Had enough of Bangkok and looking to get out of the city for an awesome day trip? Thailand’s ancient capital, Ayutthaya, is just over an hour away from Bangkok and is one of the most popular day trips from the current capital. There are endless tours to the magnificent temple ruins but one of the best ways to see them is with a self-organized trip. I’ve written this short guide so that you can plan your own unforgettable DIY Ayutthaya tour.
If you’ve read my post about Bangkok, you’ll know that I love the place! Still, if you’re looking to do more then a day trip might just be what you need. Along with Kanchanaburi and the floating markets, Ayutthaya is one the most popular places for tourists to visit from Bangkok. Head to Khao San Road and you’ll have tuk-tuk drivers and tour guides wave laminated photos of the UNESCO world heritage site in your face (among other sites) and asking for your business.
I’ve been to Ayutthaya a couple of times now and it’s definitely one of my favorite day trips from Bangkok. I did a tour the first time and, on my most recent visit, I organized my own independent Ayutthaya tour and I definitely preferred the latter!
Read More | Visiting Thailand for the first time? Why not check my Thailand Travel Guide For First-Timers for the best tips and ideas.
Self-Guided Versus Organised Ayutthaya Tours
While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with an organized tour of Ayutthaya, especially if you manage to grab one at a good price and get a great guide. I’ve just always preferred to go it alone.
There are plenty of benefits to an organized tour. Your transport and lunch are usually included and your entrance tickets are all sorted without the need for queuing. But you may find that you don’t have enough time to fully appreciated a place because you have to move on to the next item on the itinerary. That’s how I’ve always felt on organized tours anyway.
It usually costs a lot more to go on an organized tour. Especially if you prefer a private tour of just you and your partner. Some private tours cost over $100/£100! Who pays that amount in Thailand?
I prefer to use local transport and reach my destination when I want (usually late!) Explore places at my own pace and not in a group of twenty-odd people. You’re probably thinking the same otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this post, right?
A Short History Of Ayutthaya
Before you head off on your Ayutthaya tour, it’s useful to know the history of the ancient city and why it was such an important place in Thailand’s history. For a start, the country was called Siam back then! Most people know that Ayutthaya was Thailand’s ancient capital city, but it wasn’t Siam’s first capital.
Thailand’s first capital was actually Sukhothai. In the early 13th century, local tribes revolted to overthrow the Khmer Empire which controlled the region. Pho Khun Bangklanghao led the rebellion and was later crowned the first king of the Sukhothai Kingdom. Most historians agree that this was the beginning of modern-day Thailand.
Sukhothai became a Buddhist kingdom and it’s believed that the Thai script was invented during this time as well as the foundations for politics. Temples and stupas were built to enshrine relics of the Buddha and some of these remain even today.
As important as Sukhothai was to Thai history, the kingdom was overthrown a couple of centuries later. A rising power, in the form of a close neighbor to the south, invaded in 1349 and control Sukhothai as part of a new kingdom. That kingdom was Ayutthaya!
The Ayutthaya kingdom flourished over the next 400 years. Not only did it claim Sukhothai but it also conquered Angkor, in modern-day Cambodia. In doing so, it ended 600 years of Khmer rule! However, Ayutthaya’s success wasn’t just about the might of their military.
The strategic position of Ayutthaya made the perfect meeting place for merchants from all over the world. Ships from all of Europe and Asia sailed to Ayutthaya making it one of the trading capitals of the world. During this time of wealth, many grand temples and palaces were built and Ayuttaya became one of the finest cities the world had ever seen. At one point, Ayutthaya was the largest city in the world with a population of over 1 million people!
After centuries of prosperity, the city well in 1767 when the Burmese finally defeated Ayutthaya after years of conflict. Most of the city was burnt to the ground and those who survived were taken as slaves. Unfortunately for the Burmese, Chinese invasions of their homeland meant a complete withdrawal from the city, and a new dynasty emerged to reunify Siam by 1770. They would be the ancestors of the current monarch we know today!
