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Explore Thailand’s ancient roots with this 36-hour Ayutthaya itinerary.
Ayutthaya was hot. Brutally hot. The sort of heat that rapidly sapped your energy, reducing you to a damp, slowly moving shadow of your usual self.
Even the locals were wilting. Jeeda, my charming guesthouse host, told me that it was ten degrees hotter than the same time last year. Moreover, Ayutthaya’s notoriously territorial dogs were too hot to raise a sleepy eyelid, let alone a cautionary growl.
Most people visit Thailand’s ancient capital as a hurried day trip from Bangkok. With the mercury hitting the mid-30’s, for this reason alone I was glad that I had decided to stay in Ayutthaya for two nights and see what the city had to offer at a more relaxed pace.
It was the right decision.
Ayutthaya is a friendly, laid-back city and It’s very easy to put together a DIY tour. And doing it your own way gives you the opportunity to soak up the atmosphere of the city when the day-trippers have got back on their coaches. You can also see the temples illuminated at night, fit in a massage and visit Ayutthaya’s great night market.
Here’s how to make the most of two nights in Ayutthaya.
How to get to Ayutthaya from Bangkok
Although you can catch a bus to Ayutthaya, the easiest way is to travel by train from Hua Lamphong station, on the northern edge of Bangkok’s Chinatown area and accessible from the city’s metro system. Trains are frequent and cheap.
Although ticket prices vary according to the type of train, my one-way third-class ticket cost a mere 15 THB (2019 price).
There is no need to book a ticket in advance; just turn up at the station and buy a ticket for the next train at the counter. But if you would like to check times in advance, here is the train timetable.
What to expect on a train journey from Bangkok to Ayutthaya
Although Ayutthaya is only 80km or so from Bangkok, the train journey takes 1 hr and 40 minutes.
For the first 40 minutes, the train chugs its way through Bangkok’s seemingly endless suburbs, negotiating countless level crossings. Then, passing Don Mueang Airport, the train picks up speed and the capital’s concrete suburbs and freeways give way to lush vegetation and paddy fields.
Air-conditioning in the carriage is of the natural type: blasts of hot air gusting through open windows. Ineffectual ceiling fans struggle to move the warm air around further.
Seats are of the hard, good-for-your-posture variety. At frequent intervals, food and drink vendors wander through the carriage offering water, cola, fruit juice and clear plastic bags filled with juicy pineapple chunks.
How to get from the train station to Ayutthaya city centre
Ayutthaya is built on an island and the train station sits just across the river from this island. Your best bet is to get a tuk-tuk from the station. Expect to pay around 100 THB for a ride into the city centre and to have tuk-tuk drivers queuing up for your custom. Expect to haggle.
The alternative is to catch the ferry that takes you across the river for a few baht and then walk. However, in the heat of the day, I do not recommend this.
A map of Ayutthaya
To help you on your way, here’s a map of Ayutthaya with the train station, my guesthouse (Prom Tong Mansion) and the night market marked:
Tips for visiting Ayutthaya’s temples
If you are planning to visit the city’s main six temples, buy a pass to gain admission to all of these temples for 220 THB. Individually, the admission fee for each of these temples is 60 THB. The temples included in this pass are as follows:
- Wat Phra Mahathat
- Wat Ratburana
- Wat Phra Ram
- Wat Phra Si Sanphet
- Wat Chai Watthanaram
- Wat Mayehong
- Four of these temples – Wat Phra Mahathat, Wat Ratburana, Wat Phra Ram and Wat Phra Si Sanphet – are located on the island. Wat Chai Watthanaram and Wat Mayehong are off the island.
- As the temples on the island are close together it is easy to walk between them.
- The temples off the island are best visited by tuk-tuk, boat or bike. Don’t underestimate the distances between temples.
- Pick up a free tourist map at your hotel or guesthouse.
- As these are current or former temples, dress respectfully. For women, this means no short shorts or skirts and covering your shoulders.
- Depending on the source, there will be variations in the spelling of these temples, but you should be able to figure it out.
A brief history of Ayutthaya
Founded in 1350 by Ramathibodi, Ayutthaya was the second capital of the Siamese kingdom after Sukhothai. It flourished for over 400 years until it was attacked by the Burmese, who razed it to the ground. The city fell in 1767.
Most of the palaces at Ayutthaya were built with wood and did not survive the fires that devastated the city. But these fires spared its brick and stone temples, with their Sri Lankan and Khmer architectural styles.
Ayutthaya was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.
Ayutthaya itinerary: Day 1 (afternoon)
If you aim to arrive in Ayutthaya by lunchtime, you will have the rest of the day to explore its temples. My guesthouse was within easy walking distance of Ayutthaya’s Historical Park. As this is where Ayutthaya’s main sights are, it makes sense to start here.
Wat Phra Mahathat
Wat Phra Mahathat is the superstar of Ayutthaya’s temples, its overgrown, faded splendour the epitome of the ancient capital’s former grandeur. Built to house the remains of the Buddha, Wat Phra Mahathat is achingly beautiful in a romantic, crumbling way.
There are dozens of red brick spires, leaning at precarious angles, vegetation sprouting through the brickwork. Scattered throughout the complex are countless headless Buddhas, seemingly discarded.
