How to Visit Thailand’s Ancient Capital Ayutthaya in Two Days

Our grand plan for Two Days in Ayutthaya was to leave our 40-litre Osprey backpacks at the fabulous Roof View Place in Bangkok, load up a small day pack and head up for an overnight trip.

Note on Spelling:  some places you’ll find Ayutthaya spelled Ayuthaya (like the Lonely Planet guides, which we use).  As Ayutthaya is pronounced Aye-yute-tay-ya we use the Ayutthaya spelling.  (and that’s how you see it on the train statiaon sign!)

We’d learned by experience in Bangkok that wherever we want to go, the traffic sucks. And it did, so it took us an hour by taxi to get across the city to Hua Lamphong Train Station. Oh we haven’t gone soft, getting taxi’s, they’re just the best option most times in Bangkok. Firstly they’re metered and if a driver won’t turn on the meter he’s overcharging you, so walk away. Secondly they have air con.

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Tuk tuks are consistently more expensive than taxi’s and you also get to breathe all of the fumes from the other stationary traffic around you. The buses are great, and cheap. Even free several times when we’ve used them no one has taken money, but they rarely go where we want to go and when. Here’s our guide on how to go from Bangkok to Ayutthaya

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So the train. To Ayuthaya it’s easy. Turn up, buy a ticket, go.

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The Man from Seat61 said go on the local cheap one.  I guess I am getting soft, we opted for the 10:50am train.  It was a bit more expensive at 690 THB for two tickets (make that a LOT more expensive) – but it was scheduled to leave sooner, had air con and comfortable seats.

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Only there was a delay. We got comfy seats and air con and we even got an edible included meal.  We did, however, sit on the platform for an hour plus before leaving.  The cheap seats train arrived before we did. Ho hum. Next time I know to go for the cheap seats.

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On arrival we eschewed the tuk-tuk drivers offering to take us around the old city and other sites for hundreds of baht and set off walking.

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It was stinking hot and after about 45 minutes we arrived at the Good Morning by Tamarind Hotel to a blissful courtyard covered in umbrellas.

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Did I tell you I love Thailand for things like this?

The History of Ayutthaya.

Ayutthaya was the capital of Siam between 1350 and 1767. It was the next capital after Sukhothai  (read about our trip to Sukhothai here).   And it was a busy old capital.  33 kings took part in 70 wars during the just more than 4 centuries that they ruled here. The final battle was in 1767 – when the Burmese invaded, grabbed loot and left. Ayutthaya then crumbled until restoration began. The restoration worked and Unesco designated it a World Heritage Site in 1991.

At the height of its popularity Ayutthaya had 400 temples. Now, just a few remain in the centre of the old city.  You will, however, find ruins of walls, denoting the layout of temples throughout.

Getting to and around Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya is easy to get to (many trains and minivans come from Bangkok.  It’s only 90 minutes or so from the capital and it’s easy to navigate and find your way round.

There are those parts of the city on the island and those that aren’t. If you arrive on the train, then you won’t be on the island.  If you arrive on a minivan, then you will be on the island.

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Maps of Ayutthaya

The first map shows the Tourist info map.

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The second is the map from the hotel.  We used a combination of both to navigate.

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The majority of the old city can be found “on the island”.  You’ll probably want to stay there too.  However, there are some temples that are worth visiting off island, depending on how long you have to spend in the city.

Transport Options Around Ayutthaya

It’s easy to take a tour around the city and temples – whether it’s in an air conditioned car, minivan or tuk-tuk.

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We had just an overnight trip in Ayutthay in the baking humid heat of October, so walked around the island on our first day.  We cycled on the second day. You definitely need bikes for any off island trips and it certainly speeds up your progress on the island!

Elephant Tours in Ayutthaya

It’s sad to see that elephant tours are still available in Ayuthaya.  We didn’t take a tour and don’t condone them, but be aware that you’ll see gaily bedecked elephants still taking place in the city.

If you want to help the plight of elephants in Thailand, then we suggest these options.

Here’s our selection of the temples we visited on our two days in Ayutthaya.

Wat Ratchaburana

You’ll want to time your visit here to avoid the crowds.  Wander around the edges of the temple until the hordes have disappeared, because this temple has an underground crypt that is simply beautiful.  It is, though, tiny and the stairs are steep. Entrance to the site is 50 THB per adult.

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Also here in Ayutthaya outside most of the major temples you’ll find a model of what the temple would have looked like in its heyday.  It’s a great tool for envisaging how things might have been.

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The temple itself was built on the cremation site of two would be kings who died while fighting each other for the throne. The remaining brother, Borom Rachathirat II became King and subsequently built the temple.

