The Historic City of Ayutthaya was founded in 1350, it was the second capital of the Siamese Kingdom. It flourished from the 14th to the 18th centuries, during which time it grew to be one of the world’s largest and most cosmopolitan urban areas and a center of global diplomacy and commerce. The city was attacked and razed by the Burmese army in 1767 who burned the city to the ground and forced the inhabitants to abandon the city. The city was never rebuilt in the same location and remains known today as an extensive archaeological site. Today Ayutthaya is one of Thailand’s top-ranking heritage destinations. People tend to visit this city as a day tour from Bangkok, but it worth more than a day and I’ll tell you why.
People usually visit Ayutthaya as a day tour from Bangkok, but there are more to see for 2 or 3 days. Impressive outlying temples require some effort to reach, that’s why most of the people like to cycle around the city. But when the day heat hits it becomes extremely hot and you have to make a break from touring. The scenery after the sunset it’s also rewarding, so you don’t want to miss a view of the ruins lit up after dark. Therefore, you could never experience it on a day tour. It’s a place where tourists cycle around the city and go through the sites slowly.
A Bit of History
Ayutthaya was strategically located on an island surrounded by three rivers connecting the city to the sea. This site was chosen because it was located above the tidal bore of the Gulf of Siam as it existed at that time, thus preventing attack of the city by the sea-going warships of other nations. The location also helped to protect the city from seasonal flooding.
All buildings were elegantly decorated with the highest quality of crafts and mural paintings, which consisted of an eclectic mixture of traditional styles surviving from Sukhothai, inherited from Angkor and borrowed from the 17th and 18th century art styles of Japan, China, India, Persia and Europe, creating a rich and unique expression of a cosmopolitan culture.
Ayutthaya became a center of economics and trade at the regional and global levels, and an important connecting point between the East and the West. Downstream from the Ayutthaya Royal Palace there were enclaves of foreign traders and missionaries, each building in their own architectural style. Foreign influences were many in the city and can still be seen in the surviving art and in the architectural ruins.
What You Have to See
Part of Ayutthaya Historical Park is declared a UNESCO World Heritage, so only certain groups of historical sites are under protection. The sites that are not part of World Heritage sites are the sites beyond Ayutthaya island, but still impressive and worth to visit. You will spend a whole day touring if you don’t want to just go to snap a photo, but you’ll actually go around, climb on (this is allowed in some sites) and go inside of the temples. We give you the main temples guide inside and outside Auytthaya island.
Temples on Ayutthaya Island
The Wat Mahathat is located in the center of old Ayutthaya, between Chi Kun Road and Naresuan Road in the northeast corner of Phra Ram Park. There is Buddha head stuck in a tree which is the most photographed thing in this site.
The Wat Phra Si Sanphet was the temple of the royal family and no monks lived there. The temple was used exclusively for royal ceremonies. Unfortunately when Burmese conquered Ayutthaya they destroyed Wat Phra Si Sanphet in 1767. Buddha images were taken away and from the larger ones, the gold was melted. The three Chedis were restored in 1956.
The Wat Phra Ram compound houses a large prang and many chedis. This site has a lot of trees, it’s nice to walk around and climb on the main chedis to see the surroundings. It’s close to Wat Phra Si Sanphet and therefore largely many tourist skip it.
The Wat Ratchaburana has the finest tower (prang) in the city and you can go inside it and enter the crypt. You will be amazed in side by old mythical paintings on the walls and ceiling. The crypt is really tiny, just so if you are afraid of small spaces, but it’s refreshingly cold compared to the the heat outside.
Temples Outside the Island
The Wat Chaiwatthanaram is a great place to watch the sunset with a historical ruins view. The site is beautiful at the daytime, but you must see how great it looks lighted up in the dark! It doesn’t has as many colourful light as in Sukhothai, but it’s a rare view that will take your breath away.
While the temple is on the riverside it looks great at night from the other side of the river or on a boat cruise.
The Wat Yai Chai Mongkon was built to commemorate a victory over the Burmese. The temple is still functioning and has a museum about King Nareusan as well. There you can find a Reclining Buddha but it’s not as big as a Reclining Buddha in Bangkok. You can also climb up to the top for an excellent view across the flat landscape of Ayutthaya.
The Wat Phu Khao Thong is a 50 meters chedi or tower in other words. This is the farthest temple from Ayutthaya and it’s not the best way to cycle there as we did! It’s better to rent a scooter and drive there. Nethertheless you can climb halfway up the chedi and see the surrounding rice fields and the town of Ayutthaya.
If you’re interested to visit the first capital of Thailand – Sukhothai, we have a detailed post about it too!
All words by Eisve Treciakauskaite and all images by Justinas Lekavicius, unless otherwise noted.