The country’s former capital, Ayutthaya Historical Park has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most impressive ruined cities in Asia, making it a must-see for history and architecture enthusiasts that are visiting Thailand. Offering an insightful depiction of how life once was in the region, it is easily accessible as a day trip from Bangkok.
Situated just 80km north of Bangkok, Ayutthaya held the title of first capital of Thailand for 417 years, until the Burmese destroyed the city in 1767. Today covering an expanse of 289 ha, the island ruins form the body of the Ayutthaya Historical Park, an archaeological site that contains palaces, Buddhist temples, monasteries and statues.
Interestingly, it was never rebuilt.
Ayutthaya Historical Park’s Main Attractions
The main historical sites lie in the north-center area of the island and can easily be explored on foot or even better, by bicycle. Additional attractions can be found on the banks of the rivers opposite the city and to reach these you can rent a motorcycle or tuk-tuk. Of the many places to visit, these are our highlighted recommendations.
- Wat Na Phra Men is one of the few temples to have escaped destruction by the Burmese. It is not known when the temple was built but existing records show that it was restored under King Boromakot and again during the early Bangkok period. An imposing building with beautiful wooded carvings and a large figure of a Buddha found inside.
- Wat Phra Si Sanphet is the most historically important temple in old Ayutthaya. Its three large chedis and numerous smaller ones make this temple one of the most impressive sights in the ruined city.
- King Boromracha II (1424-48) had Wat Ratchaburana built in memory of his elder brothers Ay and Yi, who were killed in a duel over the succession to the throne. Columns and walls of the wiharn still stand, as do some ruined chedis.
- Wat Mahathat is found immediately across the road from Wat and tradition claims that King Ramesuen built it in 1384. Here you will find the famous image of the Buddha’s head entwined in the roots of an ancient fig tree.
- Bang Pa-in Palace, also known as the Summer Palace. This royal residence is one of the best preserved in the area and the buildings feature several architectural styles, including traditional Thai and Chinese structures. There’s also a two-story Victorian style mansion and Witthunthassana, the three-story, tower-style building enjoyed for taking in the views towards the countryside, to visit.
- On the eastern outskirts of Ayutthaya stands Wat Yai Chai Mongkol, very popular with tourists and local worshippers and known for it’s large reclining Buddha and rows of Buddha around the central stupa. The wat was built in 1357 for monks of a particularly strict order and their members still live here.
- Wat Niwet Thammaprawat temple is located on an island near theSummer Palace and looks more like a Gothic Christian church than a Thai temple, until you get inside. Here you may be lucky enough to meet a monk and enjoy a blessing. For some fun, cross the river to the island in a small trolley-like cable car managed by the Monks.
The large bronze Buddha inside the Wihan Phira Mongkhon Bophit Temple must be visited, for his serenity and blessings. Walk the ruins of Wat Phira Si Samphet with its ancient turrets, stairs, towers and walls. Take a long boat down the river and meander around the grounds of the Kings Summer Palace with it’s intricate buildings and topiary filled landscaped gardens, as well as the surrounding well-developed village which has excellent markets to shop at.
How to get there:
One of the things that make Ayutthaya a popular day trip from Bangkok is the relative ease with which you can get there. Buses leave Bangkok’s Mo Chit bus station every 20 to 30 minutes and there’s no need to book in advance. Just show up and buy a ticket for the next bus. Trains depart Bangkok’s Hualumpong station more or less every hour. Trains take a bit longer than buses, from an hour to an hour and a half depending on the number of stops, but may be a more relaxing option. Ayutthaya’s train station is just across the river from the old city and you can walk down and catch a ferry across the river and then rent a bike or a tuk-tuk for the day.
Consider Staying Overnight
Ayutthaya may need two full days of exploring to do it justice. There is a reasonable offering of hotels, apartments, guesthouses and even homestays to choose from. Airbnb are also well represented in the area.
Note: It is important to pay respect at these holy sites, have a scarf or skirt to cover your legs and shoulders, be quiet and refrain from touching. We are also reminded to crouch where necessary when taking photographs of statues, as no one should stand higher than Buddha.