Ayutthaya – the ancient city was founded in 1351 by ruling king U-Thong on the plains of Chao Phraya river and it became the most economically and politically powerful kingdom in the south-east Asia, fortified on all three sides by river. The name of the city may have been derived from Ayodhya – the city of Hindu king Rama, which probably shows an influence of Hinduism in the region, has excellent trade and economic ties with neighboring kingdoms, and end rule of classic Angkor power in the region. Around 1767, Burmese invaded the city, siege it, destroyed it completely and the royal lineage extinguished forever.
The 400 years of glorious past reflects in its Khmer style architecture, the elegant prangs, beautiful chedis which probably has some Sri Lankan influence and the grand ubosoth or coronation hall with statues of Buddha in various positions, ornamented with gold leafs, intricate wooden carvings and ceramic adornments. The Prangs and chedis are two prominent edifice in the architecture of Ayutthaya and was built with bricks and covered with stucco.
Ayutthaya is now become the city of ruins, a world heritage site, reconnects to Thailand’s glorious past and definitely worth visiting.
A day trip to Ayutthaya (DIY)
How to reach : Ayutthaya is almost 90 km from Bangkok and can be reached by bus, car / taxi, train or even ferry. Bus services are from Mochit station in Bangkok to Naresuan road in Ayutthaya, and train leaves daily from Hua Lamphong railway station.
In the early morning after having a good buffet breakfast at the hotel, we reached Hua Lamphong railway station via MRT (metro), book the tickets (A/C) for Ayutthaya in Bangkok- Udat thani (or in Chiang Mai) Express (or in any Northern line train) for 265 thb, the train leaves exactly at 8:15 am, and reached Ayutthaya around 10 in the morning.
After getting down at the Ayutthaya railway station, find the tourist police booth and pick the free copy of Ayutthaya tourist map. This is immensely helpful and will guide you through the city of ruins.
What to see: There are many wats / temples scattered around in the ancient city, so we select the few important ones. Besides wats, other attractions are Chao Sam Phraya National Museum, Bang-pa in palace (summer resort), Ayutthaya elephant palace & royal kraal, few monuments and memorials.
We booked a tuk-tuk (a kind of rick shaw) at the railway station for 5hour and it cost us 900 thb exclusive of lunch and lunch hour. There are entry fees to visit the wats / temples which usually amounts from 30 thb to 50thb per person.
First we went to Ayutthaya historical park which comprises of Wat Ratchaburana, Wat Mahathat and Wat Phra Ram and Phra Ram park, all dated back to early Ayutthaya period.
Archaeologists have found more than 100,000 votive Buddhist tablets along with huge amount of gold jewelery, large amount of golden artifacts and other treasure, which are displayed in the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum.
Wat Mahathat (temple of relics) aged more than 600 years, was the center of Ayutthaya’s people’s faith, burnt down completely by the Burmese invaders, Buddha images were beheaded, except the one at the center and you will also find the very well-known head of ancient Buddha image embraced in the overgrown roots of a fig tree.
Leaving the historical park behind, we then go ahead to Wat Phra Si Sanphet, the iconic temple of Ayutthaya. It belongs to middle Ayutthaya period, the largest and most significant temple in the Ancient Royal palace grounds (which is quiet hard to decipher as nothing is left now).
The Ceylonese style three beautiful chedis are believed to keep the ashes of former kings of Ayutthaya and a large Buddha image of 200 kg gold used to be housed at the vihan which was later sacked by the Burmese and the remains of the image is later shifted to Wat Pho in Bangkok.
Adjoining to this is the Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit, it houses a large Buddha image in golden color along with a large bronze cast image of Buddha, and is being worshiped. No entry fees required here and very melodious Buddhist chants and hymns filled the surroundings. Almost an hour or more is required to see Wat Phra Si Sanphet and the surroundings.
Wat Lokayasutharam was the next stop where you will get to see the largest (32 m long and 8m high) reclining Buddha image in Ayutthaya. It has no vihan to shelter the image.
Having visited most of the significant ruins in Ayutthaya, we decided to take a lunch break and went to Ruein Rojjana, a Thai restaurant which was recommended by our tuk-tuk driver. The restaurant was nice and clean, food was quiet good. After having a bowl of Thai coconut soup, some stir fried veggies with Thai fried rice and Thai green chicken curry, we proceed to the next phase of exploring the ruins.
The river side ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram was our next destination. It belongs to the Late Ayutthaya period and is situated on the banks of Chao Phraya river. The Khmer style main prang which is believed to contain relics of Buddha is surrounded by four lesser prangs and around the central structure large towers are present in eight directions, all are connected by a gallery. It will take much time to roam around the ruins and the waterways and the green ground present a pleasant scene.
The last and final temple was Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon (on the way to railway station) is a working temple, built by King Uthon and later expanded by King Naresuan.
It was used as a temple of meditation and has a large reclining Buddha in its vihan. The courtyard features a huge chedi swathed in golden cloth and surrounds on all sides by 108 images of Buddha in meditating position dressed in golden robes presents a spectacular and photogenic view.
In a half day city tour of Ayutthaya we were able to see eight most significant ruins of wats / temples and as the train leaves for Bangkok, the ancient city of ruins looks splendid in the late afternoon sun still holding the glorious past of Thailand.
We thanked the tuk-tuk driver for his patience and gentle behavior before heading straight to the railway station as we had to catch the 3.30 pm train. The ticket counter opens just 5 minute before the arrival of train and will give you a third class 20 baht ticket (no reserved seats) ! The compartment was amazingly clean and we got the seats too.
But the day has not end for us, because we decided to get down at Bang Sue Jn (just two stops before Bangkok) to catch the MRT for Chatachuk weekend market.
While entry fee for the wats can be paid at each wat, there is also a multi-pass available for 200 thb which allows unlimited entry to all wats and probably includes the visit to museum.
If you decide to stay at Ayutthaya, then do visit the ruins after 6 pm in the evening, when the wats are lights up and presents a spectacular view.
Other ancient historical park and world heritage sites in Thailand are the Historical park at Sukho-Thai reflecting that period and at Lop Buri.
Even if you do not have any time to visit the ruins, then you can take a half day city tour to Ancient city in Muang Boran province in the outskirts of Bangkok which showcase all the life-size replicas of ancient wats, memorials, palaces, museums in grandest scale, though expensive a bit (cost 800 thb per person).