Why you should make a day-trip to Ayutthaya:
Ayutthaya is the ancient capital of Thailand, when it was known as the Kingdom of Siam. It is an excellent day trip from Bangkok, and offers visitors rich culture, ancient ruins, traditional temples, or simply the chance to escape the bustle of the big city for the day. It has been preserved as an UNESCO World Heritage Sight, and as such, exploring the ruins gives one an idea of the city’s past splendor. Despite the destruction, there is beauty to be seen everywhere. From the prang (or three towers whose peaks can be seen throughout the city) to the gigantic monasteries that pay homage to the Buddha, visiting the ruins of the ancient city gives one more than just a visual impression of the city’s wonder.
Ten things to see and do in the ancient capital:
- Ancient Ruins: A must-see on your list of sights in Ayutthaya is to visit the ancient ruins. They’re spread out all throughout town, but a good starting point is the UNESCO World Heritage Sight Park. Starting at Wat Mahathat, here you can see the well-known sculpture of the Buddha’s head in the tree.
- Elephant Walkway: If you’ve come to Thailand, then surely you’re wanting to see some elephants right? Outside Wat Mahathat is Ayutthaya Elephant Village. Here, one can see, pet, feed, or even ride (although I do not agree nor endorse the riding of elephants as a tourist activity, read more here: Elephant Cruelty) an elephant in Ayutthaya. And if you’re lucky, you just might be passed by one of Mother Nature’s gentle giants on your way over to Wat Mahathat as you cross the street at Elephant Walkway.
- Wat Nam Phramen: If you love the Buddhist temples in Thailand then you won’t be disappointed with your visit to Ayutthaya. Personally, I am somewhat more enthralled with the ancient temples then the modern ones, but Wat Nam Phramen is a great stop as it is very near Wat Mahathat and contains an elegant gold Buddha statue inside. You don’t even need to be properly dressed to go inside this temple either. The giant gold Buddha is visible by just simply standing outside while also observing the beautiful exterior architecture and decor.
- Floating Market: Want to experience tourism like the locals? Be sure to stop by the Ayutthaya Floating Market where you can taste local flavors, people watch, or try your hand at bartering with the local vendors for a new sarong, or perhaps a pair of highly-popular elephant pants. Find directions to the Ayutthaya Floating Market here.
- A boat ride on the river: There are various options, ranging in price, if you’d like to view the city from a different perspective; but these can be quite pricey and are generally targeted mostly for tourists. If this isn’t what you’re looking for, then take the five baht “ferry” ride across the rive to get to/from the train station located right off the island.
- Grab dinner at the Night Market: My favorite place to eat, by far! Your choices are nearly endless, there’s phad thai, som tom (papaya salad), grilled meats (chicken, pork, fish), fresh fruits and veggies, soups in a bag, and more. Four of my favorite stops for snacks include: the woman who juices fresh fruit and veggies right in front of you (yumm!), the home-made rice cakes drizzled in caramel, the home-made banana chips dusted with paprika, and best of all…the freshly grilled corn!
- A night out on Soi Farang: The term farang is widely recognized to mean foreigner in Thai, and as such the street home to many of the backpacker guesthouses and hostels has been termed Soi Farang, or foreigner street. Check out Tony’s for delicious western and Thai dishes, head over to out on Soi Farang:Street Lamp Bar & Restaurant for great live music and a round of pool, or if you’re in the mood for Italian, try the steak, pasta, or pizza from Planet Earth’s Bar.
- Chao Phrom Market: A walk through this crowded, bustling market street is all it takes to step inside the local Thai culture in the ancient capital city. Sights, sounds, smells, it’s all there. My favorite place, the fresh smoothie stand on the corner near the Family Mart.Bike
- Bike ride around the island: Ayutthaya is very easily seen in a day, as long as you opt to do most of it on two wheels rather than two feet. If you want to cover as much ground in as little time as possible, then rent a bicycle for the day (from your hostel, guesthouse, or one of the many tourist shops in town) and head out on U-Thong road. This road wraps around the entire island, so once you’re on it, stay on it, and take in all the sights.
- Thai Massage: Now you can pretty much get a great Thai massage anywhere in Thailand, but if you’re planning Ayutthaya in just one day, then clear an hour of your afternoon/evening for a traditional massage. This will help you relax after a long (and probably pretty hot) day taking in the sites. You’ll be full of renewed energy to finish off the day grabbing dinner at the night market, or just heading straight to Soi Farang for libations and backpacker fun.
The ruins in a day: where to go and how to see them.
The modern-city of Ayutthaya has sprawled out well beyond the original boundaries of the ancient, once-capital city. However, if visiting for the day everything you’ll want to see and do is located “on the island.” You might hear people refer to Ayutthaya as an island. Reason being, the city’s original boundaries have been drawn by simple geography. Ayutthaya is surrounded on all sides by three rivers: the Chao Phraya River, the Lopburi River, and the Pa Sak River. Thus making the city center, an island.
The Ancient Ruins
To visit the ruins of the ancient city, one needs only to arrive in Ayutthaya, when you will soon discover how simple it is to visit several temples in a day. No matter where you’re staying, hotel, guesthouse or hostel, you’ll easily be able to find a guided tour of the ruins if that is what you’re after. The cheapest of all the guided tour options would be to hire a tuk-tuk driver for the day, who will drive you around to different temples, and if you’re lucky, offer you a somewhat-limited-English commentary about some of the more famous temples.
You can also head over the the UNESCO World Heritage Sight Park on foot and take in the temples that way, but my preference would be to rent a bicycle to get from one place to the next. You’ll have to pay an entrance fee at several of the more famous temples (Wat Mahathat, Wat Phra Ram, or Wat Phra Sri Sanphet to name a few), but it’ll cost you just 50 baht per ticket (around $1.50). Check out this tourism map of the city to help you plan your day: Ayutthaya Tourism Map.