Historic City of Ayutthaya - All You Need to Know

Historic City of Ayutthaya - All You Need to Know

The historic city of Ayutthaya, with its ruins of ancient temples and palaces, is an essential travel experience for all travelers; not just those who are history inclined. By all reports, Ayutthaya was a magnificent city. Flourishing from the 14th to 18th centuries, Ayutthaya grew to be one of the world’s largest and most cosmopolitan cities and was a center of global diplomacy and commerce.  

 

buddha statue wat mahathat ayutthaya thailand
Buddha statue at Wat Mahathat.
 

After its fall to the Burmese in 1767, Ayutthaya was razed to the ground leaving only ruins behind. Now a UNESCO Heritage Site and one of Thailand’s most prominent historic sites, Ayutthaya is renowned for its temple ruins - showing inspiration from a number of cultural influences. But these rosy brick ruins are far more than past history. Buddha statues are still draped in saffron robes, monks roam the grounds, and practitioners make offerings at temple alters. When you're ready to escape the tourist grind and noise of Bangkok, head north to Ayutthaya for a dive into Thai history.

 

History

 

Ayutthaya was founded in 1350 by King Ramathibodi I as the capitol of the second Thai empire; the Ayutthaya Kingdom (also known in Europe as Siam). Officially known as Phra Nakhon Sri Ayutthaya (Great Sacred City of Ayutthaya), the founders borrowed the name of an ancient Indian city that was home to King Rama in the Ramayana epic. A strategically built city, Ayutthaya was located on an island surrounded by three rivers. It’s location on the island made it more easily defensible, but the river also connected it to the sea; making it a port city and laying the grounds to it becoming and economic powerhouse in the region. 

 

tourists wat ratchaburana ayutthaya thailand
Tourists at Wat Ratchaburana.
 

Early in its history the Ayutthaya Kingdom began to consolidate and expand its power of influence in the region. They defeated the Sukhothai Kingdom, the first Thai empire, in 1378 and later incorporated them in 1448. They also defeated Angkor in 1431 causing the collapse of the Khmer Empire and allowing them to fill the power void left behind by the once powerful empire. In defeating both of these kingdoms, Ayutthaya brought back with them many tradesmen from their courts that would go to work on its own city. Their influences can be seen in many of the temples and ruins still found in the Heritage Site.

 

Burma conquered Ayutthaya in 1564 causing them to fall under Burmese control for 20 years until they proclaimed their independence in 1584. The attack by Burma created a rivalry between the two that would last throughout the rest of Ayutthaya’s history.

 

ruins wat mahathat ayutthaya thailand
Ruins of Wat Mahathat.

The 17th century brought the height of the Ayutthaya Kingdom. The city was ideally situated at the head of the Gulf of Siam and after filling the power void left by the Khmer Empire, Ayutthaya became the center of trade in the region. So powerful and well-known was the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, that during this time they were also exchanging ambassadors with the like of the French in Versailles, the Mughal in India, and the Imperial Courts of Japan and China.

 

As the center of economics in the region, foreign traders and missionaries began to pour into the city. Unable to settle within the wall of the city, these foreigners began to build their own enclaves across the river; each bringing with them their own styles and cultures. By the late 17th century, it is estimated that Ayutthaya was home to perhaps a million people; making it one of the largest cities in the world at that time. Ayutthaya was also considered one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world and was well known for its freedom of religion and ability to assimilate the many foreign influences.

 

stupa temple wat worachet tharam ayutthaya thailand
Wat Worachet Tharam

The rivalry with Burma finally came to a head in 1767 when the Burmese army attacked and razed Ayutthaya; effectively ending the Ayutthaya Kingdom. During the attack the city was burned to the ground and its inhabitants were forced to abandon the city. In 1991, the remains of this historic city were inscripted as an UNESCO Heritage Site and is one of Thailand’s most highly ranked heritage destinations.

 

Experience

 

I have visited a lot of ruins in my travels throughout the world and very few places will inspire your inner archaeologist as much as Ayutthaya. The historic city of Ayutthaya is reported to have been a grand and impressive city at its height and when you are surrounded by these ruins, it’s not difficult to imagine the grandeur that was once the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Historians have also worked to recreate what the might have once looked like and at the major temples you can view small replicas of their designs.

 

model wat ratchaburana ayutthaya thailand
Model of what Wat Ratchaburana looked like before being razed.

I traveled to Ayutthaya by train in the early morning and spent the entire day within the walls of the old city; not leaving until I had to rush to catch the last train back to Bangkok. The area of the UNESCO Heritage Site is relatively small and the distance to get there from the train station is really not that far, so decided to walk it all. In my opinion, the walk was not that bad as it is all flat territory. And going by foot also allowed me to explore as I wanted to, soak in the history, and take my time to get the pictures I wanted. The last was no small feat, especially with some of the more prominent tourist destinations like Wat Mahathat and Wat Ratchaburana.

