here just after lunch at the peak of the summer heat and so I opted out of the climb to the top of this structure, but you might want to consider this as the views are potentially extensive.
Entrance is Free
7) Wat Chaiwatthanaram
A lot of tourist brochures have this wat as the featured image and for good reason. Built over two decades by the then King of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, Wat Chaiwatthanaram is one of the more impressive temples in this ancient city.
“This temple was used to perform royal ceremonies, including the cremation of deceased royals along with the occasional religious ceremony. Its literal meaning is the monastery of long reign and prosperous era,” my guide announces as we survey the surrounding area and continue our exploration.
The temple’s main focal point is the “Phra Prang Prathan,” a 35-meter tall Khmer style tower surrounded by numerous intact pagodas.
The best time to visit is during late afternoon. If you have the freedom to, I highly recommend waiting until sunset because the surroundings supplement a perfect backdrop and transform the ambience of the ruins beautifully.
50 baht at the Northern entrance while the Southern entrance is free.
And that’s about it. Should you have any additional questions, do not hesitate to contact me. For me images and inspiration, be sure to find me on instagram, @araioflight