Don’t miss the serene Buddha head cradled in the loving embrace of the roots of a Bodhi tree, reminiscent of Ta Promh in Cambodia.
On the opposite side of the road to Wat Phra Mahathat is the towering monastery of Wat Ratburana, built in 1424 by King Boromraja II on the ground where his two elder brothers, Ai and Yi, were killed in elephant-back combat. This left the way open for Boromraja to succeed to the throne.
By way of contrast to the red brick of Wat Phra Mahathat, Wat Ratburana’s white towers soar upwards, their restored stuccowork providing a glimpse of the temple’s former splendour.
Ayutthaya itinerary: Day 2
Day two of your Ayutthaya itinerary starts with temple-hopping by picking up where you left off the previous evening, continuing your visit to Ayutthaya’s Historical Park. I recommend making an early start to see the sights before the heat of the afternoon, and to get a head-start on the day-trippers from Bangkok.
Wat Phra Ram
Built in the late 14th Century on the site of Ramathibodi’s cremation, Wat Phra Ram is slightly underwhelming. However, there are occasional glimpses of its past grandeur through the remaining stuccowork on the prang (temple spire).
Vihran Phra Mongkol Bopit
Cross over the road from Wat Phra Ram to visit Vihran Phra Mongkol Bopit.
This modern complex was built in 1956 to house one of Thailand’s largest Buddhas with assistance from the Burmese to atone for flattening Ayutthaya two hundred years earlier. Standing a proud 12.45 m high, this bronze Buddha with its flashing mother-of-pearl eyes is encircled by smaller Buddhas lightly cased in gold-leaf, which flutters and sparkles in the breeze.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet
Adjacent to Vihran Phra Mongkol Bopit is Wat Phra Si Sanphet, which was built in 1448 as a private chapel. The site is well-preserved and the three grey chedis, constructed to house the ashes of kings, is an iconic image of Ayutthaya.
From Wat Phra Si Sanphet, take a tuk-tuk to visit the next two temples. With a bit of haggling, this cost me 300 THB with waiting time and a return trip back to my guesthouse.
Wat Na Phra Mane
Used by the Burmese as their main base during their siege of Ayutthaya, Wat Na Phra Mane is the only temple that survived the devastation of 1767. However, because of frequent refurbishment, it looks disappointingly new.
Wat Tha Ka Rong
Now for something completely different: Buddha goes to Las Vegas! This temple is blingtastic and a complete contrast to the graceful Ayutthaya temples of the previous day. I half expected to see slot machines around the next corner.
Wat Tha Ka Rong’s sprawling complex features motion-activated skeletons and mannequins greeting you with a wai and asking for a donation ….
… and a room featuring statues of famous monks, each with a smaller bronze effigy below …
It was now lunchtime and very hot! I took advantage of access to the swimming pool at the sister guesthouse and treated myself to a Thai massage. Suitably chilled, I was now ready to continue temple hopping.
Ayutthaya long-tail boat trip
Arranged through my guesthouse, a late-afternoon boat trip is a perfect way to visit Ayutthaya’s riverside temples in a relaxed way. You also get to see more of the city and benefit from a cooling breeze. Just avoid sitting towards the rear of the boat unless you have ear defenders!
This two-hour boat trip cost 220 THB which included tuk-tuk transfer from my guesthouse but excluded temple admission fees and return transfer.
Wat Panan Choeng
Built in 1324, Wat Phra Nun Choeng predates the founding of Ayutthaya and is famed for its 18-meter-high golden Buddha, Thailand’s largest ancient image. Legend has it that tears flowed from its eyes when Ayutthaya was ravaged by the Burmese.
Don’t leave Wat Phra Nun Choeng before checking out the beautiful murals adorning the walls of the two smaller chambers in front of the main one housing the Buddha image.
Wat Phuttal Sawan
Built in 1353, this monastery was built alongside the royal residence and was one of the first temples built.
Wat Chai Watthanaram
Wat Chai Watthanaram was built in 1640 by King Pra-Sat Thong as a memorial to his mother. Considered one of Thailand’s most significant monuments, is magnificently restored and a must-see on any Ayutthaya itinerary.
A 35-meter central prang is flanked by four smaller prangs, which are in turn surrounded by eight merus, structures used as crematoria. Look out for remnants of the paintings that decorated the interior walls of the merus. Fragments of the Buddha statues that graced these merus can also still be seen.
Watching the sun set behind Wat Chai Watthanaram felt like a fitting end to my Ayutthaya itinerary.
Where to stay in Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya is not exactly a flashpacker desination. You won’t find much in the way of top-end hotels or fine dining. But that doesn’t matter. I stayed in one of my favourite places in many years of travelling and dined out well at the night market.
I stayed at the Prom Tong Mansion which was exceptional. It has an excellent location – around ten minutes’ walk from the main night market – and Jeeda, who runs the guesthouse on behalf of her family, could not do enough for me. When I was leaving, she sent me on my way with a small souvenir and some Oreos for the journey.
Where to eat in Ayutthaya
I ate at the main night market which was cheap and very tasty. Malakor was recommended to me but I didn’t get an opportunity to try it.
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