Ayutthaya: The Remains of a Once Great City

My original plan for summer vacation was to spend 3 days in Bangkok, and then fly to Siem Reap for 5 days. When I hit my head and cancelled the flight, I changed my plans and went to Ayutthaya after an extra 4th day in the Thai capital. I had considered going to Ayutthaya as a day trip before I cancelled the Siem Reap flight, but ended up deciding to spend the third day in Bangkok, since I was planning on seeing temples in Angkor Wat anyway.

Ayutthaya is a former capital of Thailand, a Unesco World Heritage site once one of the world’s most important capital cities. The kingdom lasted from 1351 to 1767. It was open to foreign traders and it’s location between China and India proved ideal. It became one of the wealthiest and most beautiful cities in the East and even the World, as French traders compared it’s wealth and beauty to Paris. Unfortunately, in 1767, the entire city was burned down and sacked by the Burmese, so all buildings other than brick temples are now gone.

Since I gave myself extra time when I cancelled the flight, I planned on staying in Ayutthaya for one or two nights, but after the Bangkok bombing I stretched it a few more nights until I had to fly back to Korea. I stayed in a couple of different places during that time and did a tuk-tuk tour, walked around some ruins, and did a boat trip.

I would say that Ayutthaya can definitely be done either as a day trip or as an overnight trip. Not much more time is actually needed than that, though two nights wouldn’t be bad either.

Most tourists in Ayutthaya tend to rent bikes to see the city, but if done as a day trip, I think renting a motorbike or doing a tuk-tuk tour is better. The city is very spread out and several of the temples are located off the city’s main island, and these temples are actually more impressive than the ones on the island.

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Wat Yai Chai Mongkol, one of the most impressive in Ayutthaya.

For myself, I don’t know how to ride a motorbike and I already had stitches from a gashed head, so that was far out of the question. The tuk-tuk that took me to my accommodation offered to give me a tour, and he offered the price of 200 baht per hour. We finished the tour after two and a half hours. That price is pretty standard for a tuk-tuk tour. We actually didn’t cover all the temples, but we covered most of them, so it probably wouldn’t take more than three or so hours to see everything. The driver waited in the parking lot while I visited the attractions.

If doing an overnight in Ayutthaya or longer, I think renting bikes would be a good way to see the temples on the island, and either a boat tour or a tuk-tuk or motorbike tour could be done later in the day (if you start early) or the next day. Pretty much all accommodations offer boat tours, for about 200 baht per person. There are also boat tour services at the piers on the island but these cost 500. The boat tour I did with the last hotel I stayed in (called P.U. Resort) was good, it was in a small canoe-like boat. I saw some larger boats that had tables and meals but I imagine these are pricier and the fancier hotels offer them.

On the main island, the most famous temples are probably Wat Mahahthat, Wat Ratchaburana, and Wat Phra Si Sanphet.

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The famous Buddha head engulfed in a tree at Wat Mahathat.
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Wat Phra Si Sanphet, one of the most popular temples known for it’s 3 chedis.
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Wat Ratchaburana, known for it’s main prang.

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Although the ruins in Ayutthaya may not be as impressive as Cambodia, it was somewhat sobering in a sense to wander around a once-great city that had left behind nothing but some brick ruins and headless buddhas. Back before the sacking, I can only imagine how stunning and brimming with activity Ayutthaya was.

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The Burmese were so merciless to the poor Buddhas.

Another commonly visited temple on the main island is Wat Mongkhon Bophit, an active temple that had restoration done in the 1950’s, and a large Buddha image that was covered with gold leaf in 1990. It is right next to Wat Phra Si Sanphet.

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Out of the outer temples, one of the most commonly visited is Wat Yai Chai Mongol, a large complex with a reclining Buddha.

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View from the top.

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Another outlying temple is Wat Chai Wattanaram, an impressive and well preserved complex with a Cambodian style prang. I visited this one twice, first on the tuk-tuk tour and then again on the boat tour, in time for sunset.

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Another temple I visited on the boat tour was Wat Phutthai Sawan. one of the earliest built temples in Ayutthaya. It houses several Buddha images and a reclining Buddha.

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Those black things are bats. They were everywhere in the complex, keeping the Buddhas company. Their smell is strong.
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Another day, another reclining Buddha.

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I think Ayutthaya is definitely worth a visit at least as a day trip from Bangkok. As someone who really enjoys history and ancient ruins, I was really glad to see it. Just being in a former capital of the world, that was sacked and pillaged to nothing, was quite interesting to me. For these reasons I do hope to actually make it to the Angkor complex soon as well.

In the next post, I’ll go into more detail about the places I stayed in Aytthaya and the pros and cons of each.

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