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It wasn’t until 1957 that the crypt was discovered following a well publicized looting.  It was at this time that rare Buddha images were uncovered.

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You’ll need to climb up to the Prang – there are reasonable brick stairs up – and a small display inside the main floor.

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The tiny staircase that then leads down into the crypt is narrow, dark and with the smallest of steps. It’s well worth the wait if there’s a crowd, as there’s not room for more than two people either down in the crypt or trying to get there!

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Wat Phra Mahathat

For me the most iconic image of Ayutthaya is to be found here, at Wat Phra Mahathat. After you’ve paid your 50THB adult entrance fee, head into the ruins and turn to the right.  This is where you’ll find what most folks come to Ayutthaya for.

This is the sandstone Buddha head, tangled in the exposed tree roots.

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There are many stories as to how the head came to be here.  Abandonment following the Burmese sacking of the city, to being dropped by thieves because it was too heavy. Whatever the reason, it’s where everyone wants their photo taken. Us included.

You should follow the rules though.

You’re not supposed to be above the Buddha. So be respectful, crouch and do your best!

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We found the rest of this temple site to be mostly deserted, most folks run in, take photos with the Buddha head and then scram. Take your time and head around to some of the most evocative sights of Ayutthaya.

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Rows upon rows of broken Buddha bodies.

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Headless, armless, but still simply quite beautiful.

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Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Lonely Planet tells us that the three chedi (or stupas) here are the most iconic image of Ayutthaya.  I’d disagree, I think it’s the Buddha head in the tree above.

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This temple was the largest to be found in the city and it’s certainly a big site to walk around.  Youcan’t go into the chedi, but you can climb to the top of one of them and take photos.

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The chedi are quite lovely, and best in the earlier morning or late afternoon light.

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Wihaan Mongkhon Bophit

Right next to Wat Phra Si Samphet you’ll find the sanctuary hall with the most splendid Thai style roof .  This is the home of one of the largest bronze Buddha images in Thailand.

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It measures 17 metres in height and has such a nice home because of the Burmese, those folks who ran off with treasures back in the 1700’s. A “donation” or perhaps reparations of 200,000 THB from the then Burmese Prime Minister in 1955 helped to restore the building.

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The Reclining Buddha

Heading through the market stalls to the side of the Wihaan Mongkhon Bophit and across the small stream – where rickety bridges abound, we headed to the reclining Buddha.

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Cloaked in an orange cloth, either for posterity or to cover increasing decline, the Buddha looks the same as it did some 24 years ago when Nigel visited here.

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There are, this time, though packs of dogs to avoid. Some alarmingly fierce looking. We thank our rabies shots and slink back past them.

Wat Chai Wattanaram

 

On our bike tour on the second day of Ayutthaya we headed along Uthong Road, and took the bridge over the river  – off the island, hung a left and in a few minutes were here at the completely empty Wat Chai Wattanaram, where there’s a gorgeous Khmer-style central prang.

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Its much more atmospheric than some of the temples on the island, perhaps because there was no one else here.  You’ll also find a huge variety of stone Buddha lining the inner walls of the temple.

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Must Try Food in Ayutthaya

We couldn’t leave Ayutthaya without talking about the food. There were two menu items we had to try here. First of all the noodles, which we’d blown an entire 40 THB on. Lip smacking, spicy, filling and cheap and eaten far too quickly for a photo.

And a new thing for us. Roti Sai Mai.

And, oh man, you have to try these.

There are no signs in English and strangely for Thailand there were no folks attempting to lure us into their stores, which we found directly opposite the hospital.

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This is Ayutthaya dessert.

Rice flour pancakes. Made in lurid colors. While we watched.

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And filled with what can only be described as spun sugar.

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Think candy floss (cotton candy) in a pancake. I dare you try only eating one. Two is heaven. Three indicated over indulgence. We bought a stock and continued to enjoy for the next few days.  After all it’s all sold in BIG plastic bags.

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Ayutthaya to Bangkok

All that remained – for us at least – in Ayutthaya was to get out. And this was the easy part. No more hiking to the train station. No arguing, I mean negotiating, with a tuk-tuk driver over the price.

We simply walked across Naresuan Street from the Good Morning Tamarind Hotel to the minivan stop. Found a minibus. Waited for it to fill for maybe 8 minutes and then we were on our way.

Ayutthaya is an easy trip from Bangkok, whether you take the train or a minivan (which takes you back to the Victory Monument in Bangkok), from where the metro or any bus is easy to catch – oh and where taxi’s are plentiful). Hotels near the temples are easy to find. Cheap and with wonderful air conditioning, and if you’re lucky with bicycle hire.

Now, we’re off to country 22, Laos.

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