Thailand is not just a destination for beautiful beaches, jaw-dropping scenery and of course full moon parties. It is also a country steeped in history with important archaeological sites like the mystical and fascinating Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Siam, located only 86 km North of Bangkok. Once the main trading centre of precious materials such as wood, ivory, leathers and silks, Ayutthaya historical park is an open-air museum with temples, giant Buddhas and obelisks – prang – evoking the Cambodian towers of Angkor Wat. The island, surrounded by three rivers – Chao Phraya, Pasak and Lopburi – is home to most of the ruins, symbols of the glorious past of the city and protected by UNESCO since 1991.
Founded in 1350, Ayutthaya was the second capital of Siam after Sukhothai, as well as one of the most strategic commercial and diplomatic centres in Southeast Asia. The kingdom lasted for more than four centuries, reaching the peak of its splendour in the sixteenth century. In 1767, after a siege of 15 months, the city – together with its 1500 temples and 4000 statues – was destroyed and plundered by the Burmese army. After Ayutthaya’s fall, the capital was moved to the west side of the Chao Praya River, in the modern day Bangkok.
To admire the Khmer splendour and the beauty of its rural areas, you can rent one of the many tuk tuk – traditional three-wheeler transports – or rent a bicycle (about 40 baht per day) and dedicate a couple of days to discovering Ayutthaya historical park.
What to Visit in Ayutthaya historical park
The Wat Phra Si Sanphet is one of the most fascinating sites, as well as our favourites. This complex of temples, built in the 14th century, was the largest building in the city. Inside there was a 16 metre tall statue of Buddha and covered with 250 kg of gold. The statue is no longer there as after the city was conquered, the Burmese invaders decided to melt it.
The Wat Phra Mahathat and the head of the Buddha are the symbols of Ayutthaya. The legend says that when the site was destroyed by the invading army, all Buddha statues were destroyed and decapitated, as a demonstration of the Burmese power. One of the stone heads was saved and, rolling at the foot of a large tree, was wrapped and protected by its roots.
The Wat Yai Chaya Mongkol, with its stupa and its lines of Buddha wrapped with lively yellow fabrics, is one of the most photographed sites in Ayutthaya. Located south-east of the island, it was built in 1357 and was mainly used by monks for meditation.
To enjoy a panoramic view of the city and its rural areas, you can climb the eighty steps of the Wat Phu Khao Thong (Monastery of the Golden Mount) located Northwest of the island. Now the temple has been completely repainted in white!
Another two sites not to be missed are the Wat Lokayasutharam and the Viharn Phra Mongkol Bophit. The first one is home to a 37 metre long sculpture of a lying Buddha with the head resting on a lotus flower. The second one hosts another imposing statue of a Buddha, with a height of 12.45 metres and nearly 10 metres wide.
How to get to Ayutthaya from Bangkok
Reaching Ayutthaya from Bangkok is very easy. The fastest and cheapest solution is to go to the Victory Monument’s skytrain stop, the only elevated subway in Bangkok. From here, a few red signs lead you to the minibus stop. Minibuses depart every 20/30 minutes, connecting the Thai capital to several regions of the province, including Ayutthaya (about 120 Baht a / r). The Ayutthaya historical park can also be reached by train (about 30 Baht), by bus (about 50 One-way Baht) and by boat.