Ayutthaya is a city full of interesting ruins of Buddhist temples. The centre is on the UNESCO World Heritage list and attracts many tourists visiting Thailand.
Which Ayutthaya temples are worth seeing and why are the temples ruined? Should you include it in your Thailand itinerary? You will find answers to these questions here 🙂
Also, check out my itinerary for 14 days in Thailand.
Ayutthaya temples – background and sightseeing
Ayutthaya, Thailand – history
Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, Thailand is an ancient capital of Siam – or Ayutthaya Kingdom, as it was called back then. The next capital after Sukhothai. At its best, in the 17th and 18th centuries, Ayutthaya was bigger than Paris and London combined. It was called “Venice of the East”.
Ayutthaya was a centre of trade between local merchants selling rice and local fabric and Europeans (mainly French and Dutch) selling modern weapons. Chinese merchants were active here too.
The king had a royal palace built there, as well as numerous Ayutthaya temples.
The kingdom was in constant conflict with Burma. The second big military conflict between the two kingdoms, after a long siege ended in the fall of the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Burmese army destroyed and burned the city down. This is where Ayutthaya ruins as we know them today come from.
After the fall of Ayutthaya, the king moved the capital to a small town by the Chao Phraya river. The town grew and developed until it became today’s Bangkok. A vibrant city full of colors, smells and tastes – and a starting point for an Ayutthaya trip 🙂
Things to do in Ayutthaya today include visiting numerous ruins of Ayutthaya temples left after the attack of the Burmese army. While sightseeing in the city you can only imagine how beautiful and rich the city used to be.
Wat Phra Mahathat
Visiting Wat Phra Mahathat is one of the most common answers if you wonder what to do in Ayutthaya Historical Park.
During the attack of the Burmese on Ayutthaya, Buddha’s head was cut off from numerous statues. In Wat Mahathat one of them happened to fall near a tree. Over the years, the tree roots covered it – making it one of the most popular photo spots in the city today.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet
During the city’s glory days, it was one of the best temples in Ayutthaya – and I think it still is today. It was built in Ayutthaya palace and served as the Royal Family’s temple. Monks did not live here, only royal ceremonies took place here.
If you have visited the Royal Palace in Bangkok before and you’ve seen Wat Khra Kaew with the Emerald Buddha – you will notice some similarities. That’s because Wat Phra Kaew was inspired by Wat Phra Si Sanphet in the historic city of Ayutthaya.
To me, it is the most beautiful of all Ayutthaya temples. Even ruined, the three pagodas are truly impressive.
A temple in Ayutthaya is almost fully destroyed today. However, I recommend you to go there for one significant reason: reclining Buddha.
In Ayutthaya, Buddha statues are omnipresent but this one is especially interesting. A 42-meter-long statue is lying in the middle of nowhere. Almost nothing is left of the temple which makes the huge statue an unusual view. For me, it is one of the best Ayutthaya attractions.
You can only imagine how impressive the temple was here before.
Wat Chai Wattanaram
Wat Chai Wattanaram is an Ayutthaya must see. It is located outside of the main island. It used to be an impressive temple with 120 Buddha statues along the temple walls. Today almost all statues are headless.
It made my imagination go crazy.
I saw Burmese soldiers cutting the heads off, one by one. Smiling, enjoying the process.
Even though in reality many of the statues lost their heads later during long years of abandonment, here I was able to imagine the destruction process. A powerful image I will not forget.
If you visit the city on a bike and Wat Chai Wattanaram is a part of your Ayutthaya itinerary, be careful on your way. You will need to pass a crossroads with a three-lane road.
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon
One of Ayutthaya’s temples was built in the 14th century. It took part in many events in the city’s history.
If you wonder what to see in Ayutthaya, include it and you will get an opportunity to climb one of the ancient pagodas.
Wat Phanan Choeng
It is the only Ayutthaya tourist attraction on this list which is not a ruin.
I was impressed by the reclining Buddha in Wat Pho in Bangkok – but I must say that the one sitting in Wat Phanan Choeng made me feel… intimidated.
A 19-meter statue from the 14th century sits in a small room and dominates everything. Buddha’s face is serious and his gesture symbolizes “calling the Earth to witness” his enlightenment. According to the story, he was fighting the temptations thrown at him by a bad ghost. It looks like he doesn’t want anyone disturbing and getting close to him.
For me, it is one of the most interesting places to visit in Ayutthaya. Out of all the Buddhas I’ve seen during the two months in Thailand, this one is the most memorable.
Night market Bang Lan in Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya’s night market is the most “authentic” market I have seen in all popular tourist places. The market opens every day along Bang Lan street. In contrast to Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai – you won’t find numerous tables and chairs here, no live music or souvenirs.
Here, Thai people come with their mobile cooking stands and sell local food for takeaway. You will meet more Thai people than tourists here and it’s a great thing to do in Ayutthaya at night.
