Probably one of the better day trips from Bangkok is to the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya. I have, of course, been there many times though I have never been back since I started writing the Thai Travel Blogs. So, last weekend I decided to head back there to explore the city a bit better and also to take some new pictures. I went there on Sunday so the traffic was lighter than normal. Even though Samut Prakan is the opposite side of Bangkok to Ayutthaya, I was pleasantly surprised that it only took just over one hour to drive there. The route is very simple and you won’t get lost. You will see signs for Bang Pa In first. Follow these until you see a sign for Ayuttaya. All signs on the main road are bilingual so you will have no problem. From Bangkok take Highway 1 to start with and then turn off onto Highway 32. The route was only 87 kms for me. Quicker if you start in Bangkok. Alternative ways to come here are by bus or train. The bus takes two hours and the train 90 minutes.
If you arrive by train, you should find some places near the station where you can rent a bicycle for the day. You could also rent a tuk tuk or even go on a boat trip. The main road that runs through the town is Rochana Road. Here you will find the large Ayutthaya Historical Study Center. I strongly recommend that you start your tour here. The national museum is on the other side of the road but you will find this one more of interest. The entrance fee is 100 baht and you will get a really good introduction to the history and life of Ayutthaya up to the point it was burned to the ground by the Burmese in 1767. Today, not much is left, but scale models in this museum give you a clear idea of how grand some of these temples and palaces used to be. In fact, if you have ever been to the Ancient City in Samut Prakan, you would have seen a large replica of one of the palaces. After the museum, continue westwards and go straight across to the other side of the intersection. Here you will find the really useful Tourist Information Center. They have free maps of the city with information on what to see.
Wat Phra Sri Sanphet
Heading north from here you will reach the old city center. Here you will find the remains of Wat Phra Si Sanphet and the Grand Palace. This used to be just as colourful and impressive as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is today. In fact, the layout of the present Grand Palace is a copy of Ayutthaya. There is also an artificial island in both cities. The three chedis (see picture above) are probably one of the most photographed locations in Ayutthaya. This is the place where most tourists will go. Most of this area is in ruins but the bell shaped chedis have been renovated. Just to the north of here you can walk out to an open area where the ancient grand palace used to be. However, there isn’t much to see as everything was burned down to the foundations. In later years, many of the bricks were taken away to help build the present day Bangkok.
Next door to this temple is Wihan Phra Mongkon Bophit. This houses one of the largest bronze Buddha images in Thailand. If you think this one is big, wait until you see the other one later in this tour. Inside the wihan, you will see some old photos dating back to the 1920’s. You will see that back then, the wihan was in ruins and the large Buddha was exposed to the elements. Personally I think it looked far more impressive like that. It is a shame that during the 1950’s they decided to enclose it. Around the temple there is a large market where you can buy souvenirs. I came here once with the students from my school. Popular souvenirs for them were the wooden swords, catapults and some annoying toys that made whining noises when you swung them round and round. There are also places where you can stop to have a bite to eat. Just a little south, there is an elephant camp. You can do an elephant ride around the area for about 30 minutes.
I next headed north to Wat Na Phra Men. This is just outside the city moat. This is one of my favourite temples because it was one of the few that wasn’t burned to the ground by the Burmese. According to the legend, during a previous attack on the city, the Burmese fired a large gun from this location which misfired and killed their king. Being superstitious, they steered clear of this area when they returned in 1767. The Buddha image, which is 6 metres high, is particularly beautiful as it has a crown. I have a copy of this image at home which I bought on a previous visit. Next to the main building you will find a small wihan which contains an unusual Buddha image which is in the European sitting style. This image is believed to be 1300 years old.
Next I headed back to visit two temples which are side by side. These are Wat Mahathat and Wat Ratchaburana. The former dates back to the 14th Century. There isn’t much left but some of the prangs are quite impressive. However, it is the famous (or maybe too famous) Buddha image enclosed by the roots of a fig tree, which most people come to see. This is probably one of the most photographed sites in the city. Next door, Wat Ratchaburana isn’t visited as much, but most of the buildings are more intact and worth a closer look. These are probably the main ruins worth visiting. If you are coming for just the day then this is probably enough. However, as I had my car I did a few more visits to places outside the main city. To the north I visited Chedi Phu Khao Thong and the monument for King Naresuan. And in the southwest I visited the ruins at Wat Chaiwatthanaram. There weren’t that many people here as it is not so easy to reach. However, the ruins are more intact and you will get a better idea of what it used to look like (see top picture).
Wat Yai Chaimongkhon
I always save my favourite two temples for last. Again, these are a bit outside of the town. From the roundabout with the chedi in the middle, head south on Highway 3059 a short way. Your first stop should be Wat Yai Chaimongkhon. This has a large chedi built on an octagonal base. It was built by King Naresuan to celebrate his victory over the Burmese. In the cloisters around this monument are dozens of Buddha images. If you look closely at the necks, you will see a white line. This shows that once the Buddha image was headless. This is quite common in many of the temples here. The heads were cut off by souvenir hunters a hundred years or more ago. It was too difficult for them to take the whole Buddha so they cut off the head. Many of these are now found in private collections around the world. I should also point out that even though many of these Buddha images are in ruins, they are still sacred and you should show them the utmost respect. Also in the temple grounds is a pleasant reclining Buddha.
Further south down this road you will come to Wat Phananchoeng. This houses the impressive 19 metre high sitting Buddha called by the locals “Luang pho To”. The image is highly revered. It is believed that this temple dates back to the 14th Century. You can buy large orange cloths here which are then stitched together and then hoistered over the shoulder of the large Buddha image. In the grounds of the temple you will see a pier on the Chao Phraya River. You can apparently catch a boat from here back to the city. When I was there at the weekend, there had scaffolding up around the Buddha image. So, I couldn’t get a good picture. Maybe you will have better luck on your visit. But, make sure you bring along a wide angle lens as it is difficult to get it all in the picture.
That was basically my tour of the city. I stayed most of the day there. If you have time, it is worth staying the night in one of the many guesthouses to the northeast of the city. That way you can take your time. Also, many of the ruins are lit up at night. For this trip I explored most of the main attractions. There are more to see and I will save these for another visit. From Bangkok, you can join one day tours which takes you to Ayutthaya by boat and then back by bus. There are actually various tours which also include stops at Bang Sai and Bang Pa In. I have done all three of these locations in one day with visitors but it didn’t leave us much time for Ayutthaya. Better to choose either Bang Sai or Bang Pa In. Overall, I had a good day, though as the weather is hot at this time of year it was a bit exhausting. Make sure you drink plenty of water, wear a hat and put on sun cream lotion.