Last updated on May 22nd, 2017 at 12:04 pm
Visiting the formal capital of Siam is a must in any trip to Thailand. There are so many interesting things to do in Ayutthaya that it is impossible to get bored. I had such a great and busy time there.
The Ayutthaya kingdom was one of the most powerful in Asia and the capital was one of the biggest city in the world with over 1 Million people in the 17th century.
The Ayutthaya temples were mostly built in a big island created by the many rivers and canals around the area. Because of that, the city was also called the Venice of the east. I just can imagine how beautiful must have been Ayutthaya in that era.
As it happens sometime in history, it all collapsed with a nearby army invasion, this time the Burmese. The ruins of the city are still so well preserved though, a must visit for anybody interested in historical sites, and not only
The Historical Park of Ayutthaya covers a vast area that you can visit in many ways. You can decide to spend one or possibly more night, or you can even organise a day tour from Bangkok, if you do not have enough spare time.
The opening hours of the Ayutthaya Historical Park may change based on seasons. Usually it is open between 8:30am and 16:30. I personally suggest a visit as early as possible to avoid the heat of the central hours of the day. For more information and last news you can check the Ayutthaya info page of the Thailand Tourism site.
Most of the things to do in Ayutthaya are related to temples. Visit them, cycle around them, take a tuk tuk to wonder between them.
There is also the possibility to take a boat and navigate the many rivers and canals.
The historic city of Ayutthaya is an Unesco World Heritage Site and it covers a vast part of the new modern city.
It is such a vast area that on my first day I decided to take a tuk tuk to go around. As you can imagine, bargaining is a must.
The alternative is to use one of the Uber-like services and bargaining won’t be a problem 🙂
I started my visit at the Wat (temple) Yai Chai Mongkol, just outside the main island.
This is probably one of the most well know temple in the area. Visited by both tourists and local worshippers.
I was there early in the morning, just after the opening hour and there were not that many people, probably a good time to visit it.
King U-thong built this temple in 1357 A.D. to host the monks back from Ceylon, where they studied under Phra Vanarat Maha Thera.
In fact monks are still everywhere and a great photographic opportunity too.
This is another must see in Ayutthaya, one of the best preserved ruins too.
Wat Phra Sri Sanphet is probably the temple that delivered more than expected.
The entrance was majestic, with a long walk to the main temple area.
I was there late in the afternoon and it was not crowded at all. Maybe it is not as popular as other wat, but surely it did not disappoint me.
Wat Phra Sri Sanphet was the grandest and most beautiful temple in the capital of Siam, beside being the holiest. It was the temple of the Royal family.
Unfortunately the temple area was highly damaged in the Burmese invasion in 1767 leaving only the three Chedis that can be visited today.
But do not be pulled out, as I was initially, there is still so much to see and visit around.
My tuk tuk in Ayutthaya took me to the Wat Mahathat, probably the biggest area of ruins in the island.
As you enter you will see, on your right side, a big group of people photographing a tree. This is the most photographed subject of all Ayutthaya I believe.
I have dedicated a full section about it.
Passed the crowded area you will step into the big temple area, still under renovation (probably a never ending one).
The first wat was built almost 700 years ago. At that time the area was most probably surrounded by canals and moats. What a magical place must have been!
Being such an ancient temple area, there is a fair long history behind Wat Mahathat that you can read here.
Honestly this is an area to wonder around as there are so many hidden corners and nice spots to visit and make a photo.
Technically speaking the Buddha statue is in Wat Mahathat and should have been part of the previous section, however, because of its popularity, I have decided to dedicate an own section.
Remember when I said that at the entrance of the temple area a group of people were photographing a tree. Well actually the subject was the Ayutthaya Buddha head that got stuck in the roots of a gigantic tree.
It is indeed an amazing photographic subject and definitely one of the things to see in Ayutthaya. If you haven’t visited Angkor Wat, it looks even more amazing, otherwise you are maybe already used to see the trees framing part of the temples.
But, how did the Buddha head end up there?
There are a couple of theories.
After the Burmese invasion most of the inhabitants left the city and the vegetation grew out of control and it trapped the beautiful Buddha statue. Similar to what happened in Angkor Wat.
The second theory is about a thief that moved the head there before escaping over the wall, probably with the idea to go back and collect it on a later stage…..but it never happened and nature took hold of it
Either cases, it was decided to leave it as we see it today.
Bike rental in Ayutthaya is widely available.
Every guest house or hotel has usually few of them available otherwise walk around the corner and you will probably end up in a shop, bar, cafe, agency that rent bikes.
So I did on my second day.
There is also the possibility to join one of the available bike tour in Ayutthaya
I investigated all of the above but at the end I decided to rent a bike and go on my own.
My decision was driven by two factors
With the bike you will be able to cover most of the Ayutthaya area and have a great time too. Remember to download a map of the area to explore the secondary roads. It’s more fun. Have a look to my favourite travel apps for more information.
Wat Chai Wattanaram is located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, outside the island.
It is another amazing example of well preserved Ayutthaya ruins.
Unfortunately access is quite limited to few areas and I was not able to get too close to the temples. I was a bit disappointed, but I fully understand that preservation, sometime, means that visitors can’t get too close, to avoid possible damages.
I discovered only later that I could come here by boat too, which is a different experience all together.
Built in 1630, the Wat Chai Wattanaram was a temple used by the Royal family for religious ceremonies, including cremation.
If you still wonder on what to do in Ayutthaya, take a taxi, a tuk tuk or have a ride to the white land of Chedi Phukhao Thong, about 2km from the town centre
This is one of the most impressive temple I have seen in this area. Probably because it is completely different from the others in the Ayutthaya Historical Park.
