The ancient city of Ayutthaya is less than fifty miles north of Bangkok and well worth the visit.  It was the Thai capital for 417 years and during this time thirty-three Kings of different dynasties ruled the kingdom until it was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767. Ayutthaya is strategically located on an island surrounded by three rivers connecting to the sea: the Menam, Lopburi, and Pasak rivers.  After being attacked by the Burmese, who burned the city to the ground and forced the inhabitants to abandon their home, it was never rebuilt and today boasts some of the most impressive ruins in Asia. It was added to UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites in 1991. Ayutthaya Historical Park is open daily from 8:30am to 4:30pm.

There are several ways to get here from Bangkok — by car, by train, by bus, by minibus, or by boat. It’s worth spending at least one full day here and you can take a tuk-tuk to get from temple to temple. The drivers are used to temple-hopping tourists and it doesn’t cost much to get around. Below are the places Adventure People visited on our visit to Ayutthaya in December 2014:

Wat Maha That

Wat Maha That

Wat Maha That, or the Monastery of the Great Relic, is one of the city’s most impressive sites. It is located in the center of Ayutthaya and was built to house a relic of the Buddha. Wat Maha That was also the residence of the Supreme Patriarch or leader of the Thai Buddhist monks. The exact dates of the establishment of Wat Maha That is difficult to assess. The Luang Prasoet version of the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya put its construction in 1374 during the reign of King Borommaracha I.  Later versions of the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya state that Wat Maha That was established by King Ramesuan after his attack of Chiang Mai in 1384. In about 1625, the main prang collapsed, but was restored in 1633. It collapsed again in 1911, so only the foundation of the main prang remains at present.  In 1956 a secret chamber was uncovered in the ruins containing numerous treasures including gold jewelry, a gold casket containing a relic of the Buddha, and fine tableware.

Walking around the remnants of Wat Maha That, there are plenty of photo opportunities. One of the most photographed images includes that of the head of an ancient Buddha embraced in the above ground roots of a tree.

Wat Ratchaburana

Wat Ratchaburana

Immediately across the road from Wat Maha That is Wat Ratchaburana, founded in 1424 by King Borommarachathirat II of the Ayutthaya Kingdom. It was built in memory of the King’s elder brothers Ay and Yi, who were killed in a duel over the succession of the throne. Columns and walls of the viharn still stand, as do some stupas, which house the ashes of the royal brothers as well as Queen Si Suriyothai who, during a battle with the Burmese in about 1550, dressed as a man and rode in on a white elephant to save her husband’s life, but losing her own in the process. The temple’s main prang is one of the finest in the city and is exceptionally well preserved.

In 1957, the temple’s crypt was looted of a large number of Buddha images and gold artifacts. The thieves were eventually caught, but few of the treasures were recovered. The ones that were recovered are now housed in the nearby Chao Sam Phraya Museum.

You’ll find some interesting wall paintings in the two crypts in the lower part of the prang, likely the work of Chinese artists who settled in Ayutthaya.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

The remains of Wat Phra Si Sanphet are the most historically important in Ayutthaya. Three large stupas and numerous smaller ones make this wat, also known as the King’s Temple. The two large stupas in the center and to the east were built in 1492 by King Rama Thibodi II to house the ashes of his father and elder brother. His own ashes are housed in the third stupa, built in 1530 by his son and royal successor, King Boromaraja IV. All three stupas were raided by the Burmese, although they failed to find the hundreds of bronze, crystal, silver, lead, and gold Buddha statues, which are now on display in the National Museum in Bangkok.

Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit

Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit

Wat Mongkhon Bophit is an active temple compound, which lies adjacent to Wat Phra Si Sanphet, with interesting contrast. Having been given several renovations so it looks new, it’s actually an ancient temple with a long history in the Ayutthaya kingdom. It contains one of the biggest bronze Buddha statues in Thailand, Phra Mongkhon Bophit. It’s over 31 feet at the widest point across the lap and over 41 feet high without the base.

