Ayutthaya Temples, Palaces, Attractions & Ruins You Must See
There is an Urdu couplet that runs ‘even the ruins declare the grandeur of the past’. This line perfectly describes Ayutthaya – a city that was once the centre of a flourishing empire.
Founded by King U Thong in 1351, the Ayutthaya Kingdom or Siam was a crucially important commercial centre, having connections with Asia and Europe. By 1750 Ayutthaya (Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya) had become one of the world’s largest and Asia’s most prosperous cities.
Today, the city abounds with ruins left behind by marauding armies from Burma and the recent devastating floods. Grassy spaces occupy much of the mysterious site, which resembles a graveyard for temples. Grand ruins rise out of fields, giving a glimpse of the kingdom’s long-gone splendour.
A popular trip from Bangkok and a must see place for history buffs, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is well worth a two-day visit. But if you only have a day to spare, consider this private Ayutthaya tour. Finding your way in this historical city can be a hassle if you have limited time, and it helps to have a local expert show you around.
(Information about how to get from Bangkok to Ayutthaya is given at the end of this page).
If you are not part of a tour, the Ayutthaya Tourist Centre (0 3524 6076-7, open 09:00 – 16:30, closed on Mon), is a good place to start. A visit to the exhibition hall will help put things in context, and the Tourism Authority of Thailand staff will provide maps and offer suggestions.
Ayutthaya Historical Park: Entry Fee, Timings & Contact Details
Ayutthaya Historical Park can be separated into two regions: ruins ‘on the island’ and ruins ‘off the island’. The island is surrounded by three rivers: the Chao Phraya River, the Lopburi River and the Pa Sak River. You can easily cross the rivers by boat.
The ruins on the island are best explored by bicycle or motorbike. Most of the ruins off the island are along the banks of the rivers, and, therefore best visited by boat.
Since Ayutthaya’s best attractions are on the island, it makes sense to begin your exploration here. Once you have explored the island, you can get on a long-tail boat and head to Wat Chaiwatthanaram – one of the park’s best known temples.
11 best Ayutthaya attractions (the Royal Palace entry is part of Wat Phra Si Sanphet).
Making the Most of Your Visit: Best Things to do in Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya is famous for Ancient Temples, Royal Palaces, Chao Sam Phraya National Museum, Ayutthaya Floating Market, Ayutthaya Historical Study Centre, and Million Toy Museum.
If you are planning a Bangkok to Ayutthaya day trip, try to reach by 9:00 am. This way you will avoid Bangkok’s rush hour traffic and begin discovering the Ayutthaya’s temples and ruins in the cooler morning time.
VISIT AYUTTHAYA TEMPLES
Ayutthaya’s ancient and dilapidated temples are a huge contrast to Bangkok’s wats – their appeal lies in their ambience and run-down looks.
Of the 41 temples in the area, the 5 most worth visiting are: Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Wat Mahathat, Wat Lokayasutharam, Wat Ratchaburana, and Wat Chaiwatthanaram. Wat Chaiwatthanaram is off the island, the rest are on the island.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet
Housed within the grounds of the former Royal Palace, Wat Phra Si Sanphet, or ‘Temple of The Buddha Si Sanphet’ is the largest and most important Ayutthaya temple. Only kings were permitted to visit certain parts of the wat. It was mainly used for royal ceremonies.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet housed a 16-meter tall bronze Buddha statue that weighed 5,500,000 kgs. The statue was covered with 340 kgs of gold and was regarded as the kingdom’s most beautiful Buddha image. During the Burmese invasion, the statue was set on fire to melt the gold. Both the temple and the image were destroyed in the process.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet Entrance Fee: 50 Baht
Wat Phra Si Sanphet Timings: 08:00 – 18:00
Wat Mahathat or ‘Temple of The Great Relics’ was also a very important temple in Ayutthaya. The temple enshrined Buddha relics and used to be the residence of the Supreme Patriarch – the Leader of Thai Buddhist monks. The king performed important ceremonies here, including the Royal Kathina Ceremony.
Constructed in 1384, the main prang of the wat was one of the oldest and largest in the region. It collapsed during the reign of King Songtham, sometime between 1620-1628. The massive Khmer-style prang was restored and enlarged, but collapsed again in 1911.
During excavation works in 1956, a crypt was discovered in Wat Mahathat. The precious objects and Buddha images found inside are on display in the Chao Sam Phraya Museum.
Wat Mahathat Entrance Fee: 50 Baht
Wat Mahathat Timings: 08:00 – 18:00
Wat Lokayasutharam (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)
Wat Lokayasutharam or ‘Temple of Earth’ is famous for a 42-meter long statue of the Reclining Buddha. The massive Buddha statue faces West and is draped in saffron cloth.
Though the statue survived the Burmese raids, it is now weathered from being exposed to the elements. Wat Lokayasutharam’s main prang is about 30 meters tall. Other runis can be found near the temple as well, however, the statue is the highlight of the temple.
