Venice of the East
Once of the major archaeological sites in Thailand, the once gloriously wealthy capital city of the former Kingdom of Ayutthaya, founded by King Ramathibodi I in 1351 AD, and overtaking Sukhothai as the capital of Siam (nowadays Thailand), was ruled by 35 kings during its history. Reaching a size of almost a million inhabitants by the year 1700, making it one of the largest in the world at that time, it was also one of the wealthiest. Merchants from all over the world made from Ayutthaya one of the most important trading posts between Asia and the West. Unfortunately, the glorious past was pretty much destroyed by the Burmese army in 1767 burning it to the grounds.
Nowadays, fortunately, you can see most of this imposing past from the huge ruins of the hundreds of temples around, with excavation and restoration continuously going on. It is one of the most complete historical site listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in the country.
The great side is how easy it is to reach from Bangkok. There is a god timetable of trains on this route, and forget what you read over the internet that the trip can take 2 hours or more. It’s merely 1 hour, or even shorter if taking the faster trains. I would not recommend you spend more than a day here. At the end, there is nothing else to do here than sightseeing the historical park, hence a day trip from Bangkok is more than viable without stress and getting tired at all. Or as how we did on another trip, leaving Bangkok early in the morning, being for the day in Ayutthaya, and then continuing on the night train to Vientiane, the capital of Laos at the end of the railway line.
While easy to navigate once you arrive, it is a very large site, hence distances are overall, large from one end to another, plus the many constructions in between. Completely encircled by the Chao Phraya River along its west and south sides, the Lopburi and Pa Sak rivers along the north and east, the historical park lies within an island. No matter where you go and what you visit, as long you do not leave this place without being at one of these “once in a lifetime” place to go before you die, the unmissable Wat Maha That temple, where you will find the famous stone Buddha face covered in the roots of a banyan tree.
As for places to eat and drink, well, you are in a historical site hence this is very limited. Only beverage and fruit vendors are allowed around the ruins, therefore do not expect restaurants. For that you will need to get to Rama Park area (in the centre of the archaeological site) or along the main boundaries of the site and roads. After all, a good pad thai is never too far, and there is a great choice.
For more information about the ancient site check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Thailand’s currency is Baht (THB). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Ayutthaya
- Wat Ratchaburana At the northeast corner of the historical park, this is where you should start your tour and where to tell the tuk tuk driver to drop you off if coming from the station. 50 Baht to enter.
- Wat Phra Mahathat The highlight number one of Ayutthaya, just south from the previous one at the other side of Thanon Naresuan street. It is here where you will find the famous stone Buddha head nested in the roots of a banyan tree among other structures. 50 Baht to enter.
- Rama Park In the heart of the archaeological site, with plenty of temples and ruins surrounding it. The little islands are all connected by bridges offering nice views of the site.
- Wat Phra Ram West from the Rama Park, surrounded by water on three of its sides.
- National Museum Across the Thanon Pa Thon Street, right by the southern side opposite the Wat Phra Ram. Contains plenty of artefacts recovered during excavations and plenty of history on the site.
- Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit North and west from the Wat Phra Ram. Although a new construction, it’s a great blend with traditional Thai architecture. Inside you can see the current largest gilded statue of a sitting Buddha in Ayutthaya
- Wat Phra Si Sanphet The huge complex north of Wat Phra Ram and Mongkhon Bophit. The once glorious Royal Palace, with plenty of its stupas restored. 50 Bath to enter.
- Boran Palace Not much remain from another of the greatest royal palaces that once stood in the area. Located immediately north from the Wa Phra Sin Sanphet.
- Wat Thammikkarat Facing east opposite Boran Palace. Quite well preserved courtyards and buildings of what was a monastery, with plenty of statues and carvings.
- Wat Warapho At the western side of the Thanon Khlong Tho Road, opposite the Boran Palace and Wat Phra Sin Sanphet complexes.
- Wat Worachettharam Only meters west from the previous temple. Small yet still nice to complete the visit.
- Wat Lokayasutharam The last of the three temples here together, meters south from the previous one. Famous for the huge statue of a reclining Buddha facing east.
- South quadrant Not much remain here bearing the foundations of many structures. Not worth to spend the time walking around here unless you have the time.
- Wat Chaiwatthanaram Located outside of the island itself right across the Chao Phraya River on the western side. It is one of the most complete temples, and the most widely used as the representation of the ancient site. It shares a lot of resemblances with Prambanan Temple in Indonesia in terms of architecture. The best view is from the historical park island, no need to reach there, although you can take a river boat to cross, as it’s totally worth it. Entrance fee of 50 Baht.
The best way to reach Ayutthaya is via train from Bangkok, although buses are generally faster and more reliable in terms of being on-time. You can only buy a one way at the time, meaning for your return train, you will need to buy it separately. Also, these trains cannot be booked online, they are just normal commuter trains therefore no need for any kind of reservation. The following train times will suit you perfectly: Train 75 (Express) at 08.20am arriving at 09.41am (245 Baht), service 7 (Special express) at 08.30am arriving at 09.47am (345 Baht) or the service 71 (Express) at 10.05am arriving at 11.24am (245 Baht). For the return, just show at the train station and get the next first available, but careful in this, as there are almost no fast trains so you might be in a slower 2 hours trip. Keep as a good consideration the service number 8 (Special Express) departing at 18.06pm and arriving in Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong at 19.25pm (345 Baht).
Once you arrive at the train station the best is not negotiate a tuk tuk driver to take you to the park. There are lots waiting for the train arrivals, and expect a higher quotation than in Bangkok, still, they know lots of tourists arrive this way and they make the extra money. In any case, remember once you do the conversion and see it is really no money at all. As a usual quotation have in mind 150 to 200 Bahts, never go for any higher than that.
The absolute cheapest way is to walk your way from the train station to the Pa Sak River which is few meters ahead where the pier is located. Shuttle boats do cross the river frequently at almost no money, but then you will need to walk all the way until you reach the historical park area. It is just one street straight west, the Bang Ian Road, easy but tiring considering how hot it can be with no shadow to cover yourself.
Ayutthaya has a modest choice when comparing to the gigantic choice of Bangkok, and generally small properties, especially these orientated for backpackers. Anyway, this is either a day trip from Bangkok, or a stop over when continuing elsewhere in the country or towards Laos. A night is the usual if needed. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo or Ebookers.
We did not stay overnight here in any of the trips; however once we booked a room to at least leave our luggage for the day, rest after the sightseeing and have a shower before heading back to the train station in order to catch the night train to Vientiane, Laos. As such, we were not looking for any luxurious or much comfort at all. Still our surprise came to see the small price we paid, and that the place was very clean, nice, and comfy! I would totally recommend it for longer stays other than a day for sure. Jitwilai Place Hotel, in 38/7 U-Thong Road, T. Horattanachai. Be careful locating the hotel in a Google maps. Check some pictures of the hotel, and then with satellite view you can spot it in the right place, as by simply imputing the address on the map it does not locate it properly.