The great ruins of Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the old Siam capital and an impressive cluster of ruined Buddhist temples and palaces, set among water bodies and lush greenery. Ayutthaya’s historical centre is large (and pleasant) enough to stay for a night, allowing to see more without a hurry. However, a one day trip from Bangkok (best done independently by train) would be sufficient to see most of the sights.

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Ayutthaya is known for the ruins of Buddhist temples

AYUTTHAYA- A MUST SEE WHEN YOU’RE IN BANGKOK

The time to leave Thailand was slowly approaching but we couldn’t miss seeing a UNESCO World Heritage site and an absolutely amazing place- Ayutthaya, the old capital of Siam (an old name of Thailand). We managed to see most of the major temples in a very intense day involving lots of cycling. However, I’d wholeheartedly recommend staying in Ayutthaya for a night if not two. There are plenty of places to visit and as they are quite scattered getting around takes time.

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The river around the island where most of the ruins are located

GETTING IN AND AROUND

Getting to Ayutthaya was easy and very cheap. We took a bus number 53 from the Democracy Monument to Hualamphong Station and bought a third class train ticket (for just 15 baht- same price as the city bus!) to Ayutthaya. The train was not only cheaper and more comfortable (there were plenty of free seats) than a bus, it was also more convenient. Once we arrived, we simply had to walk straight out of the station towards the river. The ferry across the river cost just 5 baht.

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Bike is the most convenient way to see Ayutthaya

The best way to explore Ayutthaya is by renting a bike. You can rent it just before or just after the river crossing, (take into consideration that you’d need to pay extra 5 baht for taking a bike on a ferry). We rented our bikes on the other bank of the river for 50 baht. We got a detailed map and good advice on which route we should take.

QUICK REVIEW OF THE MAJOR TEMPLES

Ayutthaya Historical Park (covering the whole island and quite a few sites on the other side of the river) is bursting with ruins . Most of the historical sites have a small entry fee (usually 50 baht): if you want to see many of them, it’d make more sense to buy a combined ticket for 220 baht. In my opinion, some of the ruins are worth the price while others not at all. During our visit in June (on a weekday) only some of the temples were busy and even those weren’t really crowded.

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Large complex of Wat Mahathat

The first on our lists were the temples on the island itself. Wat Mahathat is the most famous for a very photogenic stone Buddha’s head entangled in tree roots but is also quite an extensive ruin.

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The iconic Buddha head ‘trapped’ in the roots

Located just opposite to it Wat Ratchaburana shouldn’t be given a miss. It has a huge, beautifully carved prang (tower) which you can not only climb for bird-eye-view of the ruins but also enter.

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The view from the tower of Wat Ratchaburana

Entering the prang makes you feel like a tomb raider. Inside you’d be enveloped in dim light and dusky smell and the narrow passages would lead you to a chamber with half-faded murals. In fact, it was once a treasure chamber from where plenty of gold was recovered only a couple of decades ago.
I was happy to find a cheap restaurant serving vegan noodles right across the street from Wat Ratchaburana’s entrance.

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Slender white tower of Wat Ratchaburana

The temple which you can skip (and a rip off comparing to what others have on offer) is Wat Phra Ram. The description on the information board promises well-preserved murals and a pond. A pond is some murky water which you can see much better from the outside rather than inside of the temple complex, while the prang cannot be climbed anymore which means murals cannot be seen either.

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Quite empty Wat Phra Ram

It’s worth to cross the bridge to a modern looking Wat Na Phra Mane -the only temple which survived the devastating Burmese invasion in 18th century. Its ceiling and columns, all painted and gold-gilded are really beautiful.

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Wat Na Phra Mane- for a change, not a ruin

We couldn’t miss seeing what was left of the Royal Palace, mostly three large white stupas of Wat Phra Sri Sanphet.

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Wat Phra Sri Samphet -the most important temple of Ayutthaya

The ruins of the palace are neighboring with a restored ruin of Wat Monghkon Bophit with a large golden statue of Buddha.

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Massive golden Buddha at Wat Monghkon Bophit

In my opinion the best of all is the Wat Chai Wattanaram temple also located on the other side of the river. In order to get there, we had to do quite a lot pedalling along a nice park and pass by some lesser ruins. The final part of the route wasn’t pleasant, though as it covered a fragment of a much busier road.

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Cycling through the park with minor ruins

Wat Chai Wattanaram is really impressive in terms of its structure, the condition of the ruins, the multiple Buddha statues inside and the picturesque location at the river bank. I enjoyed looking at the Thai people dressed up in their traditional clothes for photo shoots.

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Beautifully dressed local women walking through the grounds of Wat Wattanaram

We started way too late to see all the temples we wanted to, not to mention the museums,  but we still had a great day.

We were cycling with all our might to return the bikes by 6 pm, then crossed the river and caught the train, only to return to Banglampoo at around 8.30 pm. I guess it could have been possible to see a couple of temples more if we had arrived in Ayutthaya at 8 am)

PRACTICALITIES

How to get there?
The cheapest and most convenient way to get to Ayutthaya from Bangkok is a train from Hualamphong station. The third class has wooden seats but is empty so for such a short distance it is a good deal.

Prices [in Thai baht as of June 2018]

220 THB combined ticket for all sites in Ayutthaya
30- 50 THB entrance to a single temple
50 THB veg lunch at a cheap eatery
50 THB bicycle rental for a day
15 THB 3rd class to Ayutthaya
5 THB ferry to the island with all sites

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