The ancient capital city of Thailand, Ayutthaya, was founded in 1350, back when the country was named Siam. By the 1700s, it had become the largest city in the entire world; it had a million inhabitants, and its central location between China, India and Malaysia made it the trading capital of Asia. However, this all came to an end in 1767, when Ayutthaya was invaded by the Burmese and almost completely burnt to the ground.
With her small town centre comprised of a mix of modern buildings and historic temples, today, Ayutthaya shows us just a fraction of the grandeur of the ancient capital. The ruins are dotted around the city, the centre of which is encapsulated by a circular canal, and were officially recognised for their cultural value in 1991 when the Historic City became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Located just 85km from the centre of Bangkok, Ayutthaya is often a stop on the backpacker route between the capital and Chiang Mai. This time, however, James and I were only visiting Thailand for a couple of days, so we decided to visit Ayutthaya as a day-trip from Bangkok.
A number of shady-looking travel agents located in the tourist-hotspots (and all around the Khao San Road area) offer return day trips to Ayutthaya. James and I prefer travelling at our own pace instead of with a group, so we didn’t even look into this option. From what I remember the day trip cost a few hundred baht.
Instead, we wanted to get the train to Ayutthaya and explore the old city by bicycle at our own pace.
We took a metered taxi from Khao San Road to Hua Lamphong station which cost 60 baht.
If a taxi driver refuses to travel on the meter, simply refuse their (overpriced) offers and move on. Usually the ones loitering around will claim the meter is “broken” or “finished” or “more expensive” – all bullshit! We found that flagging down an empty moving taxi from the road was a better shot – these drivers were happy to use the meter.
“Meter, please” in Thai is meter khap if you’re male, or meter ka if you’re female – they use the same word as in English but emphasise the ‘-ter’ part.
Tickets from Hua Lamphong station to Ayutthaya cost just 15 baht in third class.
Third class is perfectly comfortable. There is no A/C but there are fans and the windows slide open. We didn’t enquire about other classes of tickets, as 15 baht (equivalent to about 32 pence) is too cheap to refuse!
Apparently the third class carriages on trains have only recently opened to tourists – I would expect that this is because foreigners are often able to afford the higher classes.
We bought one-way tickets because we weren’t sure what time we would want to come back; when we arrived in Ayutthaya we made a note of the return train times so we knew when to be back at the station.
When you leave the train station you may be approached by a tuk-tuk driver offering a tour of Ayutthaya for a set price. If this is how you would prefer to see the city, I advise you to haggle with the driver and settle on a price you are happy with (they always start way too high). I would also recommend having an idea of which temples you would like to see while you’re there, so you can make sure the driver takes you where you want to go.
We decided against getting a tuk-tuk and chose instead to rent bikes for the day.
Leaving the station, we crossed the road down a small street directly opposite, which leads to the river and a ferry crossing. My advice would be to cross the ferry by foot and rent a bike on the other side of the river. The ferry costs 5 baht per person and an extra 5 baht if you have a bicycle with you.
Once across the river, we rented bikes from the first place we got to for 50 baht a day each. They close at 7pm so we had lots of time to explore. We had read online that the price of renting a bike for a day doesn’t vary too much dependent on where you rent it from, and we were both happy with 50 baht so chose this one. We also got a free map!
Top tip: Check your bike before you ride off. Make sure your tyres are inflated, the lock is functioning and your bell and gears work.
Ayutthaya is a large town with so many temples that you would probably need at least a few days to see them all. If you are, like we were, restricted to just a day to explore, make sure you arrive knowing which temples you want to see.
If you’re travelling by bike, you’ll also need to factor in how long it can take to get from one place to another – though the longest we were cycling for without stopping at a sight was probably only around 15-20 mins.
Most of the temples are free to enter, but some of the bigger/more popular ones cost 50THB.
This is probably the first temple you will come to as you approach the town centre. This temple is one of the landmarks of Ayutthaya, with the famous image of Buddha’s head surrounded by tree roots. Remember to crouch down if you want to take a photo – your head should not be higher than Buddha’s as a mark of respect.
With its three large spires, this temple is the most historically important in Ayutthaya. Two of the stupas house the ashes of King Rama Thibodi’s father and elder brother; his own are housed in the third, built by his son, King Boromaraja IV.
Note: I’ve advised that this Wat is free to enter. We had already purchased a ticket to Wat Mahathat, which I showed as we went through the gates – we weren’t asked for any additional payment but I’m not sure if we should have been.
This was without a doubt our favourite of the temples we visited in Ayutthaya, perhaps because it was the furthest we biked to. The site is large, with many of the original prangs and statues in tact, though most of the Buddha images have been decapitated. This Wat used to be a monestry and a cremation site for members of the royal family.
One of the few modern-looking temples in Ayutthaya, this temple in fact dates from the 1500s like many others in the historical kingdom of Ayutthaya; it has been given several renovations. In this temple is perhaps the largest Buddha image I’ve ever seen – besides the Reclining Buddha in Wat Pho in Bangkok. The Phra Mongkhon Bophit is over 41 foot high.
Note: When visiting temples please be respectful of the basic rules, such as covering your shoulders and legs (regardless of your gender!) and refraining from littering or shouting.
We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant by Wat Phra Si Sanphet and were not surprised to find that every item on the menu contained chicken. Being vegetarian, we just asked for the dish to be made without chicken – and for 50THB you can’t complain really! There are many stands located around the tourist areas selling water and snacks, plus a ‘Tesco Lotus’ opposite the train station if you prefer something catered towards westerners.
Ayutthaya has many accommodation options, so if you are looking to linger a while you should be able to find something, though I never turn up without a reservation just in case there are no rooms available.
Trains run fairly regularly back to Bangkok until around 8pm, but check the board when you arrive in Ayutthaya. The train back costs 15THB.
Thanks for reading and happy travels!
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