Visiting the Ruins of the Ayutthaya Temples – The Ancient Kingdom of Siam, Thailand
On my first trip to Thailand, despite it being on my ‘Thailand Bucket List’ I just didn’t have enough time to visit the UNESCO listed ruins of the Ayutthaya Temples. (Ayutthaya – pronounced Eye-Yout-Hiya – for whatever reason, it took me ages to pronounce this correctly!).
So on my second visit to the country a couple of years later, I made a point of bumping this to the top to my to-do list.
And yes! It was worth the wait. Ayutthaya is as stunning, if not more, in reality than it looks in all the photos I’d seen of it. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that it was a lot bigger than I first thought. The Ayutthaya ruins tick all the boxes for any temple junkie.
Don’t have time to read the whole article? then why not Pin it for later or check out my photo tour of Ayutthaya.
Related: If you’re staying in the nations capital, why not check out some of the amazing temples in Bangkok as well.
Disclosure: Some of the links below might be affiliate links, meaning, at no extra cost to you , if you click one of them, I may receive a small commission (for which I am deeply grateful) but it helps me create more awsome stuff like this post.
A Brief History of Ayutthaya
The ancient city of Ayutthaya is situated on an island between three rivers connecting to the sea. It’s the second former capital of the Kingdom of Siam (Sukhothai was the original Siamese Capital). Founded in about 1350, Ayutthaya was one of the most prosperous trading ports in the Kingdom. An invasion by the Burmese in 1767 destroyed the majority of the city, leaving the once spectacular city of Ayutthaya in ruins.
The Ayutthaya ruins now make up an archaeological park called, ‘The Ayutthaya Historical Park’, where the crumbling ruins have been excavated, preserved or reconstructed. When you visit Ayutthaya you’ll see a mixture of palaces and monasteries as well as Buddhist temples and statues.
If given the option, I always prefer to do my own independent tour of a place, purely because I don’t like being restricted to time, I also tend to get trigger happy with my camera and want to spend longer sitting and admiring a place. So, being part of a tour group doesn’t really work for me. However, if you are pushed for time or not wanting to visit Ayutthaya independently, then there are a multitude of tour companies that will arrange everything for you.
The tours listed below will arrange everything, from pick up in Bangkok, transfers to Ayutthaya Historical park and between the sites, as well as entry to the famous ruins. These are perfect if you want the leg-work done for you.
How to Get to Ayutthaya
The Ayutthaya temples are situated approximately 80km north of the Thai capital, Bangkok. The easiest way to get here is by taking the Bangkok to Ayutthaya train.
The train departs from Bangkok’s main train station. There are various services available throughout the day running at frequent intervals.
I took the local train, if you do the same, don’t expect anything flash – no air con, relatively hard seats etc. but for less than 100 Thai Bhat (approx $3.20) for the 2-and-a-bit-hour journey, in my opinion, is worth it. You’ll not only get a taste of local life, but experience local vendors hopping on and off at each station to sell all types of wares on the trains, as well as Thai people, strike up conversations and practice their English speaking skills.
Once outside Bangkok, it’s quite a scenic route through the Thai countryside making several stops along the way in rural towns. It eventually stops off at Ayutthaya town, where you’ll be greeted by the standard taxi and tuk-tuk drivers all offering you the best fare to take you onwards.
Getting around Ayutthaya – Should I use a Bicycle? Scooter or Tuk Tuk?
If you are just planning on visiting a couple of the ruins at Ayutthaya on a day trip or are staying in accommodation fairly central, you’d be able to do these by foot.
However, to see everything that the Ayutthaya temples have to offer your best options are either cycling, hiring a scooter or a tuk-tuk and driver for the day.
I opted for a mix of two of these options to see the Ayutthaya temples. I used a bicycle to see all the sites which were close to where I was staying and then hired a Tuk Tuk and driver for a half-day (with an insanely early start of 5 am! but oh-so worth it) to get to the sites which were a little way out from the centre at sunrise.
Cycling around Ayutthaya – the pros – it’s quick and more efficient to cycle to the Ayutthaya ruins than it is to walk – I’d only suggest walking if you’re only intending on seeing a couple of temples. The area is really bike-friendly, so there’s plenty of places to lock your bike up, as well as the region being a pleasant cycle on mostly flat ground.