 

These are usually the first temples visited by tourist since they are the closest to the train and bus stations. These, along with Wat Phra Si Sanphet, are also the most well-known and picturesque of the ruins meaning most tourists usually only hit these top 3. But, like everyone else, I fell into the trap of proximity and started my personal tour at Wat Mahathat as well. The temple site had quite a lot of tourists, but not so many as to not be able to enjoy a stroll around the grounds and get some pics. Most tourist go just for a picture of the iconic Buddha head entangled in the serpentine roots of a banyan tree. It is by far the most recognizable image of Ayutthaya and possibly of all of Thailand.

 

buddha head banyan roots wat mahathat ayutthaya thailand
The iconic Buddha head entangled in banyan roots at Wat Mahathat.
 

From there I went across to Wat Ratchaburana - again proximity. Again there were quite a few tourists but most of them were grouped up on tours or queued in line to see the paintings inside the tomb. The size of the main spire is amazing, as well as the intricacy of the paintings on the inside and all of the carvings throughout the compound. Both of these temple compounds are fairly large and you can easily spend some time there. Plus, if you are trying to get pictures at or of the most iconic spots you will probably have to wait in line.

 

stupa main temple wat ratchaburana ayutthaya thailand
The sutpa seen through the main temple of Wat Ratchaburana.

From Wat Ratchaburana I looped back to Bueng Phra Ram Park and rambled around the islands and the temple ruins that inhabited them. Although the ruins here aren’t as magnificent as the most of the others, it was still a great place to take a nice tranquil walk while enjoying some history. This was also the first time I wasn’t around a throng of other tourists, which was great.

 

I then crossed over to Wat Thammikarat, which had originally not even been on my radar. Although not a popular temple for tourists it might have been one of the most interesting for a very peculiar reason. One of the temples has a statue of Prince Naresuan and hundreds of small to large statues of rosters. As the story goes, the prince, while in captivity in Burma, beat the Burmese prince in a cock fight with the prize being Ayutthaya. Since the Prince Naresuan won the fight, Ayutthaya gained its freedom and Thai’s bring offerings of rooster statues in honor of the victory.

 

roster statues wat thammikarat ayutthaya thailand
So many rooster statues at Wat Thammikarat.

Exiting the back of the temple compound, I passed through the wall and across the field to the Royal Palace and Throne Rooms. There is not much left of any of them after the Burmese razed the city. Most of the palace and throne rooms were made of wood, so when the city was set ablaze they, of course, were completely destroyed. All that is left of them today is the wall foundations. Even so, it was great to walk the floors of these once majestic buildings and imagine what they must have looked like. The palace and its throne rooms make up a huge swath of area in the northern section of the ancient city and it is also a great place to see the city walls that once defended the city. This area is also not a huge tourist attraction. I saw only one other person the entire time I was there, so it is a great place to enjoy the ruins without being around a lot of tourists.

 

ruins royal palace throne rooms ayutthaya thailand
Ruins of the Royal Palace and Throne Rooms.

The royal temple of Wat Phra Si Sanphet is located just south of the Royal Palace. This is another one of the tourist top 3, but, because I had taken my time in the outlying areas, by the time I arrived there were not many people still there. The temple is amazing to say the least. The complex itself is huge with a number of spires and statues. The main temple building, once the original royal palace, has massive columns and the building must have been a sight to see when it was still standing. The main draw to the temple though are the three large spires in the middle; entombing the ashes of the first three kings of the Ayutthaya Kingdom.

 

stupas wat lokaya sutharam ayutthaya thailand
The stupas house the ashes of the first three kings of the Ayutthaya Kingdom.

I then crossed the road to see Wat Lokaya Sutharam. The temple itself is all but ruins, only the foundation and partial stupa remain, but it is still worth a visit to see the giant reclining Buddha statue. This 42-meter-long and 8-meter-high statue is well worth the trip to this area of the city. The Buddha image at Wat Lokaya Sutha is now uncovered and exposed to the elements, but if you Wat Pho in Bangkok then it is easy to imagine what it once looked like.

 

reclining buddha wat lokaya sutharam ayutthaya thailand
The 42 meter long reclining Buddha of Wat Lokaya Sutharam is amazing even after the temple was destroyed.

As dusk began to fall I began to make my way back into town, but not before stopping at Wat Phra Ram on the way. At this point all of the tourists had left and was free to wonder the temple ruins on my own. The giant stupa of the temple denotes the compound and the number of broken statues signifies the sheer destruction that was rained down upon the city.