Little is known about the history of Wat Lokayasutharam, other than that it was destroyed in the invasion of 1767. It is believed to be built in the mid Ayutthaya period, around 1500 AD.
Wat Lokayasutharam Entrance Fee: Free
Wat Lokayasutharam Timings: 08:00 – 19:00
King Brommarachathirat II built Wat Ratchaburana or ‘Temple of Royal Restoration’ in 1424 on the cremation site of his two brothers. His brothers – Princes Ai and Yo – killed each other in a duel contesting the vacant throne of Ayutthaya, leaving him as king.
Wat Ratchaburana’s central prang is the most impressive spire in Ayutthaya. You can climb up the prang for a great view. The vault inside has paintings depicting the lives of the Buddha. Sadly though, these murals have deteriorated considerably over the last few years.
The Historical Park’s most important treasures were discovered here. Wat Ratchaburana was looted in 1957. The thieves were apprehended, but little of the treasure was recovered. Later that year, Thailand’s Fine Arts Department excavated the crypt of Wat Ratchaburana. More valuable artefacts belonging (it is assumed) to the two brothers was found. Some of the excavated items were sold, the remaining are on display at the Chao Sam Phra National Museum.
Entrance fee for Wat Ratchaburana: 50 Baht
Timings for Wat Ratchaburana: 08:00 – 18:00
Constructed by King Prasat Thong as the first temple in his reign (1630-1656), Wat Chaiwatthanaram literally means ‘temple of long reign and glorious era’. Pagodas, connected by secret passages, surround the central 35-meter high stupa/chedi. Paintings illustrating the life of Buddha can be seen inside. The entire eye-catching construction stands on a rectangular platform.
The temple was not spared during the Burmese invasion in 1767. It remained deserted until 1887, when Thailand’s Department of Fine Arts took up the task of restoring it. Today, it is one of the best restored Ayutthaya temples.
(Wat Chaiwatthanaram – the only temple on our list that is ‘off the island’ – lies on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, southwest of the island. It can be reached by boat as well as by road).
Wat Chaiwatthanaram Entrance fee: 50 Baht
Wat Chaiwatthanaram Timings: 08:00 – 18:00
Ayutthaya Historical Study Centre (AHSC)
The Ayutthaya Historical Study Centre is a national research institute devoted to the study of the kingdom’s history. The history of Ayutthaya can be overwhelming. AHSC helps put things in perspective.
Funded by the Japanese government, the centre has models of the most important structures in the area and information on them. Though many of the interactive sessions do not work, it’s still well worth a visit.
You can either begin your exploration of Ayutthaya here (if you haven’t already visited the tourist centre), or visit to take a break. Exploring the ruins can be tiring, especially when it’s sunny. The air-conditioned centre is a good place to cool down and learn about the History Park.
AHSC Entrance Fee: Adult 100 Baht, Child 50 Baht
AHSC Timings: 09:00 – 16:00
The Royal Palace
The Royal Palace, also called the ‘Ancient Palace’ was the residence of all Ayutthaya kings. The Palace occupied nearly a quarter of the island and was mostly made of wood. During the Burmese invasions, it was set on fire and levelled. The few remaining brick structures were torn down and shipped to Bangkok.
There is not much to see in the palace grounds other than a few signs and paths.
Admission to the Royal Palace is included in the entrance fee of Wat Phra Si Sanphet.
(If you are fascinated by palaces, you must visit Bangkok’s Royal Palace).
Bang Pa-In Royal Palace
The Bang Pa-In Royal Palace, also known as the ‘Summer Palace’ lies along the banks of the Chao Phra River, in the Bang Pa-In district. King Prasat Thong constructed the palace in 1632. It stopped being used towards the end of the 18th century, until King Mongkut began its restoration.
The Bang Pa-In Palace has many interesting buildings and is, in itself, a popular Ayutthaya day trip from Bangkok.
The most beautiful building in Bang Pa-In Palace is Bang Aisawan Dhiphya. This elegant pavilion in the middle of the lake represents ‘The Divine Seat of Personal Freedom’. Built by King Chulalongkorn, the pavilion is the only example of Thai style architecture in the palace.
(This Bang Pa-In Palace is 40 miles (60 km) North of Bangkok, and 10 miles (16 km) South of Ayutthaya. It’s a great place to visit if you have two or more days to spend in Ayutthaya).
Bang Pa-In Palace Entrance Fee: Adult 100, Child 20
Bang Pa-In Palace Timings: 08:00 – 17:00 (ticket office closes at 15:30)
Chao Sam Phraya National Museum
Chao Sam Phraya National Museum – Ayutthaya’s largest museum – exhibits fascinating artefacts discovered in the Province. The Museum has three exhibition buildings.
Building one is the most interesting. It showcases antiques discovered during archaeological excavations and renovations in Ayutthaya between 1956-1957, and woodcarvings made in Ayutthaya school. The two rooms upstairs exhibit gold artefacts, unearthed from the crypts of Wat Mahathat and Wat Ratchaburana. Phra Saeng Khan Chai Si – the golden Sword of Victory – is room one’s highlight. Room two has golden offerings discovered in the crypt of the main prang of Wat Mahathat. The balcony showcases votive tablets and other earthenware found in the Historical Park.
