Located at the confluence of the Lopburi, Chao Phraya and Prasak rivers, some 85 km north of the capital Bangkok, is the ancient city of Ayutthaya, a city that once served as the capital of Thailand from 1350 to 1767.
King U-Thong founded Ayutthaya, Siamese empire’s capital city for more than four centuries. During this time, 33 kings ruled over the city and they overcame the challenges of more than 23 invasions by the Burmese. Ayutthaya, in its prime was a much-admired Asian capital. The city was encircled by a wall that was six meters high and five meters thick. This protective wall featured 99 gates and clay and brick roads. A network of canals supplied water to the city. As a center of international trade, Ayutthaya was visited by traders from across the group and the city in fact hosted a multicultural populace consisting of various Asian and European nationalities including Dutch, French, Portuguese, Indian, Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese. Ayutthaya was renowned as a center for arts, learning and religious tolerance in an increasingly divisive world.
In 1767, the Burmese finally succeeded in capturing Ayutthaya and they ruthlessly went on to destroy it as they looted temples even melting the Buddha statues to extract the gold. The Burmese were finally driven out by an international force made up of local Siamese and resident foreigners. However, Ayutthaya was never restored to its former glory. The Thai capital was moved to Thonburi and then to Bangkok where it remains until today.
Present-day Ayutthaya is a city where the old-world co-exists with the new, for alongside its many temple ruins are all the trappings of modern life schools, hospitals and busy roads. A canal still rings the city and joins the three rivers that supply it with water. With its many historic ruins and two museums, Ayutthaya presents a doable day trip option if you are on a visit to Bangkok.
Getting to Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya is accessible by bus, train, road and even by long boat from Bangkok up the Chao Praya River. Buses leave the Thai capital’s Northern bus terminal every fifteen minute all day long. A bus journey to Ayutthaya from Bangkok takes approximately two hours. Trains to Ayutthaya depart from Hua Lampong station every half hour from the early hours of the morning. The train journey to Ayutthaya is considerably shorter being just over an hour. The most atmospheric route is undoubtedly by long boat, but this journey can be quite arduous as it can last more than three hours. This mode of transport is only recommended if you have ample time to spare.
Getting around the city
Motorbikes, tuk-tuks, boats and local pick-up trucks serve as modes of transportation in Ayutthaya and can be hired easily.
Chao Sam Phraya National Museum
The Chao Sam Phraya Museum was inaugurated by King Bhumibol Adulyadej on 26th December 1961. The museum is named after King Boromarajadhiraj II, who ruled in Ayutthaya in the fifteenth century. Its exhibits include artifacts and statues which were sourced from temples like Wat Ratchaburana and Wat Phra Mahathat.
Chantharakasem National Museum
Ayutthaya’s second museum is housed in a former royal residence, a palace that was once the home of King Naresuan the Great. The King constructed the palace in 1577 and it now is a museum filled with displays of relics and artifacts showcasing Ayutthaya’s golden years.
The Ayutthaya Historical Study Center
The Ayutthaya Historical Study Center is a national research institute dedicated to the study of Ayutthaya during its glorious period (1350-1767).
The Japanese Government funded the center which features educational exhibits that inform visitors about Ayutthaya’s international trade relations as well as provide information about the city’s, history, culture, art and society.
The Ayutthaya Historical Park
The Ayutthaya Historical Park features a number of different temples. While some temples are intact, others are mere ruins. The temple building period can be divided into three eras, the Early Ayutthaya Period, the Middle Period and the Late Ayutthaya period. The three periods are discernible by way of the variety of architectural styles on display.
Temples from the Early Ayutthaya period display distinct Khmer influences as Prangs (tall towering structures resembling the temple towers of North India) feature as their most prominent feature. Temples from the Middle Period have a chedi or stupa as their most visible feature whereas temples from the late Ayutthaya period feature large coronation halls in addition to chedis and prangs.
If you wish to visit all the temples housed within the Ayutthaya Historical Park, you will probably need more than a day. However, the list of must see temples in Ayutthaya includes Wat Ratchaburana, this temple was looted in 1957, but the relics were recovered and they are now on display at the Chao Sam Phraya Museum and Wat Mahathat (home of the famed Buddha in the tree).
Also recommended are temples such as Wat Phra Sri Sanphet( home to three enormous chedis said to contain the ashes of three Ayutthaya kings who ruled in the 15th century), the Wiharn Phra Mongkon Bophit(home of the much venerated seated Buddha) and Wat Lokayasutha (home of the largest reclining Buddha in Ayutthaya).