Cycling around Ayutthaya – the cons – at the peak of the day, it can get insanely hot and exhausting cycling in the sun. Unless you are a keen cyclist, getting to some of the Ayutthaya ruins outside of the main centre can be hard work.
Hiring a scooter to see Ayutthaya – the pros – they are relatively inexpensive – but the prices (and quality of scooter varied big time!). A scooter is great for getting out of the town centre to some of the Ayutthaya temples which are a bit further afield. It’s also super convenient to have your own transport if you want to visit any of the temples at sunset or sunrise.
Hiring a scooter to see Ayutthaya – the cons – you have to have your driver’s licence/ ID – yeah, I forgot mine, so they wouldn’t let me hire one. #fail
Hiring a Tuk Tuk to see Ayutthaya – the pros – it works out the cheapest way to see the temples if you are in a small group and split the cost. The biggest pro – it involves no logistics, working out directions, reading maps while driving (please don’t do this), so you can get to each temple quickly and efficiency.
Hiring a Tuk Tuk to see Ayutthaya – the cons – by far the most expensive option compared with hiring a scooter or a bicycle – but even so, the price will vary, depending how good your bartering skills are. Expect to pay between 600-800 Thai Bhat (approx $20 – $26) for 5 hours of transportation and the driver – although expensive in South East Asia terms, I think it’s still a bargain!
Where is the famous Buddha Head In Tree?
One of the first images of the Ayutthaya temples I saw was the iconic ‘Buddha Head in Tree’ picture.
This is the most visited location in the whole of Ayutthaya, so at peak times, expect to queue to see the famous Buddha head suspended and overgrown in an ancient bohdi fig tree.
The famous landmark is situated in the temple complex of Wat Mahathat which was originally built in the 14th century and over the decades, expanded. The ruins are intertwined with trees and foliage all growing within the crumbling brick work.
Directly in front of the Buddha statue has been cordoned off, a guard is watching over to make sure you don’t disobey the rules. The wooden viewing platform is lined with cushions to sit.
So I ended up getting told off here…twice! The first was for standing up to move away from the cushioned platform. When I stood up, the level of my head was higher than that of the Buddha (the Buddha head is pretty close to the ground anyway!) However, I got told off for this and to then crouch down and crawl about instead.
My second wrongdoing. You can not turn your back to a Buddha – I know this is a general rule inside the temples I visited in Bangkok and elsewhere in Asia, but didn’t realise the rules applied here. It wasn’t inside a temple after all. I was trying to take a shameless selfie facing the camera, with the entangled head in the background – which warranted my second disgruntled moan from the guard. In my defence, I don’t remember seeing a board with rules on, and I didn’t know the rules that apply inside the temples, also applied to a Buddha head entwined in a tree. I do now!
So a word to the wise – unless you want to upset the guard, make sure you crouch down and don’t turn your back. Lesson learnt.
Where to see the reclining Buddha Ayutthaya
There are a few reclining Buddha’s at Ayutthaya, the biggest one in the area is located at Wat Lokkaya Sutharam, while a smaller and prettier one is at Wat Phutthaisawan.
They are both stunning, but of these two reclining Buddha’s at the Ayutthaya temples, I preferred the smaller one, looking out through the windows.
Go visit them both and make up your own mind 😊
Ayutthaya Entrance Fee & Opening Times
None of the temples are expensive to enter, at the time of writing it was 50 Thai Baht for the main ‘tourist’ temples, (approx. $1.60) – however, some temples are free!
You can also purchase a six-temple pass for 220 Thai Baht (approx. $7.30).
Most of the Ayutthaya temples open at 8 am and close at 5 pm, some of the active temples may have additional closed hours. You can get inside some of the temple grounds outside of opening hours to view sunset and sunrise as lots of them aren’t gated – if they are a working place of worship, in theory you can just wander in. However the ruins will be closed to the public outside of opening times, so most likely if you do wander in you will get chased off by a local guard.
