A Brief History of Ayutthaya Historical Park

The Kingdom of Ayutthaya lasted from 1350 until 1767 and was founded by King U Thong after the decline of Sukhothai – which is another excellent set of ruins you should definitely visit in Thailand, by the way.

U Thong had the Ayutthaya temples built on an island surrounded by three rivers that connected the city to the sea. This strategic location protected the kingdom from invaders as well as floods.

This prime location helped Ayutthaya develop into one of the largest urban areas in the world. It became a hub of diplomacy and trade, as merchants from all corners of the globe flocked here. When the nearby kingdom of Angkor fell, it was Ayutthaya that filled the void.

At its peak, Ayutthaya had around one million inhabitants. Thanks to its location between China, India, and the Malay archipelago, it developed into the trading capital of the world. It was a place where east and west met and did business, with Chinese, Arabs, Portuguese, French, Indians and more trading with each other.

Wat Phra Mahathat

Wat Phra Mahathat is mostly famous for having a buddha’s head entwined in the roots of a banyan tree. This is of course very impressive to see, but there is more to this series of ruins than a head in a tree, despite what the photos may lead you to believe, including several prangs and many many crumbly buddha statues.

Wat Chaiwattaranaram

This is one of most photogenic Wat’s in Ayutthaya, featuring a large central chedi surrounded by pagodas. Normally you can climb to the top for a lovely view of the city, and it’s also a good place to watch the sunset from.

I say normally because when we visited flood damage has resulted in it being closed. The bad news meant that we couldn’t climb anything, the good news was neither could anyone else, so the pictures were happily people free. And lack of access also meant the entry fee was waived. So it wasn’t all bad news.

Getting to Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya is located just a couple hours north of Bangkok. Fortunately, getting there is quick and straightforward. Although Ayutthaya can be made in a day trip (independently or via organized tour) from Bangkok, opt to spend at least one night so that you aren’t too rushed between sights.

Ayutthaya by Train: Paul Theroux was right — traveling by rail really is the only way to travel, particularly in Thailand. It beats even the nicest buses. Not only can you stretch and mill around without attracting stares, you’ll miss some of Bangkok’s nightmarish traffic. Scenes of suburban life normally obscured from tourists flash by outside the windows. Trains to Ayutthaya leave frequently from Hualamphong Station in Bangkok; the trip takes around two hours.

Ayutthaya by Bus: If taking the train isn’t an option, buses to Ayutthaya leave Bangkok’s Moh Chit station (the northern bus terminal) approximately every 20 minutes. The ride costs under US $2 and takes around two hours, depending on traffic.