 

stupa wat phra ram ayutthaya thailand
The stupa of Wat Phra Ram

Cost

50 THB/1.48 USD: Wat Mahathat, Wat Ratchaburana, Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Wat Phra Ram

Free: All other temples, palaces, and grounds.

 

How to Get Around

 

map ayutthaya thailand
Map of the historic city of Ayutthaya.

The historic city of Ayutthaya is fairly small, but there are a few ways to get to and around the UNESCO Heritage Site.

 

Walking

 

The historic area is slight larger than 1 square mile, so walking is the best way to visit the sights in my opinion. Walking will allow you to enjoy the ruins and transition from site to site without needing to worry about returning to or watching out for a bike or tuk tuk. Even the walk to the Heritage Site is only 1.4km if you take the river ferry located directly west of the train station (even shorter from the bus terminal).

 

Bicycle

 

Simple bicycles can be rented at most guesthouses and travel offices for 50 THB/1.48 USD per day. There is also a shop near the train station that rents Trek mountain bikes for 100 THB/2.97 USD per day if you are wanting something a bit nicer.

 

 

Tuk Tuk

 

There are many tuk tuks that will take you around the sites in the UNESCO Heritage Site of Ayutthaya. You will need negotiate a price based on the number of sites you want to see. Although this can be a quick way to get around from site to site, it is by far the most expensive and you will miss the exploration of the grounds that happens between the sites.

 

How to Get There

 

pin map ayutthaya thailand

Ayutthaya can easily be done as a day-trip from Bangkok and is one of the most popular day-trips in Thailand. Due to it being only 70km north of Bangkok there are a number of ways to get there.

 

Train

 

The train is by far the easiest and fastest way to get to Ayutthaya from Bangkok. There are 32 trains per day that run from Ayutthaya to Bangkok and back. They run throughout the entirety of the day allowing you to depart to Ayutthaya as early as 4:20am and return to Bangkok as late as 9:42pm. Depending on the train service the trip can take anywhere from 1 hour 17 minutes to 2 hours 17 minutes. If you are able to make the Special Express, you will have the fastest trip. Cost also fluctuates depending on the service and the seat type. Since it is such a short trip and during the cooler parts of the day you would not have a problem with the cheaper 3rd class seats (15 THB/0.45 USD to 45 THB/1.34 USD).

 

Bus

 

There are no longer the regular big buses running between Ayutthaya and Bangkok; instead it is a minivan. These vans leave the Bangkok’s Morchit terminal in Bangkok every 30 min from 6am to 5pm, take 1.5 hours, and cost 60 THB/1.78 USD. The return is from the mini-bus terminal on Naresuan Soi 1 with the same departure times.

 

Boat

 

A more scenic and experiential option is to travel by boat. There are no public boats that make the trip to and from Ayutthaya, but you can book a river cruise through a few travel agencies. Many of these options include a ride on a converted rice barge allowing you to view the many temples and villages along the way.

 

Have you visited Ayutthaya? What were your thoughts?

 

Historic City of Ayutthaya - All You Need to Know


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16 comments:

  1. I'd love to visit the Ruins of Wat Mahathat. What a historic trip!

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    Replies
    1. It is definitely worth the trip. It was one of my favorite things that I did in Thailand.

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  2. My fiancé and I watched a travel/food show about Thailand last night and we both said we wanted to go. I wish this part was included because it make me want to go to Thailand more to see Ayutthaya.

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    Replies
    1. Thailand has so much to offer. There are a lot of tourist attractions that most people hit, but there are also a lot of off-the-beaten-track locations as well. And food wise - Bangkok has arguably the best street food in the world; I can't speak enough about how good the street food scene is.

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  3. This is looks like a really interesting place to visit. Although I am not a history buff, I agree with you that it doesn't look like you need to be to visit here.

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    Replies
    1. It is super interesting. You definitely do not need to be a history buff to enjoy and appreciate the sites here. It is such an amazing place.

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  4. Thank you for bringing us all this beautiful place! Would love to visit soon!

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    Replies
    1. Your welcome. You should visit some day. It is an amazing place to see.

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  5. Wow, this is very interested. I didn't know about the Ayutthaya Kingdom before I read this post it is very detailed and I learned a lot!

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  6. The buddha face that has been entangled in a tree looks scary!

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    Replies
    1. Yes, it is a stark reminder of time and destruction.

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  7. This is so informative. Thank you for this. It looks like such an interesting place to see in person. I know I'd love to check out the Ruins of Wat Mahathat.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you. It was one of my favorite places in Thailand.

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  8. This city screams "historic" I would love to visit just to get a glimpse of everything and oh I wouldn't hesitate to touch the face on the tree.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, it is very historic and amazing to wander around the ruins. You would not be able to touch the Buddha head in the tree though. It is roped off so that you can not get close and it is guarded by police.

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