THE ESSENTIAL AYUTTHAYA GUIDE
Ayutthaya is a magical place. A city whose history seems to have been largely forgotten by the rest of the world. But this UNESCO World Heritage site is most definitely on a par with the likes of Bagan or Angkor Wat. If you have an interest in history, or appreciation of architecture, then a couple of days in Ayutthaya should absolutely be part of your Thailand travel plans.
To help you make the most of your time in Ayutthaya, this guide outlines the highlights, plus the ideal time of day to visit each site for the best light. We’ll also cover how to get around, where to eat and sleep, and how to get here. But first, a little history…
Note that while it’s entirely possible to visit Ayutthaya as a day trip from Bangkok, we highly recommend spending at least two full days here. There are many sights to see and the hot, humid weather makes it exhausting to try and do in one day. It’s much better to split your visit over two days, with a break during the hottest part of the day.
THE HISTORY OF AYUTTHAYA
A mere 300 years ago, Ayutthaya was the largest city in the world and a key trading hub between East and West. It had over 1 million inhabitants, with merchants and dignitaries from all over the world calling it home. It was established as the second Siamese capital after Sukhothai, and flourished between the 14th and 18th centuries. Its strategic location on the banks of three rivers connected to the sea protected it from attack by sea-going warships, while enabling trade to prosper. The city’s wealth and importance is evident to this day in the sheer number and size of Buddhist monasteries remaining.
It all came to an end in April 1767 however, when Burmese armies razed the city to the ground after a 14 month siege. Art treasures, libraries and important historic documents were all destroyed, along with the bulk of the city. All that remained were the stone palaces and monasteries, the defining features of Ayutthaya today.
The Burmese forces left after just a few months, forced to defend their own capital against Chinese invasion. Chaos ensued. Ayutthaya was never rebuilt in the same location, a new capital established at Thonburi instead, further down river near modern day Bangkok.
In 1991, part of the Ayutthaya Historical Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with an extension under preparation to cover the entire area of the city as it existed in the 18th Century.
THE BEST OF AYUTTHAYA
Today Ayutthaya is an interesting mix of old and new, characterised by magnificent historical sites scattered around a modern Thai city. The majority of them are found in the Ayutthaya Historical Park, but a few noteworthy others are located outside of this central area. Nothing is too far though, and it’s easy to get around on foot, bike or by tuk tuk.
There are five wats within the Ayutthaya Historical Park that we recommend you visit, plus two more across the river that are must-sees. From a photography perspective, we struggled to find good information about opening hours, lighting conditions, and the best spots for sunrise and sunset. In the end we took our chances and kicked ourselves a few times, but fortunately for you, we’re here to give you all the info we lacked. Taking into consideration the best light, opening hours and weather, here’s where and when to visit the best of Ayutthaya.
The map below shows the names and locations of our recommended wats, along with places to eat, stay and where to get the bus or train.
BEST AT SUNRISE & EARLY MORNING
Many of Ayutthaya’s historical sites are only open from 8am – 6pm, or thereabouts. This means you won’t be able to capture the best sunrise photos at them, and it’ll already be getting hot by the time the gates open.
We scouted out a few spots and concluded that the best places for sunrise photos and early exploring are as follows.
There is no entrance fee here or restricted opening hours so you’re free to visit at any time. The most impressive thing to see at this wat is the huge reclining Buddha. At 42 x 8 metres, it’s an imposing sight! The Buddha faces west, so if you position yourself right you can get a shot of the sun rising behind the Buddha. Otherwise, it would be better to visit this spot later in the afternoon when the sun is shining on the Buddha and not glaring at your lens.
Open All Hours
Wat Phra Si Sanphet
One of the most impressive and most popular sites to visit in Ayutthaya, this is also known as The Grand Palace.