From available evidence, Phra Mongkhon Bophit has been identified as the image which King Chairachathirat had sculpted in 1538 A.D. It was originally enshrined outside the Grand Palace to the east until King Songtham commanded it to be transferred to the west in 1610 A.D. He commanded the construction of a mandapa for it to be enshrined. Later in the reign of King Sua, lightning struck the top of the mandapa and it collapsed. The head of Phra Mongkhon Bophit fell off. As a result, the king had the mandapa rebuilt and tuned into a Viharn to cover the image in lieu of the former mandapa. During the second Ayutthaya-Burmese war, the building and image were badly destroyed by fire and left ruined until it was given a grand renovation in 1956, following the form of its original structure.

Today, the temple compound is visited by many people throughout the day who come to worship the Buddha Image. Occupying the parking lot space between Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit and Wat Phra Si Samphet is an outdoor market offering a range of handicrafts unique to Ayutthaya.

Ayutthaya Tours

How to Get There?

If you’re not taking a tour from Bangkok (where transportation is included), you can get to Ayutthaya by train. Departing from Bangkok’s Hualamphong train station, you’ll arrive in approximately 80 to 150 minutes, depending on which train you choose. First-class tickets are not available for this ride, but second-class will get you comfortable seats in an air-conditioned carriage for a reasonable rate. You can check train times online, but the reservation system is only in Thai. Alternatively, you can book tickets through an agency like 12go, which handles most of the transportation ticket sales in Asia.

Please be aware that the railway station in Ayutthaya is not near the temples. You’ll either have to take a ferry or a tuk tuk to the ruins. If you don’t want to walk the entire complex, you can rent a bike or pay a tuk tuk driver to take you from one temple to the next — an especially good idea on a very hot day.

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Where to Stay?

In Ayutthaya, we stayed at the Ayothaya Hotel, which is very centrally located within an easy distance of the historical site and just a short walk to the well-known temples of Wat Mahatat and Wat Ratchaburana.

ayutthaya tourist map
Ayutthaya Tourist Map

1. Tourist Information Center
2. Provincial Pillar of Spiritual Unity
3. Wat Burom Phuttharam
4. Chao Sam Phraya National Museum
5. Ayutthaya Elephant Palace & Royal Kraal
6. Khun Phaen’s Residence
7. Wat Phra Ram
8. Phra Mongkhon Bophit Trade Center
9. Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit
10. Way Phra Si Samphet
11. Ancient Palace
12. King Uthong Monument
13. Wat Thammikarat
14. Phra Ram Park
15. Wat Maha That
16. Wat Ratchaburana
17. Wat Na Phra Men
18. Wat Choeng Tha
19. Wat Tum
20. Queen Suriyothai Memorial
21. Wat Phu Khao Thong & King Naresuan Monument
22. Wat Salapoon Worawiham
23. Wat Tha Ka Rong
24. Wat Thammaram
25. Wat Kasattrathirat
26. Wat Worachet Thep Bamrung
27. Wat Chaiwatthanaram
28. Saint Joseph’s Church
29. Wat Phutthai Sawan
30. Portuguese Settlement
31. Pridi Phanomyoung Memorial
32. Wat Worapho
33. Wat Worachettharam
34. Wat Lokayasutharam
35. Chedi Sri Suriyothai
36. Sri Nakakharin Park
37. Wat Khun Muang Chai
38. Thai Boat Museum
39. Wat Racha Praditsatarn
40. Wat Khun Saen National Muse
41. Chantharkasem
42. Wat Boromawaong Ltsarawararam
43. Elephant Kraal
44. Wat Monthop
45. Wat Suwan Dararam
46. Phet Fortressw
47. Wat Phanan Choeng
48. Dutch Settlement
49. Japenese Settlement
50. Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon
51. Wat Samanakottharam
52. Ayutthaya Elephant Village and
Ayutthaya Floating Market
53. Wat Kudidao
54. Wat Pradoo Songtharm
55. Wat Maheyong
56. Wat Ayouthaya
57. Wat Prayathikaram
58. Wat Som
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