How To Get To Ayutthaya From Bangkok
You can get to Ayutthaya from Bangkok by minivan, train, and even by boat! Unfortunately, it looks like public buses no longer run from Victoria Monument in Bangkok. This could change in the near future though.
The fastest option is by train and there are regular departures from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong station. You should reach Ayutthaya station in 1.5 hours and tickets cost from as little as 20 THB ($0.6/£0.4) for a 3rd class cabin and up to 330 THB ($10/£7.4) for a first-class ticket with air-con and meal. Trains leave every hour and tart as early as 4.30 am for those of you who are super keen!
Another option is by minivan. These can be taken from Mo Chit northern bus terminal or Khao San Road (for an inflated price.) From Mo Chit, just look for the ticket counters and someone will certainly spot you and ask if you want a ticket to Ayutthaya! You will have to wait till the minivan is full but this never normally more than 20 minutes. Tickets are 70 THB ($2/£1.6) and the journey takes around 1.5 – 2 hours.
The minivan station for your return journey is easy to find. Just ask around or ask your tuk-tuk driver to drop you off once you’ve finished your tour.
Of course, there is always the option of a taxi. You’d have to pay around 1,000 THB ($30/£22) which, by European standards, isn’t too bad. If you’re a good haggler you may be able to negotiate a return trip plus have them drive you around the sites for around 2,500 THB ($77/£56.)
How to Get Around Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya isn’t that small! All the temple ruins are located on a kind of mini island and you will need a mode of transport to get around all the different sites.
Depending on how you get there you will almost certainly be approached by tuk-tuk drivers asking for your business. These are a great option and one of the best ways to get around the city. Plus they look so cool! These guys are usually a bit tougher to negotiate with and the standard charge is 250 THB an hour. After some haggling, we managed to pay 900 THB for 5 hours for the 2 of us. These tuk-tuks can fit 6 so grab some friends and get a bargain!
If you’ve arrived by train you can walk towards the river and get the ferry for a few Thai baht. Or you can get a tuk-tuk straight from the station. Once in the city proper, you can decide if you want to arrange a tuk-tuk driver (who will most likely be waiting for you once you come off the ferry) bicycle or moped.
If you’re feeling fit then you can hire a bicycle for a few dollars a day. Just bear in mind that temperatures can reach the 40’s (Celcius) and this can make your cycling quite unbearable. Although this could be a great cheap option in the winter.
Like many religious sites around Southeast Asia, there’s a dress code that you should adhere to. You want to be respectful whilst visiting the temple ruins after all.
Ladies need to cover their shoulders and knees while men should also cover their knees. I went with the same elephant pants I bought outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok! There are usually vendors selling all kinds of scarves and other garments so you’re not likely to be underdressed on your visit.
One of the great things about visiting Ayutthaya is that the entrance fees to the temple ruins are fairly cheap. Most of the ruins require a ‘donation of 20-50 THB ($1.5/£1.) If you manage to see 4-5 temples then you’re only going to part with $7-8 dollars.
Compare that to Angkor Wat where a one-day pass to the complex is $37!! Maybe Ayutthaya doesn’t have the fame that Angkor Wat does but, as a whole, the temples across the ancient city really are beautiful.
Best Temples In Ayutthaya
There are many temple ruins in Ayutthaya. You’ll need to stay 2 or 3 days if you want to see them all. If you’re going to Ayutthaya on a day trip then these are the most impressive and important sites that I recommend.
Wat Chai Watthanaram
Wat Chai Watthanaram (try saying that three times) is one of Ayutthaya’s most famous and visited temples. Of all the ruins, this is the must-see in Ayutthaya. Constructed in 1630 by King Pra-Sat Thong, the temple was a memorial to his mother. It is instantly recognizable from its 35-meter high Khmer style prang. From the right angle, you could even say it looked like a mini Angkor Wat!
