Any visit to Bangkok should include a day trip to Ayutthaya. This UNESCO world heritage site is a popular one for a very good reason. Think Angkor Wat, but dispersed all throughout a town and significantly less regulation (which has its pros and cons.) Before I dive into more about the sites, let me give you some basic information about visiting Ayutthaya.
Getting to Ayutthaya from Bangkok:
There are a few different options for traveling to Ayutthaya. You can go on a day trip that can be easily organized by a hostel or guesthouse. However, you’r’e going to pay significantly more than you need to by doing this. You can also take a taxi which can be negotiated. I guarantee it will be significantly higher than the train ticket that takes you from the Hua Lamphong Station in Bangkok to Ayutthaya. For this train ride you pay 20 baht for one person or 30 baht for two. That’s right, for 2 train tickets we paid less than a dollar. It’s just under a two hour train ride, which takes smidge longer than a drive, but it’s so worth the savings as the ride was very pretty. You pass many fields and several small towns with gorgeous temples.
Getting Around Ayutthaya:
It’s great to be able to bike all around town and pop in at any site we want.
Many people will rent a tuk tuk for the day, and this is a huge mistake if you’re on a budget. Yes, it has the advantage that they know where the hotspots are and you can sit back and enjoy. However, that will cost you significantly more money than its worth, in my opinion. You can rent a motorbike, of course, but I really loved renting bicycles. It’s insanely affordable for only 40 baht each – just about $1.25 we rented bikes for 24 hours from our guesthouse. Most guesthouses offer this. I loved biking because of the budget, it’s wonderful exercise and you can easily bike all around the ruins and weave in and out of the public park areas.
When To Explore Ayutthaya:
Matt and I really love getting up before sunrise to get a super early start on the day. As a blogger/photographer duo, it’s perfect for a couple of reasons: the lighting is perfect and there are fewer tourists around.
As a traveler, it’s great because it’s cooler and it’s also when the local people are our and about for the day, giving you a more local experience. If we had waited until 10 or 11, we would’ve missed out on watching these locals fish in the river.
Although that’s my preferred time of day to visit, anytime is still great for exploring these temples as long as you can tolerate the heat.
Exploring the Temple Ruins of Ayutthaya:
I think the most interesting thing about this archaeological sit is that it’s truly just all around the town. Ayutthaya was a large kingdom (once one of the largest in the east) that existed from 1351 to 1767. This was the first site we explored and that’s because it was just past our guesthouse. It seemed like we couldn’t pedal very far without seeing an old brick wall or a small (or sometimes massive) chedi, which is the Thai version of a stupa.
While there are literally dozens of sites all around the city, there are some that require an entrance fee. You can either pay per entry or you can buy a multi-entry ticket. We only paid to enter three sites, so it was better for us to pay as we go (50 baht each per entry). Even though we only paid for two sites, we still covered so much ground. It was so beautiful to explore this area. There are three experiences that I wouldn’t leave without experiencing: Wat Ratcha Burana, Wat Maha That and simply biking all around these stunning remains.
Biking Around the Remains:
Matt and I had an incredible time exploring the public parks, crossing gorgeous bridges and checking out newer temples or smaller ruins. Here are some examples of the beauty we saw while biking. It was a lot of fun to just get some exercise while seeing some incredible sites. Here are a few of my favorite photos from exploring these public areas on two wheels.
Wat Racha Burana:
The reason Wat Racha Burana is in my Ayutthaya top 3 is because it made the anthropologist in me totally melt. This is one of the sites that you have to pay the 50 baht entrance fee to explore, but it’s so worth it.
First of all, you walk up these steps and it frames the main chedi so perfectly. I was instantly in love with this site from the beauty alone, but it gets even better.
I loved seeing the chedis all around the site. Some, like the one pictured on the far right, seemed to defy gravity.
I seriously loved getting to explore such an awesome site with my husband, and this is where the adventure really began…
There are signs before you enter telling you not to climb up on chedis or on statues of the Buddha, but there’s one major exception as far as chedis go. You’ll notice that the main chedi [pictured right] has a banister; that’s because you get to climb up to the top of it.
When you get to the top, you have a beautiful view of the entrance to the site and the remains of what was once a decently large Buddha statue. Then, you get to also go INSIDE this chedi! It was actually a royal burial chamber, and if you go down a second set of stairs you’ll actually end up in the burial room that’s decorated with murals.
Here’s a quick little video that shows the inner-chedi adventure that Matt + I went on. So-freakin’-cool!
Left: The chedi we explored // Right: One of the many pieces of Buddha figures you can find all over these sites.
As you can see, this was my Indiana Jones moment that made my heart race. It was one of the best places I’ve ever been and I truly just got so much joy from visiting this site.
Wat Maha That
The main desire I had for visiting this gorgeous site is the famous Buddha head in the bodhi tree. However, this site has so much more than just that. There are dozens of partial and mostly whole Buddha statues, a gorgeous setting and more gravity-defying chedis and structures.
Getting a photo with the famous Buddha head was a bit of a madhouse. There is a massive crowd and I was amazed at the number of people who were blatantly disrespectful. There are signs saying to kneel as this is a very holy site to Thais, and people were instead doing crazy yoga poses, standing, etc. I patiently waited for my turn and although I got a photo with no one else in it, know that there are many, many people around me waiting for their turn or cropped out.
This bodhi tree just happened to grow around this fallen statue of the Buddha’s head. I feel like the photos don’t show just how big this head is. It’s probably 1.5 – 2 times the size of my head and it just happened to be in the right place at the right time for this tree to frame it so perfectly.
These Buddha figures are just past the Buddha head and they’re absolutely beautiful.
Ayutthaya was a highlight of my trip to Thailand, for sure. I loved the archaeology, the history, the Buddhism… This site just encapsulated so many of my interests (and all of the things I studied in college). I would highly recommend a stop here if you’re traveling through Bangkok. Do research some of the sites. I didn’t quite research enough because there were a few things that I really feel like I missed out on, but I’ll just check them out next time. My final piece of advice is to remember that these are temples and that the Buddha is a spiritual + religious figure. I was so disgusted by the actions of many tourists who were climbing, yes, climbing, up on Buddha figures, putting their arms around Buddha figures like they’re best bros, and just being all around disrespectful. So don’t be that person. Be respectful, be kind and be reflective.
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