Updated: May 28, 2020
One of the great things about being based in Bangkok, other than the city itself, is that there are so many places to visit just an hour or two away. Ayutthaya, a former capital of Thailand and UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of those places. Originally built in 1350 by King U-Thong, it remained the capital for another 417 years until 1767. So from the new capital to the old one, I hopped on a train for my first trip out of the city.
The old capital is an easy day trip from Bangkok, about 76 km away and an hour or so by train. When arriving at the train station, you are quickly approached by tour guides and tuk-tuks but there are lots of options on how to see the city from just walking to renting bicycles, hiring a car, etc. It happened to be one of the hottest days so far so I opted for the tuk-tuk tour to maximize time and travel in ridiculous style. The tuk-tuk I chose was not the average one lit up with fluorescent purple lights and shiny statues that often cart tourists around Bangkok. This one was the most badass, rock'n'roll tuk-tuk on the lot and I couldn’t resist it. It looked like a rocket and a hearse had a little tuk-tuk baby complete with blasting music and an old rocker at the wheel. So I climbed in the back, immediately hit my head because I'm too tall for most things here, and we were on our way.
WAT YAI CHAIMONGKHON
The first stop was Wat Yai Chaimongkhon, one of the original monasteries in the city. The main building is surrounded by a garden and Buddha statues everywhere. The tourists wandering around are just as abundant as the orange robed monks visiting the temples. The temple has a good view of the surrounding area from the top tier and a wishing well in the middle of the top room.
WAT MAHA THAT & WAT RATCHABURANA
These temple and monastery complexes overlap and are filled with numerous unique buildings, crumbling statues, open green spaces and nature overtaking what was once there. This is the place where the famous photo of the Buddha head taken over by tree vines originates.
WAT PHRA SI SANPHET & WIHAN PHRA MONGKHON BOPHIT
Next up were the ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanphet and the much more modern Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit. Wat Phra Si Sanphet was one of my favourite stops of the day. The three main structures were used as a residential space for the royal family of King Ramathibodi I and later converted to a private royal chapel under King Borom Trai Lokkanat. The history was interesting but I liked it most for the incredible symmetry of the entire grounds and all the fact that it vaguely reminded me of Hogwarts.
Through a small gateway, the grounds lead into the Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit temple complex. The temple houses a large bronze Buddha and prayer space. The Buddha and temple were both significantly damaged in the Burmese–Siamese War in the 1760’s so the temple is a recreation of the original. The current temple also has a set of photographs of the original destruction and a striking photo of the Buddha still sitting calmly amongst the rubble.
Original image from "Palace and ancient temples in Ayutthaya. Including photographs and diagrams "published in the cremation ceremony of the funeral of Mr. Jamrudee Kiattong at Wat Murakratisaram on December 31, 1968.
The second-last stop of the day was the monastery complex of Wat Chaiwatthanaram. This is probably on of the most recognizable of the ruins in the old capital and my favourite of the ones I visited. The main building / Prang and surrounding pagodas are still in good shape and every corner of the place is filled with great little vignettes and different bits of statues and architecture.
WAT PHU KHAO THONG
The last stop was a quick one at Wat Phu Khao Thong, another monastery. This one had a distinctly different look from the rest of the older temples I visited earlier in the day. It had been restored recently and was a bright white against its green and blue surroundings and offered a great view from the top and a good workout walking up and down all those steps.
After melting in the heat most of the day, I was happy to be dropped of back at the train station for a quick iced coffee and delicious roadside soup before getting back on the train to Bangkok. There are so many temples, monasteries and sites to visit in Ayutthaya that it is impossible to do all in one day but I was a fantastic day trip and glimpse into Thailand’s past.