At this market, I tried some interesting snacks such as worms in spices or jackfruit. I confused jackfruit with a durian and I was surprised why such a tasty and sweet fruit is so widely hated… 😉 I realized only a few days later.
If you visit Ayutthaya for more than a day, don’t miss this night market.
Practical advice – Ayutthaya
How to get to Ayutthaya from Bangkok
You can take a train from Bangkok to Ayutthaya station. It takes 1,5-2 hours depending on the train. You can check the timetable here.
If you plan to fly to the north or south of Thailand from Don Muang airport – pay attention that it is located halfway between Bangkok and Ayutthaya. You can take a train to Ayutthaya railway station directly from the airport. That’s what we did after coming back from Chiang Mai.
Ayutthaya is a great destination for a day trip from Bangkok as well as for an overnight stay.
If you don’t want to go to Ayutthaya from Bangkok on your own, you can get on an organized tour.
Getting around Ayutthaya
There are two most popular ways to move around Ayutthaya.
One of them is to rent a tuk-tuk with a driver. He will most probably have his standard list of places to show to tourists. Make sure to negotiate the price for the tour beforehand. As far as I heard, a reasonable price is around 500 THB per group a day.
Another way is to rent a bike. You can do it in almost any hotel and hostel, you will also find a rental across the street from the railway station.
Don’t make my mistake and don’t try to cross the river on foot using the big bridge. It is a huge, four-lane road. It is hard to get on the bridge and once you do, walking along it is neither pleasant nor safe. When you go out of the train station, cross the street and go straight and you’ll reach a ferry. It will take you to the other side safely.
(NOT) riding elephants
Unfortunately, I saw some sad things in Ayutthaya – elephant rides along the streets of the city.
Don’t do it.
If you don’t know why, check out this article. Don’t contribute to the torture of these majestic animals in Ayutthaya. Travel responsibly. You can go to an ethical sanctuary instead – like the one described in my post about Chiang Mai.
Where to stay in Ayutthaya
We stayed two days in Ayutthaya. The hotel we chose is called Aiyara House. The rooms are comfortable and clean, you can rent bikes there. They serve a great breakfast – you can get some fried rice or Thai soup. Such a great change after toasts with jam and bananas in all other places. The night market and Wat Phra Mahathat with Buddha’s head in tree roots are within walking distance.
Highly recommend it 🙂
You may also check the below highly rated hotels in Ayutthaya:
Luang Chumni Village – perfect option if you would like to stay in a lovely guesthouse built in a traditional Thai style. Guests are happy with the fantastic location – the guesthouse is on the river banks in a good place for sightseeing. A tasty breakfast is included in the price.
Yimwhan House 01, Wat Ratchaburana – a modern hotel located in the Ayutthaya center. Besides the convenient location, guests appreciate clean and spacious rooms and super friendly staff.
Ayutthaya – is it worth it?
Historically, Ayutthaya is one of the most important places in Thailand. While sightseeing, you can imagine how stunning a place it was before it got destroyed. The ruins of each temple are different, you pay attention to different details in all of them. I felt the atmosphere of the former capital of Thailand.
Bang Lan night market is the most local and non-tourist market I have seen in all popular places in Thailand. I recommend you to see it if you don’t have time to get off the beaten track. It reminds me the most of the market in Uthai Thani I visited when I was volunteering.
And finally – it is close to Bangkok, you need less than 2 hours by train to arrive in Ayutthaya. A day trip from Bangkok is possible if you’re short on time and this is a great advantage.
What I didn’t like about Ayutthaya?
However, Ayutthaya makes an impression as not tourist-friendly. Pavements and walkways either don’t exist or aren’t well designed, the city’s roads are all wide and busy. Even though many tourists move between the temples by bike, there are no safe passages or bike lanes (but did I really hope for it in Asia?! 😉 ).
We had to pass a crossroads with a three-lane road many times. Getting outside of the main island to the west of Wat Chai Wattanaram is difficult. To the east of Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon and Wat Phanan Choeng is a miracle. You have to cross the above-mentioned bridge with a huge four-lane road.
To sum up, I recommend you to see Ayutthaya temples and learn more about Thai history. Don’t expect a cute small town with a nice vibe though. You can find this in Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai – not here.
If you have more time you can plan a visit to Sukhothai – the capital of Siam before Ayutthaya. You will find it more or less halfway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. I’ve heard it’s equally impressive and more pleasant to walk around.
But if you’re short on time, visit Ayutthaya. You won’t forget the places you see and the history you learn there.
Other fantastic places in Thailand
If you plan a trip to Thailand, make sure to check my other related posts:
- All You Need To Know To Organize A Trip To Thailand
- What To See In Thailand In Two Weeks? Complete Itinerary
- 15 Top Things To Do In Bangkok
- 10 Things To Do In Chiang Mai You Can’t Possibly Miss
- Travel Bloggers Reveal: What Is The Best Month To Go To Thailand?
- 10 Unique Facts About Thai People And Life In Thailand
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