Ayutthaya is a historical city located in the central part of Thailand, some 85 km away from Bangkok. Unlike the other famous cities of Thailand, Ayutthaya historical park is lesser known to visitors. This has allowed the city to retain its mystical charm.
It can be easily reached by bus, car or train from Bangkok. However, as the city is at the congruence of 3 rivers, you will need to take a ferry upon arrival to reach the final destination. That said, another good alternative is to travel by cruise from Bangkok.
Given the rich history of Ayutthaya, we joined a day trip from Bangkok, in order to have an in depth understanding of this place.
Officially declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 13 December 1991, Ayutthaya was Thailand’s 2nd capital for 417 years from AD 1350 to 1767 under the reign of 33 kings over 5 dynasties. Over the decades, numerous wars with Burma have reduced the once impressive temples and palaces to ruins.
Ruins of Wat Maha That
The ruins of Phra Maha That Temple is the largest archaeological site in Ayutthaya.
Climbing to the top of the above Wat requires extreme caution. The steps are very narrow (may have to tip-toe on some steps) and steep (45 degree incline). It was built exactly the same way as Angkor Wat. But the view up there is rewarding.
Over the years, tomb raiders have stolen all the heads of the Buddha statues here and sold them as antiques at astronomical price. With tight crackdown by the Thai government, many replica has emerged where unscrupulous merchants pass off as the real McCoy and sell to unknowing buyers. Should you decide to buy a piece, always make sure that there are official papers to allow its export.
The row of headless Buddha statues lead to a stone carved Buddha.
Walking among the ruins brought a sense of peace and tranquility, and we were instantly lost in a time capsule.
Oh….if you think these 2 statues were spared their heads, the truth is the original heads are long gone! These are replicas added during the on going restoration work.
5 to 15 mins walk (depending on which part of the temple ground you are on) from Wat Mata That brings you to the ruins of the royal residence. It is here where the kings retreat from the summer heat.
Visitors can choose to walk around the compound or for something different, hitch an elephant ride. For first-timer, sitting at that height plus the little shakiness from the movement of the elephant can be scary. But once you get over the initial fear, it was really enjoyable.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet is the largest temple in the royal palace compound and in Ayutthaya. Today, only a fraction of it remained as much of it has been destroyed by the Burmese during the war.
Elephants played an important role in Thailand’s history. They are highly respected for fighting with and for the Thais during their numerous war against the Burmese in the early centuries. After the elephant ride, why not learn more about the lifestyle and contributions of these mammal at the Elephant Kraal.
Or try your hands at feeding them with their favourite sugar cane. Do be careful of them spitting out the leftovers or non-edible parts though. It comes without warning!
Viharn Phra Mongkol Bopit
Nearby at the Viharn Phra Mongkol Bopit is a large bronze cast Buddha housed within an impressive structure.
While the shining bronze cast Buddha did have a ‘wow’ factor, the main spotlight here should really be the stone Buddha statue at the side/back of the building (in a small and dirty corner). It is one of ONLY 5 stone Buddha statue in the world!
There are another 5 to 6 other Wat available for visits on the island. If time permits, do go for them. Otherwise, just go for the above 3 ruins which are the largest and most comprehensive of all. And go on a cruise around Ayutthaya island on a long-tailed boat to have an overall view.
Phra Chedi Suriyothai, the white and gold chedi was built as a memorial to a late queen, the first heroine in Thai history.
Phet Fortress is the only fortress remaining out of the 5 in Ayutthaya, each measuring 5 metre in thickness. They were destroyed by a huge fire set by the Burmese army in 1767, which burnt for 3 days and nights.
In Ayutthaya, many houses along the river are built on high stilt. That’s because on every September, the water level will rise by 2.5 metres from the current level causing massive flooding. Like the house below, whenever it floods, the family will move to the 2nd floor. If condition gets worse, they will then have to move inland to higher ground.
Ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Off the island, the ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram is a must visit. The compound are generally the same as what you would see in the other ruins. What set it apart is the tree that hugs around a Buddha head. Though not as impressive as the one in Ta Prohm, it still captivates!
It was said that when the head was accidentally chopped off from the statue, it rolled over to the foot of this tree and was left unnoticed. Over the years, the roots enveloped the head as they grow. Out of superstition, the head was spared from being smuggled.
If you are lucky to come across a group of dancers and a monk at the temple ground, do stay on for the prayer dance to the God. It is a rare sight for us indeed!
So, next time when you visit Bangkok, do make a trip here and be lost in this magical ancient city!