Ayutthaya was the second capital of Siam (after Sukhothai) and throughout the centuries, was the ideal location between China, India, and the Malay Archipelago made Ayutthaya the trading capital of Asia. By 1700, Ayutthaya had become the largest city in the world with over a million citizens, but all this came to a quick end when the Burmese invaded Ayutthaya in 1767 and almost completely burnt the city down to the ground.
Today, only a few remains might give a glimpse of the impressive city they must have seen. Its remains are characterised by the prang (reliquary towers) and big monasteries. Most of the remains are temples and palaces, as those were the only buildings made of stone at that time. The great cultural value of Ayutthaya’s ruins were officially recognized in 1991, when it became an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its proximity to Bangkok also makes it a popular day trip destination for travellers.
One thing that really annoyed me about my visit to Ayutthaya was overhearing some other tourists moan about how there was not much to do here, and that once you’ve seen one temple, then the rest are just boring! Now, each to their own, but really what kind of negative attitude is that?! It is a bit stupid to come all the way to Thailand (and a 2 hour bus journey from Bangkok) and then moan when checking out the history of the place. What do people actually think they will see when they arrive? Bars and ladyboys? Well, maybe on Khao San Road in Bangkok, but if you make the effort to pay to get to Ayutthaya then why not show some simple appreciation for these cultural relics? In addition, it really surprised me that some travellers didn’t even seem to know what they were looking at when walking around Ayutthaya Historical Park – did they not even do the slightest bit of research before jumping on the tour bus?
The main historical sights lie in the north-central area of the island. These sights can easily be explored on foot or, better, bicycle. A number of other very interesting sights can be found on the banks of the rivers opposite to the city, but these are much more spread out. You may need to rent a motorcycle or tuktuk to explore these. These are the main sights and attractions located on the island of Ayutthaya that are worth a visit:
Wat Phra Si Sanphet – The three bell-shaped chedi of Wat Phra Si Sanphet have practically become a symbol of Ayutthaya. The temple stands almost in the centre of the main area of the old capital
Wat Phra Ram – Just across the street from Wat Phra Si Sanphet is the towering prang of Wat Phra Ram, an excellent example of a Khmer style temple from the beginning of the Ayutthaya period.
Wat Ratchaburana – Closer to the current city centre, Wat Ratburana was built in 1424 to hold the ashes of the king’s two older brothers, who killed each other fighting over the throne.
Wat Mahathat – The temple was built in the early days of Ayutthaya in the late 14th century by King Borommaracha I. The story goes that the king had a revelation, and relics of the Buddha then suddenly appeared. The temple was built to house the relics.
Wat Lokaya Sutharam – Large but near levelled temple behind the royal palace. The only thing left of interest is a large reclining Buddha.
Wat Thammikarat – Impressive but largely unvisited temple immediately east of the old royal palace area
Chan Kasem Museum – Housed in the former ‘Front Palace’, this museum is perhaps more interesting for its architecture than its collection.
Chao Sam Phraya Museum – A rather dusty old fashioned museum, but the two treasure vaults on the second floor are not to be missed
Pom Phet Fortress – One of the last remaining bits of the old city wall.
It took me 2 or 3 visits to Bangkok before I finally got around to making the ever-popular day trip to Ayutthaya Historical Park, but eventually I made the journey and was glad that I had the chance to visit. Although the actual temple/city ruins at Ayutthaya are not as impressive individually as those found nearby at Angkor in Cambodia or Bagan in Myanmar, as a collective whole this ruined city is stunning, with a vast history in which to immerse yourself (either before you arrive, or while you are here). These facts make it even more annoying that some tourists turn up here and cannot appreciate the beauty or the history of what they see before their eyes.