Ayutthaya, the old capital of Thailand is easily overlooked when getting your Thai itinerary together. Big mistake. I’ve travelled through Thailand on four different trips and only on my last trip did I include Ayutthaya, but it is probably the most impressive and beautiful old temple complex in the whole country. And with it being one 80 kilometres from the Thai metropole Bangkok it fits in almost any programme. So stop hesitating, go there.
– Practical information –
Ayutthaya follows the same weather pattern as Bangkok and most of the South-East Asian region. Low humidity and long sunny days from November – April, rainy days from May- October. But the Ayutthaya region has a very mild monsoon season, so even in those months, chances are you are going to see the sun for a couple of hours a day.
Ayutthaya’s tourism is still largely underdeveloped and most visitors go to the site on a day-trip from Bangkok, which means the prices are very reasonable here. Expect to pay 200B for a boutique hostel, 800B for a midrange hotel and 2000B for a 4-star luxury resort-style hotel. Streetfood starts as cheaply as 30B and a bite in a restaurant will set you back about 100B (which includes some spring rolls as an appetiser).
In, out & around
Ayutthaya does not have an airport so getting there means taking either the bus or the train. I definitely recommend the latter. Ayutthaya is a stop on the track from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and considering the train departs on the hour every day, it makes for a perfect stop on the way (costs depend on which train you take, it ranges from 15-60B, and there is one super-expensive one that costs 300B). From the railway station, it is a 5-min walk in a straight line to the ferry that takes you over the canal that wraps around the historical centre of Ayutthaya (5B one-way).
My advice? Take the train from Bangkok (Hua Lamphong or Sam Sen station) sometime in the afternoon to arrive in Ayutthaya just before dinner. use the evening to explore the little centre of Ayutthaya, and the next day to cycle around town temple-hopping. In the evening you can take the night train to Chiang Mai where you will arrive the next morning. Minimal time spend on travelling, maximum sightseeing.
There are also buses going to Ayutthaya leaving Bangkok from Mo Chit station (30-60B) that take about 1.5 hours to cover the trip (last bus leaves at 18:00). The BKS bus station in Ayutthaya is located in the middle of the historic centre, from which you can easily walk to most centrally-located accommodations.
Getting around by bicycle
The best mode of transport in Ayutthaya is without a question, the bicycle. You can rent them from almost any place for 30-50B a day, they require no deposit and considering the roads are in decent condition and Ayutthaya has virtually no elevation whatsoever, cycling around is a walk-in-the-park. Take into account that taking the ferry to cross the canal with a bicycle is more expensive than without one, so if you arrived into town by train it is better to first cross the ferry and rent a bicycle over there.
– Cycling from temple to temple –
There is no question what you should see on a visit to Ayutthaya, its all about the historic temples here. The coolest thing is that they are all scattered around town about 1-2 miles apart from each other, which means they are perfect to explore by bicycle. The problem with the temples is that there are many, and they are rather large (the old capital used to harbour over a million inhabitants) so if you are only planning on a single-day visit (which I think is enough) you will have to make choices. To make it easier, I summed up the best ones, which you at least should visit. If you got time, you can always include more.
Wat Chai Wattanaram
Entrance: 20B Starting off with my personal favourite (although this is a rather common opinion as it is simply the biggest and most impressive temple of the lot), Wat Chai Wattanaram is, strangely enough, not visited by everyone that comes to Ayutthaya for the mere reason that its located a couple of miles away from the historic centre. Get up early and make Wat Chai Wattanaram your first visit, if you get there before 10 AM you will share it with only a handful of visitors as all the tour-groups start their temple-hopping in the centre. Do not worry when you are spending about 2 hours at this complex, most other sites are not as large and can be explored a lot quicker.
Wat Chai Wattanaram, a former monastery, was built between 1630-1650 and is located on the river-banks of the Chao Praya river (the same one that divides Bangkok), its building style is heavily Kmer-influenced (you will see the resemblance with the Angkor temples, if you have been there) and along with its many chedi’s and stupas it gives host to 120 Buddhas.
Wat Phra Sri Sanphet
Entrance: 50B. If you have ever seen a picture of Ayutthaya it is probably an image of this one. Wat Phra Sri Sanphet is known as the ancient palace and is part of the Grand Palace Complex. Its iconic towering chedi-triples can be seen from far away. It is conveniently located in the heart of town and I would probably head here second (get here around lunch to yet again avoid most tour groups).
Next to Wat Phra Sri Sanphet is the restored Wiharn Phra Mongkhon Bophit which is nice to look at from a distance but furthermore rather underwhelming (and usually very crowded!). It hosts a 12-meter high Buddha but if you are stressed for time (or steadily growing hungrier and craving lunch) I would not bother.
Entrance: 50B. Third on the list is Wat Mahathat, which is best known for its ‘Buddha-tree’. The Buddha-tree appears to be a tree wrapped around a whole Buddha-statue but the truth is that during a storm the head of a Buddha-statue broke off, and landed the right way at the foot of a Bayan-tree, that over the course of several decades slowly grew around the head. The Buddha-tree is a lot smaller than I expected, but the rest of Wat Mahathat exceeded my expectations. Pretty chedi’s, big buddhas and all in a green grassy setting.
There are many tourist and fruit stalls right in front of its entrance so grab a 20B banana-shake to cool-off and stave off your hunger a little longer and also visit this temple during lunch-time to have a somewhat quieter visit.
After this temple, it is time to treat yourself to a leisurely lunch and depending on the time (and the departure time of your train if you are taking the night-train northwards) you can visit a few of smaller temples afterwards. Wat Ratchaburana and Wat Phra Ram should be prime candidates.
– Eat & sleep recommendations –
So the town of Ayutthaya itself is not particularly picturesque. Some facades are well-restored but there is still a lot of work to be done. If you have seen the temples, there is no reason to linger around town any longer. Luckily enough there are a few places that are worth the recommendation.
Nongnine Bike & Gear Bar & Restaurant
There are two places that I would recommend considering for food. The first is Nongnine Bike & Gear Bar & Restaurant. It is conveniently located opposite of the railway station and they serve the best deep-fried bananas in town. The other meals are also great. Tasty, cheap and they serve large portions. They have free Wifi (but so does almost any place in Thailand these days) and a cool, leafy shaded terrace to enjoy your meal on.
I was surprised to find such a hip place right at the railway station in Ayutthaya. The station is definitely pricey but their air-conditioning is cold and their meals delicious. The biggest advantage is its location, however. If you are waiting for the train you can literally see them departing from where you sit through the big windows. If you tell your waiter which train you are having he will also tell you when it is rolling in. Simply finish your drink, pay your bill and hop on the train minutes later. It saves a lot of stress and a lot of uncomfortably waiting at the side of the tracks sitting on your backpack while accidentally crushing your shaving-foam that explodes inside of your back, covering all your belongings in a thick white foam (yes that happened to me once).
We found out that Booking.com will consistently give you the best rates on hotels. To make finding the perfect spot a little easier we made a selection for Ayutthaya. Click the link below to find the best places to stay in Ayutthaya.