Ayutthaya was the first stop in my 21 day tour through Thailand and a perfect introduction to the elegance and cultural richness of the country. There’s temples everywhere and the refinement and sense of detail are incredible. The best and cheapest way to explore it is by bike, although you might want to get acclimatized first, to avoid almost falling off it from the heat like I did (elegant, REALLY elegant).
And hey, you don’t want to be like everybody else, do you? So don’t just visit Ayutthaya on an organized day trip from Bangkok. Stay a bit longer, at least 2 days, to really enjoy this wonderful city. So come on, hop on you bike and let me show you around!
Ayutthaya was the second Siamese capital, after Sukhothai, from 1350 until 1767. In 1767 it was distroyed by the Birmese army. At its climax, the city was home to more than 400 breathtaking temples. Today you’ll find some 10 renovated temples and plenty of active temples, many of which can be visited and are absolutely magnificent.
Temple madness, day 1
(For practical information, go to the bottom of this article.)
After breakfast, get on your bike and drive to Wat Phra Mahathat (daily 9am-5pm, entrance fee 50 Baht), which is most known for the Buddha head that’s stuck between the roots of a tree. Nobody really knows how the head got there but it’s nice to look at. The whole site is beautiful and so calm, it’s almost magical. Although the site isn’t huge, you can easily spend 1 to 1,5 hours exploring.
Drive by Wat Ratburana and Wat Thammikarat and visit the magnificent Wat Phra Si Sanphet (daily 9am-5pm, entrance fee 50 Baht). This was once a temple for the royal family that was exclusively used for royal ceremonies. The 3 chedis are impressive and in very good condition.
Wihaan Mongkhon Bophit (daily 9am-5pm, entrance fee 50 Baht), which is right next doors to Wat Phra Si Sanphet, enshrines one of the largest Buddha statues in Thailand. This is a working temple so don’t forget to dress appropriately to visit it. Knee-length shorts and covered-up shoulders might not be your best bet for seducing that cute guy you ran into earlier, but they are the way to go if you want to get into a temple. A scarve to cover up your shoulders is fine, too, so unless you want to rent a smelly scarf that 256 other sweaty people have already used before you, bring your own!
The next stop that should definitely be on your wish list is Wat Chai Wattanaram (daily 8am – 4pm, entrance fee 50 Baht), which is located just outside the city center, on the west side, at about 1,5km from Wat Phra Si Sanphet. This doesn’t seem far at all, but I nearly fell off my bike because I almost fainted in the middle of the street! It was nothing half a bottle of water in the face couldn’t fix and I was on my feet again in no time, but do keep in mind the heat and humidity if you go here in summer and don’t forget to take lots of water and take it slowly – especially if it’s your first day and you aren’t acclimatized yet, like me. There’s no boats to Wat Chai Wattanaram, the only way to get there is by bike over the bridge or by sorng taa ou.
This is the most beautiful temple I visited in Ayutthaya. It’s in far better condition than e.g. Wat Phra Mahathat, so it’s even easier to imagine how grand it must have been during the Siamese period.
Most other temples close at 4pm, so you probably won’t have time to visit anything else on day 1.
Luckily you decided NOT to be like everybody else and stay 2 days, so there’s still plenty of time to see all the rest!
In the evening, there’s not so much to do and the streets are almost empty. Of course, all the other tourists went back to Bangkok. A few small markets bring some life into the streets and some of the temples are beautifully illuminated. So just strol around, get some food and some drinks and enjoy a quiet evening.
Time for some more temple madness (it IS Thailand after all…)
Start day 2 discovering Thanon Dusit by bike. The neighborhood has a rural feel to it and a soft breeze makes the heat seem less oppressive than in the city. You don’t need a map, just drive and stop whenever you see something that looks interesting. You won’t find giant Buddha’s or lots of grand temples that witness the city’s impressive past over here, although there are a few of them, but the charming scenes from everyday life make it absolutely worth a visit.
In the afternoon, head to Wat Suwandararam (daily 8am – 4pm, free entrance, working temple so think of the dress code). We left our bikes at the hotel and took a sorng taa ou from here, but you can do it by bike, too. If you were to visit only 1 working temple, pick this one for its elegant buildings and colorful interiors.
From there, walk a few hundred meters and take the boat to Wat Phanan Choeng (daily 8am – 4pm, entrance fee 20 Baht). But first stop at the restaurant near Wat Suwandarara (information below)! This highly frequented working temple contains one of the most worshiped Buddha’s of Ayutthaya. On the walls, 84 000 small Buddha statues surround it.
Take a sorng taa ou to Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon (daily 8.30am – 4.30pm, entrance fee 20 Baht) with its 7 meters long lying Buddha.
Let’s go and get some Thai food
Soi 2, Th Naresuan. This is also a guesthouse.
Come here for delicious pad thai and jummy juices that’ll make you feel tropical right away (well, the heat might have something to do with it, too). Don’t forget to order the grilled bananas for desert!
Restaurant near Wat Suwandararam
Walk towards Thanon U Thong. It’s on the right side of the street.
If food heaven exists, this place is it! It’s a hidden gem we accidentally found while wandering the streets. No tourists or fancy decorations over here, only Thai people – the waiters don’t even speak English – just delicious food! I’d eat their omelet filled with vegetarian pad thai every day!
Restaurant near Wat Chai Wattanaram
Across the street from the temple.
The restaurant doesn’t look very appealing form the outside but it’s the only place you’ll find some food in the area. The menu is simple but the food is decent and the service is great! We were the only guests and had a chat with the owner, who turned out to be really nice and funny.
I wouldn’t recommend Pae Krung Kao, which is right next to the river and offers a nice view. It looked romantic but unfortunately, the view is pretty much all it has to offer. The food is very mediocre and the service is just horrible.
How to get there and get around
The best way to see the most of the city is by bike. This costs about 30 Baht per day but some hotels also lend bikes to their guests for free. If you need to cross the water, you can either take one of the bridges or one of the boats. Don’t worry, you can take your bike with you on the boat and stall it safely at all the important sights. A boat to cross the river costs about 15 Baht per person (and even less if you don’t take your bike).
For longer distances or if you need to go outside of the island at night, it’s best to take a sorng taa ou. There are no boats at night and some of the bridges are quite dangerous for cyclists. A ride on the island will cost about 40 Baht, if you want to leave the island you’ll pay about 80 Baht.
To get to Ayutthaya from Bangkok, the easiest way is to take a minibus at the Victory Monument in Bangkok. Tell the driver where your hotel is, he’ll drop you off close to it. The price is 60 Baht per person but if you have luggage, you might have to pay 2 seats instead of 1. We had 2 pieces of luggage and had to pay 3 seats for 2 people.
There’s different bus stops on the island, with busses to lots of destinations in Thailand. Check your travel guide or ask your hotel for the right bus stop.
If there’s a train to your next destination, I recommend you take it. The train station is at the east side of the city, right outside the island. There’s trains to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen and Pak Chong. Prices vary according to train class. If you’re on the island, either take a boat at Chao Phrom pier or a sorng taa ou to the train station.
Since you’re not doing it like everybody else, you’ll need a place to crash. Where to sleep?
Prices for accommodation in Thailand are generally low. In Ayutthaya, you can find a bed in a hostel for as little as 200 Baht (about € 5). We stayed at Baan Thai House, a little piece of heaven right outside the city center, near the train station. We paid € 50 for a deluxe villa. Want to read all about it? Check out my full review.