A trip to Ayutthaya – an overlooked Gem of Thailand

This small city was one of my favourate places in Thailand. Would you imagine that it used to be a largest city in the world by 1700 and had 1 million inhabitants, as a second capital of Siam? you can still see some of the old glory of the city, but since 1767 Burmese invasion, it hardly recovered.

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Nowadays, it is far less popular and crowded than many of the spots around the country and often skipped by the tourists. Despite this, some of the temples are quite well-known and there are still tour groups visiting, especially during the afternoon. So yes, you will find a lot of people in Wat Sanphet and Wat Mahathat, but many of the other temples around had quite few people. So you can easily have a balance of crowded and peaceful sites and even have some of the temples all to yourself.

The best way to avoid the crowds is definitely staying overnight and going to the most popular temples first thing in the morning. Given that the city is normally a day trip destination, you really will easily beat the crowds. But it you, like us, don’t have much time, it’s still nice to go on a day trip from Bangkok.

 

What to Wear in Ayutthaya

As you will be visiting a lot of temples for the day, try not to wear shorts or tank tops. However, they aren’t strict about the dress code here and you can wear a dress or shorts above your knee, etc. I was wearing this dress, which is above knee and doesn’t fully cover my shoulders and I had no problems at all.

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No one ever said anything, as it wasn’t too revealing. I still had a scarf with, in case, but didn’t need it. Similarly, Murat was wearing shorts, which hardly covered his knees, which also wasn’t a problem.

As for the shoes, I suggest not to wear flip flops, as the area has a lot of sand and it may not be so great for you. Don’t forget to bring thick socks with to wear, whenever you will have to take your shoes off.

How to get to Ayutthaya

You have two major options to get there from Bangkok: by train or a mini-bus.

The train is a very cheap means of transportation (a ticket costs 15 baht). You can take the train either from the central Hua Lamphong station, or (if you are staying in the Northern part of the city, as we did) from Bang Sue junction. This second was much closer from our hotel, so we opted for this.

The trains are more or less ok. But I personally don’t understand the fascination of so many people by Thai trains. The thing is that they are often late or very late and hardly ever on time. They are generally very slow, stopping at every opportunity, which makes the trip veeeery hot. There is no air-conditioning on most trains. In most cases you get the fans, which help little. The seats are not allocated in the 3rd class, so you sit, wherever you find a seat or stand, if not finding a place.

On our way to Ayutthaya, the train was delayed by about 45 minutes. We waited at Bang Sue junction for half an hour. Then we waited at numerous stops for ages. Overall it was no fun.

On the way back it didn’t make too many stops, but then got stuck at a couple of them and we waited for 10-15 minutes for it to move.

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Find the train schedules and prices here http://www.railway.co.th/WebDestination/#/SearchDestination/EN  Note that the trains back run at strange times, there are no trains inbetween the one at 16.35 and 18.40.

Overall, trains can be ok option to travel, but not too comfortable for sure.

Another major option available for travelling to Ayutthaya is mini-buses. Until recently, they left from more central spot in Bangkok, but nowadays, you will need to get to Mo Chit bus station (keep in mind, this isn’t that close to Mo Chit BTS station, you need to take a taxi or another means of transportation from here to get to the bus station). The mini bus stop in Ayutthaya is quite central though.

How to get around Ayutthaya

If you travel by train, once you finally get off, walk to the river and hop on a ferry, I think we paid 2 or 4 baht, I don’t remember exactly. The ferry will take you across to the island, where major cluster of temples are located.

You could also hire a tuk tuk in front of the train station and agree on price and hours. We opted for walking to the central temples, which took us about 15 minutes after crossing the river. On your walk you will pass the minibus station, there aren’t many shops or cafes around, so I suggest you bring your own snacks for the day.

So, you can walk around the central parts of the small city. You also have an option of hiring a bike, which we noted cost about 5 baht (probably per hour or for the whole day? Not sure). As I have never learned to ride a bike we walked and then hired a tuk tuk.

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After visiting several central temples, we enquired among the tuk tuk drivers about the prices to take us to two non-central temples. There were a couple of others I would have wanted to see, but our supply of baht and our time were running out, so we opted for two. After some negotiation, one driver agreed to take us to both and then to the train station and spare 1.5 for us for 300 baht, which was still very expensive, but well.

What to see on your trip

Prices of the temples: most historical ruins cost 50 baht per person, unless they are the small stupas you will see all around. The currently working temple sites cost 20 baht, while a handful of them are free.

On the historical island

You will find small temples at every corner, they aren’t interesting for visitors. You can find some interesting ones as well, if you have time to aimlessly wander around the city.

Firstly, start your visit from Wat Ratchaburana.

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This one is very central, but it receives few tourists, which is surprising, as it’s one of the impressive temples around. It has a very interesting history. When king Intharacha (I always need to check the name, as I never remember it right 😊 ) died, his two elder sons fought for throne. Both died and their younger brother, who became a king, built this temple in memory of them. Some strange story, don’t you agree?

