Just a 2 hour drive from the centre of Bangkok lays Ayutthaya, an ancient kingdom with more history than Angkor Wat, Bagan, and Hue put together. Ayutthaya was the second capital of Thailand (after Sukhothai) and was once the largest city in the world, as well as being an economically prosperous place due to its strategic location between India and China (and Malaysia). Although just ruins remain nowadays, it is no wonder that the day trip to Ayutthaya has always been a firm favourite among travellers!
Bangkok has many great attractions, but a lot of backpackers stay in the city because it is cheap and convenient – not because of the monks and the temples! However, if you get out of your comfort zone for a day or two during your stay in the Thai capital, then you can think about travelling to that ancient city 80km north up the road, where you will find a multitude of cultural attractions. But how can this ever-popular journey be made?
Buses operate every 20 minutes or so from Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal (Moh Chit) directly to Ayutthaya. First class air-con buses charge 50 baht. This trip is scheduled to be around an hour and a half, but allow at least two hours for the trip since the buses stop rather frequently and there are often jams on the roads out of Bangkok. The buses operate from 4.30am to around 7.15pm. In Ayutthaya, the central BKS bus station is on the south side of Thanon Naresuan, next to the Chao Phrom Market. Songthaews to most of the tourist sites run from the station.
The cheapest and most scenic way of reaching Ayutthaya is by train. It regularly departs from Bangkok’s Hualamphong Train Station and stops in Ayutthaya. The trip takes about 2 hours depending on the type of service. Second class seats (with air conditioning) cost 245 Baht, whereas third class seat were just 20 Baht last time I checked (no reservations needed).
Cruise boats run up the river from Bangkok. You’ll need to book in advance as there are no scheduled services, just trips for tourists. It is a fairly lengthy trip (at least one whole day), but some of the larger boats offer expensive overnight tours. Travelling by boat to Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya is popular among foreigners since it does not only reveal the beauty on both sides of the Chao Phraya River, but also reflects the traditions of the Ayutthaya Kingdom at a time when the Chao Phraya River served as a channel of transportation in trading with foreign countries.
Ayutthaya Historical Park is located on an island at the confluence of three rivers: the Chao Phraya River (which runs to Bangkok), the Lopburi River, and the Pa Sak River. As the train station is east of the island, visitors will need to cross the river by ferry. Navigating your way around the island is not hard, as there is a ring road that circumvents the island. Most of the temple ruins can be found in the north of the island, while accommodation and night life is clustered around the northeast. I thought the Ayutthaya Historical Park was on par with the likes of Bagan Archaeological Zone in Myanmar (though much smaller) and the Imperial Tombs of Hue and it is no wonder this journey here from Bangkok is so popular among backpackers of all ages!