We will take you on a journey to Ayutthaya where, surprisingly, we visit stunning historic sites and immerse in high-end luxury all at the same time! Of course we will also answer the inevitable question of many visitors to Thailand: Ayutthaya or Sukhothai – which place offers the best temple experience?
But before we start comparing, let’s have a look at Ayutthaya first.
History of Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya is of big historical and cultural importance. Founded in 1350 it flourished being one of the world’s largest urban areas and center of commerce. It became one of the most prosperous cities in South-East Asia and the capital of Siam. The Burmese army attacked the city in 1767 however and burned it to the ground….
The new Ayutthaya was never rebuilt at the same location and the remains of temples were left in ruins. These ruins can be visited where they serve as an important legacy of Thai history. And don’t worry, visiting Ayutthaya is for sure not only just watching ruins and piles of old bricks! The impressive remains of temples really give an idea of its past splendour: it’s one big, awesome archaeological site that is still used today by people to worship Buddha.
Ayutthaya highlights – Our most favorite temples
We spent 2.5 days in and around Ayutthaya. We took it slow and allowed ourselves to rent bikes, watched the sunset and enjoyed great food at night when all busses with day visitors had left for Bangkok again (yes, you can visit Ayutthaya on a day trip from Bangkok).
How to move around the city? You can hire a TukTuk for a day, which is quite convenient as it can become very hot in Ayutthaya (the city is actually quite famous for its sweltering heat…). Use the TukTuk to visit temples outside of the center. On day 2 rent bikes to visit places more nearby and to revisit the places you really liked.
Ayutthaya can be overwhelming, certainly when you have limited time. To help you make a choice I have listed our favorite temples below.
Actually the most famous one in Ayutthaya, situated on the west bank of the Chao Praya river. We spent almost two hours as the place is really stunning. Very well maintained, great views especially at sunset. Ayutthaya’s gem!
The most stunning fact about Wat Chaiwattharnaram is that it was deserted ever since Ayutthaya was destroyed back in 1767. It was subject to decay until 1987 (!) when the Thai began conserving the site. It was designated Unesco World Heritage site in 1991.
You cannot visit Ayuttaya and not go to the immense reclining Buddha! 37 meters long and 8 meters high….oh my…
There is hardly anything left from the surrounding temples. The absence of shade could it make it quite an effort to visit the statue on the middle of the day. Be prepared. Luckily you have some food and drinks stalls right across the street. The best tasting cold water we had after our visit with 38 degrees Celcius at least! But what an impressive statue…
Wat Maha That
The famous Buddha head entangled in tree roots! One of the most photographed places in the whole of Thailand.
Many visit this temple not so much for the temple ruins itself, but for the mysterious Buddha head in tree roots only! Story goes that no one knows how the head ended up entangled in these roots…it’s a mystery so they say. The head is actually quite large, larger than we anticipated. If you want to take a picture of you with the head, prepare to wait in line.
The rest of the temple area was a bit dissapointing, but maybe that’s because we already reached a certain level of temple fatigueness??! Right across this temple you can find what we think is the best restaurant in town: Malakor! More about that later.
Wat Phra Si Samphet
Built around the 1490s, this was the grandest and most beautiful temple in Ayutthaya before the Burmese came and destroyed the city (don’t think I am repeating that fact to blame the Burmese :)… Myanmar is actually a really great country to visit like we did last year. Go there!).
The temple now still has 3 chedis that offer a great view at sunset! The row of chedis is what makes this one remarkable and certainly one of my favorite temples in Ayutthaya.
This one has become my overall favorite Ayutthata temple. It might not be the most impressive one, but being located on the other side of the river (bit outside of town) it felt like a real discovery with hardly any tourists passing by.
The main courtyard reminded me a bit of Japanese temple architecture. A gallery with dozens of Buddha statues surrounded the courtyard. But the most beautiful suprise waited for us all the way at the end of the premises. An awesome reclining Buddha that we captured on camera through a window.
Our hotel (more about that later) was situated right across this temple. At night the temple was beautifully lit. No better view after a long day of temple viewing enjoying an ice cold Thai beer, right??
To visit this temple we crossed the river with a local ferry (small boat, max 6 people) for 3 Thai Bath each. The ferry dropped us off somewhere near the temple. We found our way with help of some locals, who were smiling and probably enjoying to see us struggle to find our way. The joy of traveling slowly and unplanned…
Other temples of interest in Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya has a lot of temples to offer, big and small. Here are two more that you might want to visit when you have a bit more time to spend.
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon
This temple didn’t seem to be attracting too many tourists, but it does offer some really awesome views: a great stone chedi with big Buddha statues all around, a reclining buddha, and dozens of smaller buddhas in a square around the main chedi.
If you travel with children, do walk around and ask for the turtle pond. You can feed dozens of turtles by putting a piece of banana on a stick. Great fun for the kids!
This 50meter chedi (Buddhist tower) can be found around 2km outside of the city. You can climb high up the chedi to enjoy a great view of Ayutthaya and its surrounding plains. We had some fun with a big group of students all wearing the same green shirt and cap. Of course they all wanted to take selfies!
How to reach Ayutthaya?
Situated only about 80 kilometers north of Bangkok, Ayutthaya makes an easy day trip from Bangkok. We feel Ayutthaya deserves much more than a single day trip, but if you don’t have that much time it’s quite convenient.
Don’t hesitate to travel by train! It’s extremely cheap and very easy to arrange. Just go to Bangkok central station Hua Lamphong and get yourself on the first train heading North.
Where to eat?
On the first evening we visited the Night Market and had some simple snacks. The next day we luckily found Malakor restaurant (opposite Wat Maha That) that served truly delicious Thai food. Great curry, cold beer, lovely ambiance: this is the place to be!
Where to stay….in luxury!
I mentioned at the beginning that we combined Ayutthaya’s historic sites with a real luxury hotel experience. We stayed at Sala Ayutthaya, a rather new and modern hotel. The views from the terrace (where we had breakfast) were really stunning. Right opposite Wat Phutthaisawan we enjoyed the temple and the Chao Praya river traffic.
The hotel is a feast for design lovers (eg my wife) and it even offers a small swimming pool for the kids. Being this high-end we were disappointed however by the staff who not really closed the loop of an unforgettable luxury experience.
Traveling in Asia doesn’t always mean low budget hostels or Asian style guesthouses. Sometimes you can treat yourself to luxury, even in Ayutthaya!
Ayutthaya or Sukhothai?
Ayutthaya and Sukhothai are both historic UNESCO World Heritage sites, remnants of former country capitals. Both places offer magnificent temple ruins and are said to be must-sees when in Thailand. And I agree. But if you cannot visit both of them, which one to choose?
If you don’t intend to travel up North (all the way up to Chiang Mai), Ayutthaya is your best option. It’s only an hour by train from Bangkok and can even be visited on a day trip. But if you are able to visit both, which one to choose?
Ayutthaya has the most famous temples (including the Buddha head in the tree roots), but the Sukhothai area is more preserved, cooler (Ayutthaya can become really hot) and easier to get around in. Sukhothai is a small village, offering you a real rural and relaxed atmosphere. The temple grounds are beautifully laid out with flowers and grass. Ayutthaya and Sukhothai offer kind of the same temple experience, but in the end we would pick Sukothai. Here is a link to a post about our Sukhothai experiences.
But whatever place you pick, you will have a great time for sure!