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The temple was looted some 60 years ago and only some of the artefacts were recovered. So currently, you won’t find them here, but apparently at the Chao Sam Phraya museum, which actually houses many of the artefacts from all around the city. Either way, do go up the steep stairway and have a look. The views are interesting anyway.

Exactly next to Wat Ratchaburana, you will find the most famous temple of the city, Wat Mahathat. You probably have seen photos of a Buddha face peeking out of a tree. That would be the Wat Mahathat. This one is full of tour groups, they come in bunches, are very loud and all of them gather around the said tree 😊 But well, the face is far less impressive in person, than you see on the photos.

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Besides, there are many other interesting things about this temple. First of all, this wat was used for royal ceremonies. Unfortunately, the main prang was destroyed during the Burmese invasion and was never restored.

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After visiting this temple, turn right and wonder around the small park, called Rama park.

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It is nicely done, you will come by several interesting temples, statues, have nice views over surrounding bigger wats and see the small lake with water lilies.

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Most importantly, you will hardly find anyone around here, as most people take a ride from temple to temple without actually walking around. And you can come by the temples like this, which was slightly bent to the side.

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Get out of the park at the north-west and visit Wat Thammikarat. We skipped this one, as we walked the other way and overall had little time, but it looks great and is generally highly suggested.

After this, take a short stroll to one of the most famous temples in the city – Wat Phra Si Sanphet.

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This used to be the most important temple of the Kingdom, as it was a part of the Royal palace complex, like Wat Phra Kaew is currently in Bangkok. There were no resident monks here and it was used only by the royal family.

There are several stupas clustered together in threes here, making for very picturesque views. These stupas contain ashes of the kings. Next to the temple, you will find the ruins of the palace. Unfortunately, not much of the palace is currently preserved, but near the entrance, you will find a photo reconstruction of the whole complex, which may give you some idea of how it used to look.

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All of these temples are the historical heritage and not currently functional. While the one you can head to next – the Wat Mongkol Bophit is currently working temple. Hence you will need to take your shoes off, when entering it. This wat is famous for its bronze Buddha.

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Wat Phra Ram is located very close to the royal palace complex and the Wat Mongkhol Bophit. This one is far less popular, than the others, so we met only a dozen people most on its grounds.

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The 14th century buildings are still quite well preserved and this is a great spot to relax and marvel at this constructions in peace.

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In front of this wat, you will find people riding elephants. I can’t believe that it’s still a sort of entertainment in our century ☹

Wat Lokaya Sutharam with a huge reclining Buddha is also at a walking distance from here and definitely worth checking out. I didn’t find it in many of the guides and lists of the most important temples, which seems to be a pity.

 

Slightly more remote temples

The sites on the historical island surrounded by rivers are under UNESCO protection. It’s strange that other temples don’t fall into this category, simply because they are across the river. They definitely are worth it.

After walking (or biking) around the historical island, head to the more remote temples across the rivers. Walking to these is possible, if you have a lot of time to spare, alternatively, you can hire a tuk tuk.

Start from the one farther from the train station and work your way towards your destination to take the train (or minibus) to Bangkok.

Wat Chai Watthanaram was high on my list, although we didn’t make it there. It is one of the grandest temples around. The king Prasat Thong built it, as a memorial to his mother, who’s ashes were located here. Next, work your way to Wat Phutthai Sawan, the central white prang of which looks very impressive.

Next on the way is Wat Phanan Choeng Worawihan. This is the second working temple on this list and it houses a 19-meter tall Buddha, which speaks for itself.

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Wander around the other halls to find several small Buddha images, as well as the galleries.

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If I was making my plan now though, I would consider skipping this one and going to the Wat Chai Wattanaram instead.

Last, but definitely not least on this list is Wat Yai Chaimongkhon.

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This temple is famous for the reclining Buddha image, which stands on the north side.

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Hundreds of Buddha images stand next to the walls draped in yellow.

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Do climb up on the prang and have a look at the views and at the excavated chamber, where relics of the Kingdom used to be. Nowadays, people throw coins in it, I guess for luck?

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Btw, this temple also has the face in the tree. Look out for it outside, near the car park 🙂

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Obviously, these are not all the temples Ayutthaya has to offer. There are far more of them, many small ones, which you find all around. There is not much to do in this small city except exploring the temples.

Overall, Ayutthaya is definitely great and worth a visit. Some people are disappointed, as this city doesn’t compare to Angkor or Bagan, but if you don’t try to make such comparisons and see its unique beauty, it will charm you.

Some other useful tips for your visit:

  • If you have enough time, I would highly recommend spending a night here and exploring more thoroughly, as I feel a day trip wasn’t enough and we would have enjoyed seeing and experiencing more.
  • It’s quite difficult to find a toilet around the town. We asked and found one next to the Wat Mongkol Bophit. Needless to say that it wasn’t too clean and didn’t smell too nice. Don’t forget your toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
  • You won’t find water nearby the temples, so either bring it with you or buy it on your way from the train station, there was one 7-11 we found on the way.
  • It goes without saying that you need a sunscreen and a mosquito repellent.

Visited 50 countries and counting, Lived in 3 cities and collected a lot of useful information to help fellow travel junkies out there.

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