Looking to get out of the city for a day and discover something new? Ayutthaya fits the bill! Located just 75 km north of Bangkok and easily accessible by minivan, train or your own car, it’s a great place to explore Thai history while escaping the hustle and bustle of Bangkok.
The ancient city of Ayutthaya was founded in 1351 and made the capital of the Kingdom of Siam by King U Thong. It quickly became a centre of trade, known for its many foreign residents and large number of grand monasteries. After the city was destroyed by the Burmese army in 1767, the ruins were left behind by the surviving inhabitants. Today, these ruins are rich historical and religious sites that are preserved in the Ayutthaya historical park; they have also been classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The ruins are a wonderful place for kids to learn about the history of Thailand and experience the things they have learned in school first hand. Many of the ruins are well preserved and if parents read up before going there or hire a local guide, history can really come to life in this beautiful city. Here are some of the top sights you should see when visiting Ayutthaya for the first time.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet
Also known as the King’s Temple, Wat Phra Si Sanphet is the historically most important place in Ayutthaya. Its three tall chedis house the ashes of King Rama Thibodi II, his father and his brother. In its day, the temple was the most important and most beautiful one in the city, located in the royal palace, similarly to Wat Phra Kaeo in Bangkok. As you leave the temple, you perceive the ruins of some foundations. These are the remains of the former royal palace, a splendid building in its time, but completely ransacked by the Burmese during their attack in 1767.
This impressive temple was built by King Boromracha II in memory of his two brothers who died fighting over the succession to the throne. Two of the remaining large chedis house their ashes while the third one was dedicated to Queen Si Suriyothai. It is said that around 1550 she disguised herself as a man and rode into battle against the Burmese alongside her husband. While trying to protect him, she lost her life.
The temple is still in good shape, with beautiful murals and wall paintings telling stories of the royal family and Buddhist mythology. Here, kids will enjoy discovering these stories and learning about history in a fun and active way.
This ancient temple is one of the most well-known sights in Ayutthaya and perhaps all of Thailand. It is right across the street from Wat Ratchaburana and is said to have been built around 1384 by King Ramesuen. The main prang has gone through a lot as it collapsed and was rebuilt several times. When archaeologists inspected its ruins in 1956, they found a hidden treasure inside, containing gold, jewels, fine tableware and most importantly, a relic of the Lord Buddha.
The highlight of Wat Mahathat is the head of a Buddha statue entwined in the roots of a tree, an image known around the world. The way the statue’s head is cradled in the tree’s roots is beautiful and has been mystifying visitors for decades. You are welcome to take pictures, but please remember to be respectful and not to touch the Buddha image. Photos should also be taken kneeling as a sign of respect.
Wat Yai Chai Mongkol
Located in the southeastern part of Ayutthaya is Wat Yai Chai Mongkol, a true emblem of the city as the temple’s chedi stands tall enough to be visible from far away. Built around 1357, it frequently played an important role in Ayutthaya’s history and is still an active temple today. It was built by King U Thong and was meant to house Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka, known for the strictness in their religious practices. This temple is particularly interesting because even its most ancient parts are still well preserved, showcasing the craftsmanship of the Siamese kingdom.
Getting to Ayutthaya
From Bangkok, there are several possibilities when traveling in your own car. You can take Highway 1 (Phahonyothin Road), then Highway 32 towards Ayutthaya. Or you can get on Highway 306 towards Nonthaburi and Pathum Thani, and then get on Highway 347. Once you arrive in Ayutthaya you will see signs indicating the directions for the temples and historical sites.
The most scenic way to get to Ayutthaya is to go by train. Travel through the beautiful landscape and take in the scenery as you leave the city and move through the countryside. Trains leave approximately every 30 minutes from Hua Lamphong and take around 1.5 to 2 hours. They cost around THB 120 per person. You can also take a minivan at Victory Monument. They also leave every 30 minutes and take you right to Ayutthaya’s city centre. The trip takes around 90 minutes and costs approximately THB 120 per person.
Once you’re in Ayutthaya, it’s best to hire a tuk tuk for the day. This should cost around THB 250-300 and will help you get around without wearing out your feet. The younger explorers will especially appreciate taking breaks from all the walking and enjoy the refreshing wind on the fun rides from one temple to the next.