Construction of the Chedi Phukhao Thong, or Monastery of the Golden Mount, started over 400 years ago, in 1569, to celebrate the occupation by the Kingdom of Burma.
200 years later, King Borommakot of Siam decided to build a new Chedi on top of the old one, by that time in full disrepair. This time with a new Thai style, based on a square plan.
Why did I love it?
Primarily because of its uniqueness, with a bright white colour it pops out from a long distance.
But mostly for the fantastic view of the rice fields and the town of Ayutthaya I had from the the highest accessible point, which is half way to the peak.
I had also the possibility to visit the shrine inside the central tower where I met a lovely group of local elderly that tried to explain me the secrets of the shrine……with a bit of their broken English and my minimalist Thai….a good fun talk.
This is not Pokemon.
It is even more fun!
Taking a collection of photos of a Michelin man in Thailand has been one of my favourite hobby. And Ayutthaya is probably the town where I saw the widest, and wildest, population. Basically on every vehicle with an engine. I saw even some on a rickshaw, just to make it a bit heavier!
The most notable ones are on the tuk tuk however the most majestic, sometime gigantic, are on the big trucks.
Photography wise, I suggest to use a small aperture, f/4 ideally, to focus on the single detail, the Michelin man, also called Bibendum.
You can go even for a wider aperture, down to f/2 or f/1.4 however your depth of field will be very small, which may work great….or it may be the source of a sharpness problem.
This is a site not in the city of Ayutthaya, it is actually around 20km from it.
You can take the train there and the station is few hundreds meters for the palace.
Alternatively you can ride the bike along the Chao Phraya River.
If travelling by train from Bangkok to Ayutthaya, you may have a stop at the Bang Pa-in railway station.
It is also know as the Summer Palace and it was formerly used by the Royal family.
Usually the formal capital city of Siam is visited from Bangkok either on a day trip or a longer break, which I highly suggest.
Spending 2 or 3 nights works best as you will not be in a rush to see most of the temples in the Ayutthaya Historical Park.
I was twice there. I went by train the first time and by minivan the time after.
This is probably the easiest way to travel to Ayutthaya.
There is a train every hour, or so, and the ticket is quite cheap, a couple of dollars.
The trip takes less than two hours. You may want to check if it stops at the Bang Pa-in Palace (there are direct and local trains)
The train departs from the Bangkok’s Hualamphong station and more information is available at the State Railway of Thailand
The arrival station is located on the east side of the island. From there take a taxi or a ferry to the Historical Park.
In Bangkok go to the Northern bus terminal Mor Chit.
Both ticket price and time are similar to the train option. It may be more complicated in case you plan to stop at the Bang Pa-in Palace
The Ayutthaya bus terminal is located outside town, not an easy access I must say (see map below for more info).
As an alternative, head to the Victory Monument square in Bangkok for a direct minivan to Ayutthaya. Slightly more expensive ($3) but much shorter trip, about one hour.
Unfortunately I have not experienced the boat trip.
I planned to but eventually it didn’t work out.
There are few operators you can google.
You can take one way by train and back by boat or even bike + boat, an unusual experience
The single day tour to Ayutthaya from Bangkok is the last possibility.
Keeping in mind the travelling time, between 3 and 4 hours, you soon realize how busy will be the day.
Although an option, I do not think it is a viable one. You will end up with a super tiring day without seeing that much.
Ayutthaya has a few guest houses and many hotels around.
It is a touristic centre with an area dedicated to flash packers and a few nice resorts here and there.
I ended up staying in three places during my two visits
The first one was the Baan Thai House, very close to the train station in a great location with a beautiful garden and a small lake. Friendly staff (as usual in Thailand) and quiet hotel. The small swimming pool was great for a break in the hottest part of the day.
This is my favourite spot and the one I would recommend. Unfortunately it is quite popular and it gets booked out well in advance.
If Ban Thai House is already booked out I would suggest Baan Luang Harn, another exceptional homestay. I stayed there only for 1 night and I was really impressed.
It is actually better located than the previous suggested accommodation. Really it’s all down to a personal decision. A great place to stay
The first time I was in Ayutthaya I stayed in another guest house, more on backpacker style, although very clean and with lots of space.
It is called Tamarind Guesthouse and it’s basically in front of the Historical Park. Very cozy rooms and nicely decorated house overall. Again friendly staff and comfortable. Really cheap for what you get!
In peak season Ayutthaya can be quite busy. I suggest to use the HotelsCombined website to look for alternatives. It’s a great booking system that compares and select the best price from the big booking companies.
I loved my days in town and although I was already twice there I never had the time to question on what to do in Ayutthaya. Every time I discovered a new temple, a new corner, a new secret place (let’s say just suggested by the hotel staff 😉 )
My tip here is always to check the Ayutthaya historical park opening hours with the accommodation staff. It may change.
Getting around Ayutthaya was very easy. A bike rental was always around the corner and taxi were available everywhere. Otherwise tuk tuk or download the Uber app.
Photography wise I had with me my Nikon D610 DSLR. It was indeed too heavy, especially in the hot hours of the day. I personally would suggest to use a light mirrorless camera as the Panasonic GX85.
I used two lenses, an all round 24-120mm f/4 and a 50mm f/1.8.
I used the zoom focal length in most cases except when visiting inside the temples. In that case I used the quick 50mm that in low light is a real amazing lens.
If you have any question about photography, please do not hesitate to leave a comment.
Stef Ferro is the founder and editor of MEL365, a travel & photography website made to enhance the travelling experience and improve the photography work.
Stef is a professional travel photographer with past experience in the cycling and film industry.
Stef runs travel photography workshops in Melbourne and around the world.