Ayutthaya, former capital of Thailand
Ayutthaya or Phra Nakhon si Ayutthaya, its full name, was founded in 1350 by Ramathibodi I. It was the capital of the country, but it was destroyed in 1767 by the Burmese army.
I visited the city of Ayutthaya in 2012 with a friend during my university semester in Bangkok.
How to get to Ayutthaya and how to visit the city?
We went to Ayutthaya by train from Bangkok (1h30 travel time). At Ayutthaya train station, we wanted to rent bikes to visit the city (often suggested and recommended on travel guides) but the heat discouraged us.
Many tuk-tuks or pick-ups are present in front of the train station and offer to take you for the day to visit the various temples as well as bring you to a restaurant for lunch. After negotiation, we succumbed to the charm of a driver who spoke French. We were able to benefit from his services for the day for only 600 baths (15 euros).
The historical Park of Ayutthaya
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981, the park is made up of ruins and ancient temples with a total of fifteen places to visit. It takes the day to see it all.
Places to visit in Ayutthaya
Mr. Noi, our tuk-tuk driver, drove us through Ayutthaya to visit the various temples and ruins. He advised us a very good restaurant along the Chao Phraya River. Most of the temples charge a fee, but the entrance costs only 50 baths (1.20 euros).
Wat Phra Phanan Choeng, the monastery
Our first stop was the Wat Phra Phanan Choeng or also called Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, the most interesting temple in the city. It was in the first place a monastery for the monks who had returned after studying in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and it has the largest Chedi (monument commemorating the death of Buddha) of the city, visible from miles away. There is also a reclining Buddha like at Wat Pho in Bangkok.
Wat Phanan Choeng Worawihan, the Trade Center
We then went to Wat Phanan Choeng Worawihan. This place was one of the major centres of commerce, where people did their food grocery shopping and other errands. The main interest of this temple is a large statue of Buddha seated in meditation.
Wat Maha That and the Buddha head
Then Mr. Noi drove us to Wat Maha That. This temple, entirely in ruins, shows the determination of the Burmese to plunder the city. The peculiarity of this temple is the Buddha head which comes out of the roots of a tree, it is a little more than 40 cm in height. This is one of the most photographed things in all of Thailand. The rest of the temple is in a state of ruin. It is a vast field of red bricks and decapitated statues, but it is nice to walk there.
Wat Ratchaburana and the Crypt
Very close to this temple is Wat Ratchaburana. Because of lack of time, we did not go to visit it, but we did admire it from the road. Despite the ruins, there are two towers still standing and stone engravings of the same style as in the temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. In one of the towers, there is a crypt that can be visited. In the past, it contained the mortal remains of the king’s son as well as several precious objects and statues that were recovered to be exhibited at the Chao Sam Phraya Museum in Ayutthaya.
Wat Chai Watthanaram, the best known
Before continuing the visits, we stopped for lunch and then headed for Wat Chai Watthanaram. It is one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Ayutthaya. Unfortunately, when I was there in 2012, the temple was in restoration, so we could not visit it.
Wat Lokayasutharam, the Reclining Buddha
To continue our visits, we went to see Wat Lokayasutharam. This is a large, cement-coated Buddha whose head rests on a lotus flower. Wearing a yellow/gold veil, the Buddha is 7 meters long and 8 meters high. This sacred place is a famous pilgrimage site in Thailand.
Ayutthaya is indeed a place of pilgrimage in itself… I did a one-week retreat in this beautiful city to prepare my communion (Catholic) when I was a child and lived in Bangkok with my parents.
Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit, the palace
After that, we visited Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit, a temple which was actually a palace and which was restored in 1957. Inside, you can find the largest Buddha of Thailand (12.45 meters high [without counting its base] and 9.55 meters wide). Originally, the statue was outside the palace but due to damage, it was put inside and then the palace became temple.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet, the most sacred
Our last stop was Wat Phra Si Sanphet. It is the most important temple in the city because of its closest geographical location to the royal palace. Today, almost nothing remains but ruins, because in 1569 the Burmese looted the city. The king at the time, Rama I, could not restore it and so he left it in condition. You can see more pictures of Ayutthaya on the Facebook page.