The Temples of Ayutthaya - The Best Ayutthaya Temples to Visit
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon – The One With The Giant Stupa Surrounded By Buddha’s
Outside of the central island and on the other side of the river you’ll find Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon. The main attraction here is the massive Stupa which dominates this site. As far as ruins go, this one is in pretty good nick, you can even climb up the Stupa and go inside, or walk around the perimeter and take in the panoramic views of Ayutthaya city.
The base of the Stupa is surrounded by human-sized Buddha statues, some draped in robes and some with flower or incense offerings. While you’re here, don’t forget to wander around to the back of this temple, where you’ll find pretty gardens and more Buddha’s. There is also a small reclining Buddha around the back of this temple and through the gardens.
Wat Lokkaya Sutharam – The One With The Giant Reclining Buddha
Situated in the north-west of the Ayutthaya temple complex, you’ll find the iconic gigantic reclining Buddha. Built in 1452 the Reclining Buddha at Wat Lokkaya Sutharam measures 8 metres in height and 37 metres in length.
Unlike the giant reclining Buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok which is housed inside a temple, this one is outdoors. If you check out the surrounding area, you’ll see loads of foundations of a larger building, yes, this Buddha once upon a time did reside inside a temple. However, the building was destroyed by the Burmese.
Wat Chai Wattanaram - The One With Loads Of Headless Buddha’s
Built in 1630 this is one of the most recent complexes to be built in Ayutthaya. The ruins of Wat Chai Wattanaram consists of 8 Chedi surrounding a central structure – a 35metre high Prang. If you’ve even been to Angkor Watt in Cambodia, then you’ll recognise this Khmer style of temple.
The temple is situated right next to the river so if you have the time, take a boat to view it from a different perspective.
This Ayutthaya ruin is surrounded by loads of human-sized headless or body-less Buddha’s, all that remains of the statues are usually just a pair of crossed legs and a hand. Inside the Prangs, check out some of the detailing in the carvings on the larger (and more complete) Buddha statues.
Wat Maha That – The One With The Iconic Buddha Head Entwined In The Tree
I’ve already written quite a bit about the most iconic of the Ayutthaya Temples. (click here to go back to this section) Wat Maha That is one of the oldest sites within the archaeological park. Building stated here at around 1374 and was extensively added to over the centuries to what now is sprawling foundations and crumbling walls.
This ruin resides right in the heart of the old Ayutthaya city, so because of the Buddha head in the tree and its location this is a firm favourite with tourists and probably at the top of everyone’s Ayutthaya Bucket list.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet – The One With The Three Giant Chedis
Another one of the oldest parts of the old Ayutthaya capital is Wat Phra Si Sanphet. Built slightly after Wat Maha That in 1350, these are the remains of what was once the Royal Palace.
This expansive site will lead you around crumbling walls, chedis, pagodas, stupas, walkways and seated Buddhas. Inside each of the three giant Stupas lies the remains of a King; King Borommatrailokanat, King Borommarachathirat III, and King Ramathibodi II
It’s an impressive site/sight (it’s both!) and you could whittle away hours here exploring everything.
Wat Phutthaisawan – The One With The Smaller (But Prettier) Reclining Buddha
I briefly wrote about this archaeological site in the section about reclining Buddha’s. What the reclining Buddha at Wat Lokaya Sutharam has in size, the one here, at Wat Phutthaisawan makes up for in charm.
Given the two, this was my favourite one.
For starters, the first thing you’ll see at this site is the giant white Prang dominating the skyline. This is still an active monastery so most likely you will see monks praying or walking about the surrounding vicinity. Wander to the far end of the complex and out through the gardens, this is where you’ll find the reclining Buddha. What’s preferable to this reclining Buddha, is that half of the walls surrounding it are still intact, unlike the reclining Buddha at Wat Lokaya Sutharam.
The walls are in fairly good condition, but they are incomplete and there is no roof. There are however, still windows, where you can peek through at the reclining Buddha. You’ll see the smaller reclining Buddha along with several other smaller and seated Buddha’s through the windows. It frames the scene perfectly.
Don’t believe me, then be sure to visit it and find out for yourself.
