Ayutthaya, the former capital of Thailand (then known as Siam), was founded in 1350. During its golden age in the early 18th century, it was home to nearly a million people from all over Asia and even Europe. Ayutthaya was destroyed by invading armies in the 1760s, and later rebuilt on a site near the old city’s magnificent ruins.
Today, the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the perfect place to spend a day or two exploring the ruins of a prosperous, culturally vibrant, lost world.
RECOMMENDED NUMBER OF DAYS: 2-3 DAYS
PRINCIPLE ACTIVITY: CYCLING
WAT PHAI LOM
This temple, on the Chao Phraya’s west bank, is in Samkhok district north of Bangkok. Its biggest claim to fame is the unusually large population of rare migratory birds that call Phai Lom home for most of the year. Between November and June, you can catch sight of the Asian open-bills nesting in the temple grounds, as well as kingfishers and ibises on stopovers during their migration seasons.
BANG PA-IN PALACE
In the mid-19th century, King Mongkut restored the ruins of this 17th century summer palace. His successor King Chulalongkorn made further additions at the end of the 19th century, and the result is a unique mix of Chinese, classical Thai and western Neoclassical architectural styles. The huge gardens, modelled after traditional French gardens, contain enough monuments and smaller buildings to warrant a half-day visit. The current King and his family occasionally visit or use the palace, but for most of the year it is open to the public. The palace is approximately 10km south of Ayutthaya along the Chao Phraya.
This temple, situated on the west bank of the Chao Phraya, was built in 1350. Its central tower, or prang, is one of the best-preserved examples of Khmer style architecture, featuring unusually steep stairs, corbelled arches and complex bas reliefs. At night, recently installed lighting adds even more dramatic beauty to this important historic site.
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon is famous for its giant reclining Buddha statue, as well as the numerous other Buddha statues scattered throughout the compound. The temple is nearly as old as the city itself. Its slightly crooked chedi (stupa) is so big it’s presently sinking; visible from most places in Ayutthaya, it is actually a later addition by King Naresuan the Great in the 1590s. Ironically, the chedi commemorates Naresuan’s military victory over the Burmese, who later went on to invade the city and repurpose Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon as a fortress.
Home to the famous statue of a Buddha head entwined in roots, Wat Mahathat was built in the 14th century as the most sacred grand temple consisting of countless Buddha images. It was destroyed in the 18th century by the Burmese army, who vandalised the compound by lopping off the heads of Buddha images – today, rows of headless statues provide an atmospheric background.
Ayutthaya used to be home to traders from all around the world, and some traces of the Dutch, French, Portuguese, and other foreign quarters remain. St. Joseph’s Church, for instance, was built by the French in the mid-17th century and is still standing. Baan Hollanda, not an original building from the period, but built according to 17th century Dutch style, is well-curated museum commemorating the early history of the Dutch in Thailand.
From Bangkok, it takes five to eight hours (70km) of cycling northwards along the back roads parallel to the Chao Phraya river to reach Ayutthaya, and alternative transport methods like buses and river cruises are available for the return journey. Bicycles can be easily rented in Bangkok, which will come in handy when navigating the sprawling ruins in hot weather.
Accommodation options are not as varied as in Bangkok (most visitors come here on day trips), but there are a number of options ranging from cosy guesthouses to 4-star resorts.
There are daily flight options from Singapore to Bangkok, on airlines like Thai Airways and Singapore Airlines, as well as a slew of low-cost options. Those with time to spare can also take the train from Singapore all the way to Bangkok.