Ayutthaya was conquered and deserted some 250 years ago; after almost 200 years of decay, Thailand started a restoration project. Today, the ruins of Ayutthaya is a popular attraction for tourists and Thais alike.
The historic city Ayutthaya is located in the province Ayutthaya approximately 75 kilometres (46 miles) north of Bangkok and is quite suitable for a day trip from Bangkok; although you will be doing yourself a favour, if you stay for at least a few days. The ruins are scattered over a large area; thus, it is limited what you can see in one day.
Some buildings are relatively well preserved, others are almost gone, and others again are leaning dangerously after earthquakes, floods, and subsidence over the years have tried to topple them.
The World's Largest city
Thailand has had three different capitals. It started with Sukhothai, located some 400 kilometres (249 miles) north of Bangkok, which was the capital from the mid-1200s until the mid-1300s when Ayutthaya took over as the capital.
King Uthong (also known as King Rama) founded Ayutthaya on an island in 1350. Surrounded by three rivers, Chao Phraya, Lopburi and Pa Sak, the city was easy to defend. In addition, the rivers made it easy to transport goods to and from the city. Ayutthaya means The Invincible City, which, as it later turned out, the city was not.
In the early 1700s, Ayutthaya evolved into the world's largest city, according to some scholars, with more than one million inhabitants. One reason for the success was the strategic location as a trading centre between east and west.
Not allowed to stay in the city, the foreign traders instead built enclaves on the other side of the rivers. There were enclaves for Dutch, English, French, Portuguese, and Japanese traders. You can still find remnants of the Dutch and the Portuguese enclaves. In addition, you will find a museum where the Japanese enclave supposedly was located.
You can find photos and read more about the enclaves at History of Ayutthaya.
The Fall of Ayutthaya
The kingdom was constantly at war with its neighbours. After a long siege in 1767, the Burmese army defeated Ayutthaya and burned the city to the ground.
The vast majority of the buildings in Ayutthaya consisted of wood; thus, there is nothing left of them. The temples and palaces, on the other hand, consisted of bricks and they survived the fire mostly intact. Earthquakes, floods, and looting have subsequently attempted to eradicate the last vestiges of the city, but they did not entirely succeed. You can still find impressive remains, particularly of the temples. In 1991, UNESCO listed Ayutthaya as a World Heritage Site.
The three major chedis in the image below belong to the temple of Wat Phra Si Sanphet, located next to the Royal Palace. However, there is not much left of the palace.
Between the three chedis, which are probably on par with an 8-storey house, you will find the remains of foundations, believed to have been the base of square buildings with a pyramidal roof.
Below, you will find a few photos from some of the temples in Ayutthaya. You can read more about them if you click on the photos to view them in a larger version.
The two most popular photo shoots in Ayutthaya is the three chedis of Wat Phra Si Sanphet and the head of Buddha wrapped in the root-like branches of a banyan tree in Wat Phra Mahathat, which you can see in the photo below. When The Burmese defeated Ayutthaya, they cut off the heads of the Buddha statues, leaving this head on the ground.
More Ruins Outside of Ayutthaya
You will also find some ruins of temples outside of Ayutthaya. The most impressive of them is Wat Yai Chaimongkon, which after a restoration reopened in 1957 as a functioning temple. Here you will find a large number of Buddha statues dressed in saffron cloth. Unlike similar rows of Buddha statues on the island, these have heads.
In Wat Yai Chaimongkon, you will also find a 15 meters long, lying Buddha; however, the most eye-catching part of the temple is an approximately 60 meter (200 feet) high chedi, which you can enter. In front of the chedi, two large Buddha statues sit on either side of the stairs to the entrance.
At the top of the large stairway, there is a walkway, which allows a walk around the chedi to enjoy the view. You will find four smaller chedis at the corners of the walkway.
A small stairway continues further up into the large chedi where there is a small round chamber with golden statues. Here you will usually find a monk accepting donations from visiting Buddhists.
Rent a Bicycle
If you go on an organised day trip from Bangkok to Ayutthaya, the organisers will drive you around to the most popular places before heading back to Bangkok. I would recommend that you instead stay at least a few days in Ayutthaya, so you get more time to explore the ruins. That way you will get to see other places than the most popular ones; also, you will not have an organiser herding you around with the rest of the flock when they want to continue to the next place.
If you come on your own, rent a bicycle. The ruins are scattered throughout the island and on the other side of the rivers; however, the area is not larger than you can easily ride a bicycle between the ruins. Of course, you can rent a scooter instead; however, a scooter does not seem right among the ruins; a bicycle better fits the mood of the ancient ruins. It will cost you about 50 baht to rent a bicycle for a day.
Alternatively, you can hire a tuk-tuk to drive you. It should also be possible to hire a rickshaw, although I did not see any when I visited.
You can also take a boat trip around the island, which will let you see the ruins from the waterside. No matter which kind of transport you choose, make sure to wear headgear and bring plenty of beverages. It is hot, often humid, and the sun can be relentless.
Getting to Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya is not only the old Ayutthaya. Nearby the ruins, you will find a modern city also named Ayutthaya. The new Ayutthaya is known as a large manufacturing base; the Danish shoe manufacturer Ecco has a production plant in Ayutthaya, Western Digital has a big hard drive plant, and Honda has a big car manufacturing plant.
The new Ayutthaya also offers a train station. You can take the train to Ayutthaya from the main railway station Hualamphong in Bangkok. The price for a train ticket will not exactly leave you with an empty wallet; you can buy a third class ticket for only 15 baht. The trip takes a little less than two hours with departures almost every hour. From the station, you can take a tuk-tuk or songthaew to the ancient Ayutthaya.
Alternatively, you can take the bus to Ayutthaya. The bus usually departs every 20 minutes from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (near BTS Station Moh Chit). The price is some 50 baht for a VIP bus with air condition, and the ride will take a couple of hours.
A minibus will be a somewhat faster, around one hour depending on the traffic. You will find minibuses in the area of the Victory Monument. The price is around 100 baht, and as the buses, the minibuses usually depart every 20 minutes. Please be aware that some minibuses will try to make you get off in the new Ayutthaya, so you have to pay for a songthaew for the rest of the trip. They get a commission from the songthaew drivers. Do not get off in the new Ayutthaya; the minibus will continue to the old Ayutthaya.
Of course, you can also drive yourself, if you have a car, a motorbike, or a scooter.
Finally, you can go on an arranged day tour which will drive you to Ayutthaya and stop at the most popular of the ruins before heading back to Bangkok. The prices start at around 1,000 baht and will typically include the ticket price to the ruins.
The tickets to the various ruins cost between 20 and 50 baht. You only need to buy tickets to the most popular of the ruins, the rest you can enjoy for free.
There is one more option, although it is expensive, slow and gives you less time to visit the ruins: sailing. You should only choose this option if you consider the sailing trip to be more important than seeing the ruins. Grand Pearl offers trips only by reservation and only if there are enough participants; the prices start at 2,000 baht. The trip takes some 4 hours each way with a couple of stops on the way.
There are a few hotels with many stars on the island and thus near the ruins, for example, sala ayutthaya; however, most of the hotels are small with just a few stars. In my opinion, the small hotels fit more into the environment and atmosphere than the big and expensive ones – but each to his own. You can find a list of hotels on the island and in the new Ayutthaya at agoda.