If you have the time then it’s also worth checking out this temple in Ayutthaya … Chedi Phukhao Thong
I never made it out to this temple – I didn’t know about it. I was gutted when another traveller tipped me off about it when I was back in Bangok. So, this is a bonus temple I’m sharing with you for when YOU visit Ayutthaya. You will need some form of transport. Chedi Phukhao Thong is located approximately 5km to the north-west of the old centre of Ayutthaya.
Until recently Chedi Phukhao Thong was a dull grey colour, and although impressive in size, it gets overlooked in comparison to the other temples in Ayutthaya. Its recent facelift and lick of white paint now means that the temple gleams like a bright white beacon against its backdrop (the only stock image I could find were from it’s pre-revamp days). I was also given the tip off that you can get into the temple grounds outisde of the main opening hours and climb up to the top of this Chedi too, which gives fantastic views for both sunrise and sunset.
I’ll certainly be heading back to Ayutthaya on my next trip to Thailand to see this! #gutted
Where to stay in Ayutthaya
Looking for somewhere to stay to explore the Ayutthaya ruins? Take a look at these two options;
For Affordable Comfort with a little bit of Luxury located on the river bank with stunning balcony views of the river as well as being in the heart of the old town, Nutta River Home boasts a fitness centre, a bar, and a shared lounge on site.
The holiday homes also offer free wifi, free private parking and a 24-hour front desk. The apartment comes with a fully equipped kitchen inclduing a microwave, a fridge, a washing machine, an oven and a stovetop.
A continental breakfast is available every morning at the holiday home.
This is perfect home-from-home option if you want to fully explore the area. Check out the full listing here.
For a more Affordable Option for the Budget Conscious Traveller be sure to check out Zleepinezz Hostel . Situated in a perfect location for exploring the Ayutthaya ruins, it’s clean with loads of facilities like an onsite restaurant and kitchen. Each bed is equipped with a private power socket, lamp and curtain. Basically it ticks every box for backpackers and budget travellers.
The hostel also offers free wifi throughout the building and bike hire to explore the temples and ruins further afield.
Check out the full list of facilities and room options here.
What to pack when you visit Ayutthaya Temples
The archaeological site is large and fairly open, so take plenty of water and wear sunscreen, there is next to no shade at some of the Ayutthaya temples.
Wear decent shoes too, it’s quite amusing watching (in particular) fashionistas arriving in their ridiculous heels. The ground is uneven and crumbling – it’s an archaeological site! so just leave the strappy sandals, stilettos and flip flops at home. Tennis shoes are fine, just please don’t be that idiot with regards to footwear.
As pretty as the location is, green stuff + water = loads of bugs! So options are to either cover-up to keep the critters at bay, or use a strong bug repellent.
Bring sunglasses – even if it’s slightly overcast the light bounds off every surface. Alternatively, take a cap or hat with a wide brim.
There are only limited places to get food inside the ruins, so pack plenty of snacks if you are planning on visiting for the whole day.
Although the sun is hot and the air is humid, the last thing you probably want to do is cover up. However, some of the temples will require you to have knees and shoulders under wraps – so be sure to pack a sarong, baggy shirt or anything that you can temporarily put on while you are inside the ruins.
Ayutthaya Map / Ayutthaya Infographic
When you get to Ayutthaya, you’ll find dozens more ruins than just the ones I’ve written about in this article and have included on this infographic. There is so much to explore here – see this more as just a starting point for your exploration.
Travelling to Thailand or love Ancient Ruins? You might also be interested in…
- The Ultimate 10 Day Thailand Itinerary – 4 awesome ways to experience 10 Days in Thailand
- Stunning Murals & Beautiful Street Art in Phuket Old Town, Thailand
- Beautiful Photos of Ayutthaya – The Ancient Kingdom of Siam [Photo Tour]
- The 5 Best Temples in Bangkok – Self-Guided Bangkok Temple Tour
- Ruins of Jerash, Jordan – Visiting Pompeii of the East
- Visit Petra – 26 Reasons Why Petra Should Be On Your Bucket List
- The Tikal Sunrise Tour, Guatemala – Is this the Best Tikal Tour to do?
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Have you visited Ayutthaya and get to see all these temples? Or did you find some other gems I missed out on? I’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.