Tourists flock to Wat Mahathat to see one thing. The head of a Buddha statue wrapped in the branches of a Bodhi tree. If you didn’t know, the Bodhi tree is the same tree that Gautama Buddha was meditating under when he achieved enlightenment. It’s probably the most photographed Buddha in Ayutthaya!
Once you drag yourself away from the Buddha head you’ll see the rest of the temple is pretty impressive too. There’s almost an Angkor Wat feel to it. Look out for the trees growing from the ruins and you’ll know what I mean! There are also some nicely restored Buddha images around the site too.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet
Wat Phra Si Sanphet was perhaps the holiest temple during the height of the Ayutthaya kingdom. It was part of the Royal Palace and is easily recognized by the three Chedis where the ashes of three former kings were buried. It was considered to be one of the most beautiful temples in the kingdom till its destruction by the Burmese.
Not only was Wat Phra Si Sanphet considered important in the past but its significance can be seen today. Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, or The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, was built using Wat Phra Si Sanphet as its model. It is now regarded as the most sacred temple in Thailand!
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon
Constructed in 1357 by King Ramathibodi I, Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon was the home of Buddhist monks who were ordained in Ceylon (Sri Lanka.) One of the things you’ll notice about the ruins is that the Buddha statues around this temple are regularly clothed in saffron robes. Nearly all the Buddha statues (including the reclining Buddha) have been reconstructed to resemble their original state.
Wat Ratchaburana is another ruin with a beautiful Khmer-style prang at its center. You can go inside the prang into the crypt below. Unfortunately, the crypt was looted in 1957. The thieves were caught but very few treasures were ever returned. The ruins make a fantastic photo opportunity using the windows to frame the huge prang.
If you want to see something a little different, then visit Wat Thammikarat. This temple is believed to be built before Ayutthaya’s rise to power and is full of lion statues and plastic roosters! According to legend, a Thai prince of Burmese origin challenged the Burmese prince to a cockfight. The Thai prince’s rooster won and Ayutthaya was freed from Burmese rule!
Tips For Your Visit
- To get the most out of your day trip you need to start the day early. Try to be at the train or minivan by 7.00 am. You can always have a nap along the way. I did!
- The incredble heat means its important to stay hydrated. Take some water, sunscreen and maybe a hat. Not like I want sound like your mother or anything.
- Covering knees and shoulders doesn’t necesarily mean long pants and thick t-shirts. Zuz wore a dress and this made covering up legs a little more bearable.
- This may be the place you encounter an Asian elephant for the first time. As lovely as these creatures are, riding them is not encouraged. If you knew how they were ‘trained’ then you’d see why.
- There are many temple ruins in Ayutthaya so I recommend doing a bit of research beforehand. Choose which ones you really want to see before you start negotiating tith a tuk-tuk driver.
- There are a large amount of stray dogs in Ayutthaya. Most of them are asleep during the day so watch your step if you want to avoid being barked at.
Ready For Your Own Self-Organized Ayutthaya Tour?
Ayutthaya is an awesome day trip and so easy to do without the need for an organized tour!
Having been on a few guided tours I definitely prefer going it alone (or with my travel partner in crime!) Our self-organized Ayutthaya tour was cheap and easy to organize. Most importantly, we had plenty of time at each temple so that we never felt like we had to rush. A fantastic day trip from Bangkok!
I really recommend just showing up and negotiating with a tuk-tuk driver. If you have a list of temples in mind that you would like to see then even better! Your driver will wait for you at each temple and take you somewhere for lunch. He’ll even drop you off at the minivan station so you can be back in Bangkok in time to knock back a few buckets on Khao San Road (if that’s your thing!)
I hope you enjoyed this post on how to plan your own Ayutthaya tour. If you have any questions about something that I may not have covered then feel free to get in contact. Or just let me know in the comments below.