Building two displays interesting artefacts found between the 6th – 19th centuries. You can see ancient Thai household appliances and folk art in the third building.
Chao Sam Phraya National Museum Entrance Fee: 150 Baht
Chao Sam Phraya National Museum Timings: 09:00 – 16:00
Ayutthaya Floating Market
The Ayutthaya Floating Market was built to serve as a tourist destination and to preserve Thai arts and culture. Apart from seeing interesting cultural performances, you can enjoy Thailand’s delicious fruits and a Thai meal in a different setting. You’ll also be able to shop for interesting souvenirs here.
Though the market is the biggest tourist attraction in the area, other floating markets – such as the Floating Market in Pattaya – are better. If you haven’t visited a floating market yet, the Ayutthaya floating market is well worth a visit.
Ayutthaya Floating Market Entrance Fee: 200 Baht
Ayutthaya Floating Market Timings: 09:00 – 21:00
Million Toy Museum
The Million Toy Museum is a must visit for those travelling with children. The cabinets on the two floors of this private museum are packed with toys. Some unusual items such as Queen Elizabeth II coronation mugs from 1953 can be found here as well. Kids love the million Toy Museum and adults can find it amusing too.
The café outside, which is also full of toy characters, is a great place to enjoy a meal and take a break.
Entrance fee for Million Toy Museum: 50 Baht
Timings for Million Toy Museum: 09:00 – 16:00
Bangkok to Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya is about 50 miles (80 km) North of Bangkok. You reach Ayutthaya by rail, road, and even boat, or simply take a private car tour and let them organise everything.
Train from Bangkok to Ayutthaya:
- Time: Over 2 hours
- Cost: Third class 20 Baht, First class 330 Baht
Taking the train from Hua Lamphong Railway Station (Bangkok Railway Station) is the most recommended and cheapest way to get to Ayutthaya. The journey is scenic, but the trip takes the longest to complete.
If you are spending the night in the Historical Park, consider taking the train one way. It’s a great way to travel to Ayutthaya if you aren’t in a hurry. (Trains in Thailand can be delayed).
Driving to Ayutthaya:
- Time: 75 min
Once you are out of Bangkok, the route to Ayutthaya is fairly straightforward. Most Thai people you see along the way will not understand English, however, if you need to confirm the way, simply ask ‘Ayutthaya way’, and they will point in the right direction.
(Some phone networks do not have good data options, so remember to download the route on your phone before you leave).
Taxi to Ayutthaya:
- Cost: One way 1,000 Baht. Return + driving you around Ayutthaya Historical Park 2,500 Baht.
- Time: 75 min
Taking a taxi is the most convenient way to reach Ayutthaya. Remember to agree on a price before you begin the trip. If possible, request your hotel to arrange a taxi for you.
Bangkok to Ayutthaya by Mini-van:
- Time: About 1.5 hours
- Cost: 100 Baht
Minivans from Bangkok’s Mo Chit Bus Terminal leave for Ayutthaya every 20-30 minutes. They are cleaner and more comfortable than public busses. The driver of the mini-van won’t move until its full – so on a quiet day, you might have to wait for sometime. (This is rarely the case though).
Bangkok to Ayutthaya by Bus:
- Time: Under 2 hours
- Cost: 50 Baht
Public buses depart every 20 min from Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal (Moh Chit). Buses make a number of stops (more than mini-vans) along the way and therefore take up to 2 hours to reach.
Bangkok to Ayutthaya by Boat:
You can even take an overnight cruise from Bangkok to Ayutthaya. Bookings have to be made in advance.
Dress Code for Ayutthaya
Dress appropriately. Remember that you will be spending time in and around temples. (Even though most Ayutthaya temples are in ruins, they are still used as places of worship by Buddhist monks).
Best time to visit: Mid December
December is Ayutthaya’s festive season. Fireworks light up Ayutthaya’s sky to commemorate the city’s listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 13th December 1991.
The weather is also just right to explore the ruins.
Day Trip or Overnight Stay in Ayutthaya?
Most visitors plan to explore the Historical Park over a day trip. The thing, however, is that when you get here, you realise that one day is barely enough to see a few Ayutthaya temples. Ayutthaya Historical Park is huge. The journey from Bangkok to Ayutthaya and back, in itself, can take over 3 hours, leaving you with limited time.
We feel that two full days are enough to explore Ayutthaya Historical Park. If you are interested in history, you’ll require even more time.
If you plan to spend a night in Ayutthaya, Kantary Hotel Ayutthaya, comes highly recommended. The hotel’s free shuttle service to attractions is a big help.
Accommodation in Ayutthaya
City maps and other useful information about Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya.
Here are more things to do in Bangkok and other amazing Thailand destinations you can visit.
** A special thank you from Toast to Thailand to the Tourism Authority of Thailand for providing information for this article.