Being close to Bangkok but at the same time not as crowded as the capital city, makes Ayutthaya one of our favorite destinations in Thailand when it comes to visiting temples and appreciating Thai architecture. Indeed we’ve been to Ayutthaya 3 times already and we’ll probably go again next time we are in Bangkok, we just love it so much!
Ayutthaya is one of the former capital cities of the Kingdom of Siam. There are so many temples both inside and outside the river boundaries that contain the naturally protected city, that we keep coming back everytime to see some new sights we missed before.
Many of you will probably have just one day to visit the area, that’s why we decided to put down this guide to the best 8 temples not to be missed in Ayutthaya.
BICYCLE OR SCOOTER?
The first time we came here we thought that going around by bicycle would be the best way to appreciate Ayutthaya. It is a pleasant experience, until you reach 4 or 5+ hours of cycling under the hot tropical sun! Besides, some of the best temples are located beyond the river, some five to ten kilometers away, so we changed our mind and switched to riding a motorbike on our second visit. If you don’t drive, buses and tuk-tuks can carry you around, but having your own vehicle will always be the best solution and take you where you want to go, when you want to go, i.e. at sunrise and sunset when tourist crowds are not there.
As hard as it may sound, you will be glad you woke up at 5 am!
Let’s see now our favorite temples and how to reach them. For ease of reference we’ll list them in “Beyond the river boundaries” and “Within the river boundaries”.
As for any memorable sight, it takes more time and effort (if you are cycling) to reach the best places. But this will also mean that less people will be there and you’ll have the chance to appreciate them peacefully.
1. WAT CHAI WATTANARAM
The closest to get temple beyond the river. Constituted by 8 chedi surrounding the central 35m high prang (khmer style core structure), this 17th century royal Buddhist temple will strike you for its imposing bulk.
-Tip: officially, the site opens at 8 am and the entrance ticket is 50 bahts. However, the first time we got here at 5.30 am the area was completely deserted. As there are no gates it’s easy to just walk in, although reportedly some guards forbid the entrance before opening time, even if you pay the fee. In this case you can still enjoy the sunrise around the temple without physically getting inside.
2. WAT PHUTTHAI SAWAN
Heading on the same street along the river, you’ll get to Wat Phutthai Sawan after a couple of km’s. The massive white prang is recognizable from distance. This is an active monastery, but our tranquil sunrise visit lasted shortly as some unleashed dogs didn’t like us very much! Monks will call them back, if they are around!
3. WAT YAI CHAI MONGKHON
Not too far from the train station, you can either reach Wat Mongkhon from there or coming from the southern road if you plan to see n.1 and n.2 on our list. This wat is characterized by its large stupa that steals the scene, but there are also other interesting elements as a reclining Buddha within the complex (the one in the photo at the top of this post).
-Tip: go the extra mile! Don’t stick to the front facade only, walk around and behind the stupa through the nice temple gardens.
-Extra Tip: if you do cover the entire road south of the city, you might as well stop at Wat Phanan Choeng, an indoor temple where you may be able to witness functions and cerimonies.
4. CHEDI PHUKHAO THONG
The all white recently repainted Chedi Phukhao Thong is our favourite temple in Ayutthaya. It has claimed a special place in our heart after we missed it the first time and we promised to ourselves that we would be back to see it! As a punishment for our omission, we got a flat tire on our way back from Chedi Phukhao Thong. Still we loved it so much that we visited twice, both at sunrise and at sunset. In the early morning you’ll most likely have the area for yourself, climbing the steep stairs is a nice little challenge. Watching closely you can see the structure is slightly offset and collapsed, this is due to the severe damage caused by a recent flood that affected the whole town of Ayutthaya.
TEMPLES WITHIN THE RIVER BOUNDARIES
Here’s our list of the most remarkable temples in Ayutthaya you can easily reach during the day.
5. WAT SUAN LUANG SOPSAWAN
Wat Suan Luang or the Monastery of the Royal Garden is a nice wat located on the west side of Ayutthaya old city. Take a walk through the garden to appreciate the gorgeous white and golden tipped chedi dedicated to Queen Suriyothai.
6. WAT MAHA THAT
Wat Mahathat rises in the heart of old Ayutthaya and is probably the most visited overall. The temple was built and expanded over a few decades in 14th century, it spreads out over a vast area. Here you’ll find the incredible relic of the Buddha head embedded in a banyan tree.
-Tip: since it’s quite hard to avoid crowds here, we suggest to go in the late afternoon, because it can get extremely hot under the midday sun.
7. WAT PHRA SI SANPHET
Another contestant for the best temple is Wat Phra Si Sanphet, with its three-in-a-line massive chedis. This was considered the holiest and most beautiful site of the Royal Palace back when Ayutthaya was the capital of the Kingdom of Siam, as a matter of fact it served as a model for Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaeo.
8. WAT LOKKAYA SUTHARAM
Close to the north-western corner of the old city, you’ll have the chance to see the huge outdoor Reclining Buddha at Wat Lokkaya Sutharam, measuring 37m in length and 8m in height. The temple complex is almost non existent anymore after it was destroyed by the Burmese. The Reclining Buddha and a stupa are the only ruins left. The Buddha is usually draped in a golden sarong and local devotees come here regularly to make flower and incense offerings.
A VERY ENJOYABLE DAY TRIP
Ayutthaya is a very tourist friendly city and wandering around its green boulevards by motorcycle, bike, tuk-tuk or on foot, whilst admiring the dozens of temples, conveys a very good feeling of wonder. Don’t forget to bring loads of water and sunscreen with you, as a whole day of temple hunting under the sun can be overwhelming at times. You can take breaks in many green zones such as the large Rama Public Park. In the evenings, there are a few night street markets around Naresuan Rd. (the backpackers area) and Si Sanphet Rd.
There are several accommodations popping out in town if you want to spend the night, or it is a good idea to stop here on your way between Chiang Mai and Bangkok, you can travel overnight by train to save time. Read here to know how a Thai sleeper train journey looks like and check below for more info about schedules.
Enjoy the historic sights in Ayutthaya!
HOTELS – WHERE TO STAY IN AYUTTHAYA AND BANGKOK?
- Baan Kong Homestay: kind staff and great hospitality within the city river, perfect location close to the most visited temples;
- Baan Thai House: the name says it itself, this lovely Thai house will make you feel at your ease from the second you walk in. Beyond the river but conveniently close to the train station.
- Busaba Hostel Ayutthaya: this brand new stylish hostel is the perfect base to visit Ayutthaya and its dozens of temples. The dorms are clean and spacious and it is located along the river in the town centre. Plus they have a cool coffee shop with AirCon, ideal to take a break during a hot sunny day in Ayutthaya.
- At Mind Executive Suites Bangkok: our favourite place in Bangkok with modern studio suites, close to BTS skytrain, cheap prices, amazing rooftop swimming pool!
- You can pre-book all your accommodation in Thailand with free cancellation here.
HOW TO GET AROUND AND BOOK TICKETS?
- Overnight sleeper train Chiang Mai-Ayutthaya-Bangkok: 12-14 hours, from 700 baht/head;
- Kanchanaburi-Ayutthaya by bus or private van: 2-3 hours;
- You can book your train&bus tickets when travelling in Southeast Asia on amt.12go.asia
- Never leave home without a reliable travel insurance. Even if you trust yourself, you can’t always trust others. Better safe than sorry! Get your quote here.