Ayutthaya is an island created by the meeting of three rivers; the Chao Phraya river, the Lopburi river and the Pa Sak river. This ancient city was founded in around 1350, and was to become the capital of what was then known as Siam. It had a sparkling reputation throughout Asia and in fact the world, many Europeans even considered it the grandest city ever to exist. By the early 1700s it had become the largest city in the world and, due to its location – being ideally situated right in the heart of Asia – it became the trading capital of the world. Until 1767 that is when, after many invasions, the Burmese finally succeeded in devastating the city and burning most of it to the ground. All that remains today are the ruins of some of the temples and palaces that were made of bricks, and Ayutthaya is now a World Heritage Site.
Things to do in Ayutthaya
Temples & Palaces
These are the main reason people visit Ayutthaya and you should generally allow around a day and a half if you hope to see them all. It’s better to make an early start as the heat in Ayutthaya can be unbearable by midday. You can also make your way around some of the ruins in the early evening as they are flood lit for tourists.
The famous Buddha head entwined in Banyan tree roots
Perhaps the most famous image of Ayutthaya is the buddha head wrapped in the roots of a Banyan Tree located at the ancient temple of Wat Mahathat, built in the 14th century. So how did the head get there? So the story goes, in 1767, the temple was destroyed by the Burmese Army who vandalised many of the Buddha statues by chopping their heads off. The head became tangled in the roots and became more and more entwined as the tree grew. The head was discovered along with the rest of the area in the 1950s when the Department of Fine art began restoration work in Ayutthaya. Another theory is that the head was the loot of a thief after the destruction of the temple and the head was placed in the tree as a hiding place. As the thief never returned for the treasure – nature claimed the head for itself!
The best way to get around the city and see the ruins is by bicycle. You can usually hire one for around 40 Baht per day and although they’re not always in great condition they do the job. Most of the roads are flat and well maintained so it’s easy to get around and the temples are in close enough proximity that you don’t have to be super fit to see them all.
Chao Phrom Market
If you’re all templed out why not visit Chao Phrom Market down by the Pasak River on U-Thong Rd. This traditional Thai market is more for locals than tourists, selling mostly food, clothes and daily goods. You won’t find any wooden frogs or offensive bracelets here but you are likely to get a great deal on some delicious, authentic Thai cuisine.
The temples and ruins are the main reason people visit Ayutthaya
Places to stay
A new hostel is 1301 Hostels Ayutthaya. It’s located along the riverbank in a quite position amidst the center of the town. The hostel only has a couple of beds and a private room but its brand new, clean, charmingly designed and the ultimate place for a relaxing stay in Ayutthaya. They rent both motorbikes and bicycles for getting into town and touring around the temples, as well as offering a plethora of advise for the newly arrived traveler. You can also spend your lazy afternoons on their riverfront yard, reading on a swing or chatting with other guests on the veranda. You feel like you’re staying in a home, rather than a hostel, when you stay here.
Places to eat
Ayutthaya is a strange place in terms of not seeming to have any restaurants. However, one small place right across from 1301 hostel and right next to the Tha Sai Temple , offers snacks and amazing iced coffee “spins” that hit the spot after a day of sweating your life away in the Thai heat.
Probably the easiest way to get there, it can take around two and a half hours and can cost anything from 20 – 245 Baht, depending on which class you prefer to travel in. The train station in Ayutthaya is not on the actual island so you’ll have to catch the ferry too, but it’s quite convenient costing only 4 Baht and leaving every few minutes.
Buses leave from Moh Chit – Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal – around every 20 minutes and cost about 50 Baht for a first class, air con seat. It usually takes around an hour and a half to reach Ayutthaya but allow time for several stops along the way.
Minibuses to Ayutthaya operate frequently from Victory Monument square in Bangkok for around 70 Baht. They head directly there cutting out any stopping time and usually take around an hour and a half.
Where to go next?
- Bangkok – Ayutthaya is very close to Bangkok, with amazing connections to the rest of Asia and the world.
- Sukhothai – If temples and ruins are your thing then you’ll love Sukhothai, another World Heritage Site. Trains run there from Ayutthaya several times a day or you could take the local government bus which leaves at around 9am each day.
- Kanchanaburi – With tourists flocking there to see the Bridge over the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi has a great backpacker community. From Ayutthaya it’s best to travel back to Bangkok and take a minibus from the Victory Monument square to Kanchanburi.
Original article by Luke Doolin in May 2012 – Updated by Jennifer Poole in October 2015.