Thailand is the land of the smile but you might call it the land of the temples as well. In every city, you will find at least one temple. Whether Buddhist, Hindu, or Chinese, all are decorated beautifully and have a different atmosphere.
But if you want to explore the ancient temples of the old Siam, you can’t skip Ayutthaya. This former capital of Thailand is filled with old temples and temple ruins and is definitely worth a visit. If you don’t have a lot of time you could do a day trip, but we would advise you to take 2 or 3 days for a visit to explore the ancient temples of Ayutthaya.
Rent a bike or scooter and try to visit as many temple sites as possible. And while you’re there, don’t forget to enjoy the local food. We can’t get enough of Thai specialties and you’ll find them everywhere. Let’s take a look at why you should add Ayutthaya to your itinerary.
A little bit of history
Ayutthaya was founded in 1350 and served as the capital of the Ayutthaya Kingdom for over 400 years until it was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767. The city was known for its prosperity and cultural achievements and was an important center for trade and diplomacy in Southeast Asia.
It was strategically located on an island surrounded by three rivers connecting the city to the sea. This site was chosen because it was located above the tidal bore of the Gulf of Siam as it existed at that time, thus preventing an attack on the city by the sea-going warships of other nations. The location also helped to protect the city from seasonal flooding.
Ayutthaya was also a major center for Buddhism and was home to many temples and monasteries. Its remains, characterized by the prang (reliquary towers) and gigantic monasteries, give an idea of its past splendor. The ruins of the city are now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
How to get there
Ayutthaya is situated about 85 km north of Bangkok, which makes it doable to plan just a day trip. There are buses, trains, tours, and minivans that will take you to Ayutthaya. You could even rent a car if you are comfortable driving in Thai traffic which can be quite hectic.
We took the train from Bangkok to Ayutthaya, which is about a 1.5 hours journey. If you book your tickets in time you might be able to get air-conditioned seats. We just went to the train station on the day off and bought third-class tickets. The windows are open all the time, making it a comfortable journey.
Mini-vans travel to Ayutthaya on a daily basis as well. This will take you about 2 hours but it’s slightly more expensive than the train. If you’re looking for a day trip maybe a tour is your best option so you don’t have to worry about anything.
Get around in Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya is quite big with a total area of 289 ha. If you want to visit multiple temples in one day you need a bike or scooter. We stayed at a hostel and they had a scooter rental as well. There are plenty of tuk-tuks to take you from one temple to the other.
Don’t think you can walk because the distances are too big and it gets too hot too quickly. Besides, you’ll walk a lot at each temple so keep this in mind. That’s where a tour might come in handy. But hiring a bike or a scooter gives you the freedom to roam around at your own pace and skip what you don’t find interesting.
Wat Chaiwatthanaram consists of one large pagoda in the middle, also called prang. This pagoda is surrounded by four smaller pagodas. Cloisters have been built around these five pagodas. Most of the Buddha statues in this complex are no longer complete. The test of time is clearly visible here.
The Temple was built in 1630 by King Prasat Thong to honor his mother, featuring the architectural style influenced by the Angkor temple in Cambodia. The temple’s name literally means the Temple of long reign and glorious era. It was designed in Khmer style to gain Buddhist merit.
We also find out that the great flood of 2011 damaged the temple. Fortunately, efforts are now being made to restore it as well as possible. Yet many details are still visible that show the time and energy that was put into making the temples and all the decorations. Now the complex is inhabited by the countless pigeons that are occasionally startled by a tourist.
Wat Mahathat is famous for the head of a stone Buddha image entwined in the roots of a tree. It is not known how the head ended up between the roots of the tree. There are different stories going around. The statue is said to have been left behind by the Burmese after the destruction of Ayutthaya. Another theory is that an attempt was made to steal the head, but it was too heavy to carry.
The Temple is believed to be one of Ayutthaya’s oldest temples, possibly built by King Boromaraja I, in 1370. Many important royal ceremonies of the Ayutthaya era had been hosted here. When the Ayutthaya Kingdom failed in 1767, Wat Phra Mahathat was severely damaged by fire and was since abandoned.
Don’t just sprint to the tree, but take the time to explore the rest of the temple grounds. We saw a lot of Buddha statues that are incomplete. Yet there are still a few very stoic in their place. If you walk here try to imagine what this would have looked like in all its glory.
Wat Ratchaburana has a different style than the temples we’ve mentioned so far. The central prang is built in a completely different architectural style and with its white color it really stands out. It is one of the finest in the city.
Wat Ratchaburana was founded in 1424 by King Borommarachathirat II and built on the cremation site of his two elder brothers. The two brothers had fought to their deaths in a duel for the royal succession to their father Intha Racha.
The temples are still actively used which is evident at Wat Ratchaburana. In a corner of the complex sits a monk with a number of men. It sounds like they are praying. It’s nice that this is possible, most people just leave them alone. Occasionally someone stops for a photo, but this does not disturb the men.
If you have more time and would like to learn about other temples as well, check out the essential Ayutthaya guide.
If you’re done exploring the ancient temples of Ayutthaya or you want a break, Baan Hollanda might just be what you’re looking for. Baan Hollanda is an information center on the history of Dutch-Thai relations. It is located on the same site as the former trading post of the Dutch East India Company. There is a permanent exhibition on the second floor.
Outside, the old walls of the old VOC building are still partly visible. It must have been a huge complex. The shipyard that is still there today will only be a small reflection of the former shipyard. Currently, the building is under construction, so check the website of Baan Hollanda before you plan your visit.
If you want to learn more about the history of Ayutthaya the Tourist Information is a must-visit. Upstairs you’ll find an exhibition of the history of Ayutthaya showing the old capital’s stories, history, ways of life, and local wisdom. They show a movie as well with English subtitles.
The Tourist Information has a good display of all the major and other attractions in and around town. Based on the displays you can make a list of what you wish to see and if you need transportation. It’s a great way to start your adventure in Ayutthaya.
Where to stay
When you do decide to travel to Ayutthaya and stay for 2 or 3 days, take a look at these accommodations.
- Niwas Ayutthaya is located in the historical town of Ayutthaya, a 10-minute walk from Wat Mahathat and Wat Rajchaburana. Its Thai design and green garden make you feel like you’re in the jungle.
- Siri Guesthouse has colorful rooms that are air-conditioned and have private bathrooms. It’s a 15-minute walk to Wat Mahathat.
- Baan Suan Krung Kao offers guest rooms with a seating area. The garden area is nice to chill out when you get back from discovering Ayutthaya.
Ayutthaya is the best place to explore ancient temples
We loved Ayutthaya and were glad we had two days to explore the temples and all that Ayutthaya has to offer. A day trip feels a bit too short for a full exploration of its former beauty. Explore the ancient temples of Ayutthaya by bike or scooter to save your feet.
If you have time, combine your trip to Ayutthaya with a couple of days in Kanchanaburi before heading back to Bangkok. This little triangle will show you so much of the history of Thailand. Have you been to Ayutthaya? What was your favorite temple? Let us know in the comments.
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