Ayutthaya used to be one of Southeast Asia most powerful capitals with many ruins reminding travellers of this glorious past.
Just 60 km away from Bangkok, tourists can discover one of the grandest archeological and spiritual sites of Southeast Asia in Ayutthaya. Historically the second capital of Siam, Ayutthaya was one of the most brilliant civilizations in the region. The ruins of its temples are a powerful testimony of the magnificence of the former capital while the near-by palace of Bang Pa-In is the European dreams of Siamese kings some 150 years ago.
Ayutthaya prosperity came from its location, upstream the Chao Praya River. Being away from the sea and from attacks from pirates, Ayutthaya appeared as the perfect peaceful place for trading, especially with China.
The rise of the old capital occurred with the beginning of the 15th century. According to Ayutthaya history specialist Chris Baker, some 10,000 elephants were living in Ayutthaya next to the population by 1550, a real sign of opulence and power. War and then trade made Ayutthaya opulence in such a way that in the 17th century saw the establishment of the first diplomatic relations with countries around the world, such as with France.
Ayutthaya lost its economic preponderance in the 18th century with new trading centres emerging but kept its cultural influence in Asia until 1767. That year, Burmese troops attacked the capital, ransacked it and then burnt it to the ground. It would take 100 years before Ayutthaya started recovering with its chedis, prangs (towers), temples and monasteries being restored. The city is since 1991 a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
An old 17th-century map of Ayutthaya drawn by French diplomats
1. Ayutthaya Information Centre, old city hall
Recently restored, the centre is now home to the tourist information centre but provides also excellent information through an exhibition over Ayutthaya history giving useful information about the history of the former capital, the architecture of the various temples and monasteries as well as the various sightseeing to be discovered. An art gallery exhibits also local artists. The National Art Museum of Ayutthaya is located in the same building.
Go there: The centre is located along Sisanpathet Road in the centre near the City Pillar Shrine and next to the Chao Sam Phraya Museum.
2. Chao Sam Phraya Museum and Wat Borrom Puttharam
One of the first temples to be discovered in the city centre is Wat Borrom Puttharam inside Rajabhat University which was built at the peak of Ayutthaya splendour between 1688 and 1703. Across is Chao Sam Phraya Museum showing Buddha images and sculptures as well as golden items and gemstones testifying of the wealth of Ayutthaya in the 17th century.
Go there: by private transportation to the city centre.
3. Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit
The white sanctuary building is a beautiful structure done in the 18th century and rebuilt in the 1950s. The place is famous for the oldest image of Buddha which survived the sacking of Ayutthaya in 1767. The image measures 12.45 meters in height and is constructed of brick and bronze.
Go there: in the vicinity of Ayutthaya Tourist and Information Centre.
4. Wat Phra Si Samphet
Wat Phra Si Samphet used to be a royal palace before being turned into a monastery. It was considered the holiest royal temple in town, the holiest temple on the site of the old Royal Palace in Thailand’s ancient capital and was built in the middle of the 14th century.
The temple was especially famous for its Royal Chapel built in 1499 and a giant 16-meter high statue of Buddha covered in gold. The entire complex was destroyed by Burmese with the three chedis – one of the most photographed by tourists in Ayutthaya- being only rebuilt in 1956. They are believed to keep the ashes of three Kings: Trailok, Borom Ratchathirat III, and King Rama Thibodi II.
Go there: Wat Phra Si Samphet is located just behind Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit
5. Wat Mahathat
Wat Mahathat was once the home of the Supreme Patriarch, the head of Buddhism in Ayutthaya. The temple was constructed around 1374. The massive complex used to be dominated by a central prang (tower), which collapsed a few times.
Today, visitors walk around the romantic ruins with images of sitting Buddhas placed along the walls surrounded the ruins of the temple complex. One of the much-photographed images of Ayutthaya is a Buddha head embedded into a tree trunk and surrounded by growing roots.
Go there: The temple is in the city centre next to the ancient moats inside Phraram Park.
6. Wat Ratchaburana
Opposite to Wat Mahathat, the temple dates from the early 15th century and is characterized by its high Prang (tower) built in a late Khmer style. It was conceived as a memorial to King Borom Ratchathirat II two elder brothers. Inside the main Prang, a crypt shows visitors colourful frescoes from the Ayutthaya period. Pictorial pictures can be taken of the Prang through the gates of the former monastery surrounding the temple.
Go there: in the city centre of Ayutthaya.
7. Wat Chaiwatthanaram
It is Ayutthaya best-preserved monastery with the main Prang and surrounding stupas giving a perfect harmony to the structure. The complex was built in 1630 and is largely inspired by old Khmer architecture. It is located to the southwest of the city on the outer bank of the Chao Phraya River – the perfect balanced architecture follows the old concept of the universe. The temple surrounding has been consolidated due to the area prone to flooding.
Go there: The temple is accessible by road or also by private boat from Chantharakasem National Palace and Museum.
8. Wat Yai Chaiyamongkhon
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, the “Monastery of the Auspicious Victory”, is located to the southeast of Ayutthaya near to the Rail station and is on the way back to Bangkok. is one of the first to be visited when arriving from Bangkok. The temple with its elegant 60 meters tall chedi is unusually large.
The stupa is surrounded by the walls of a monastery with Buddha images lining up and often covered with an orange robe, giving to the area a mystical atmosphere. Northeast of the temple are the ruins of a viharn with a large statue of the Reclining Buddha constructed during the reign of King Naresuan.
Go there: The monastery is easily accessible by taxi and public transport and is near to Ayutthaya train station.
9. Bang Pa-In Palace
Originally a monastery and then a traditional Siamese palace in 1632, the palace and monastery were destroyed during the ransacking by Burmese troops in 1767. Thanks to King Chulalongkorn, the palace experienced its most dramatic transformation as the King decided to turn the entire compound into a typical European summer residence inspired mostly by summer castles existing in England or France.
Gardens became the heart of the new palace with residences for the King and consorts set in green spaces decorated with classical statues. They are palaces evocating French, German, Greek, Italian and Portuguese architecture and even a Chinese pavilion. From the top of Ho Withun Thasana, a tower evocating a Portuguese lighthouse, visitors can embrace the entire park and its palaces.
10. Wat Niwet
Not to be missed across the canal delimitating the palace compound is Wat Niwet, Thailand’s most surprising temple. Work of Austrian-Italian architect Joachim Grassi, the temple was built like a gothic church with all the decoration with heraldic symbols, stained-glasses, and its wooden high-ceiling. A place which proves the fascination of Siamese Kings for European architecture some 130 years ago!
Go there: They are buses linking Bang Pa-In to both Ayutthaya city and Bangkok.
How to get to Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya is easily accessible by bus, train and even boat from Bangkok and is located an hour away from Don Mueang International Airport in Northern Bangkok. Busses run from the Northern Bus Station in Bangkok every 15 to 20 minutes on average.
Book ticket to Ayutthaya with Baolau
Baolau integrates domestic and international flights to Thailand to service online ticket booking to Ayutthaya in advance. Once the reservation is confirmed, customers will receive an electronic voucher that can be used to check-in and collect the physical ticket at the station of any departure point.