Ayutthaya is one of the most famous historical and cultural cities in Thailand. At the height of its prosperity in the 16th century, it was considered one of the biggest and wealthiest cities in the region. Founded in 1350, Ayutthaya was the first capital of the Thai kingdom after Sukhothai. In 1767, the city was attacked and burnt down by the invading Burmese army forcing the people to abandon the city, effectively bringing the long era of Ayutthaya to a close.
Ayutthaya is a popular day-trip destination, as it is located just around 80 km. north of Bangkok. The Ayutthaya Historical Park, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, is the province’s most important attraction. The park comprises many ruins of temples and palaces of the ancient Ayutthaya Kingdom. The followings are some famous temples in and around the Historical Park which are truly worth visiting. Apart from beautiful architecture, these temples also feature splendid mural paintings on the walls of the ordination halls or assembly halls. The province is thus a place for those who want to appreciate the beauty of Thai arts and culture.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet
This beautiful ancient temple is regarded as the symbol of Ayutthaya province and is also a significant historical site. It served as a model for the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok. Situated within the royal palace grounds, Wat Phra Si Sanphet is the royal monastery and therefore there are no resident monks there. However, in the Ayutthaya era, the temple served as a place to conduct royal ceremonies such as the oath of allegiance ceremony.
This temple plays an important role in history of art and archaeology. The remaining debris evidently portrays how glorious the country was. At the heart of the temple, there are three adjacent Ceylonese or bell-shaped pagodas situated on rectangular platforms. The three pagodas are one of the landmarks and also one of the most photographed sites of the Ayutthaya Historical Park.
Wat Phra Mongkhon Bophit
This famous temple is situated on the south of Wat Phra Si Sanphet. Its large bronze seated Buddha image or Phra Mongkhon Bophit is one of the largest bronze Buddha images in Thailand with its measures of 9.5 meters across the lap and a height of 12.5 metres. The Buddha image is seated in the position of Subduing Mara (the left hand resting in the lap of the Buddha). During the second fall of Ayutthaya in 1767, the building and the image were badly destroyed by fire. The present assembly hall and Buddha image have been reconstructed and renovated in the reign of King Rama V (1868 – 1910).
The temple is believed to be built during the 14th century (the early Ayutthaya period). The main pagoda at the centre of the temple collapsed in the early 17th century, but was restored. A large number of assembly halls and pagodas were added during the reigns of later kings. When the Burmese invaded Ayutthaya in 1767, Wat Mahathat was severely damaged by fire and had been since abandoned.
The highlights of Wat Mahathat include the octagonal pagoda, and the medium-size stupa with mural paintings about the life of the Buddha, and other smaller Viharas. The most prominent landmark of the temple is the head of a sandstone Buddha image entwined in the roots of a Bodhi tree. It is one of the most photographed trees in Thailand.
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon
This large temple, located at the southeast edge of the town, was constructed by King U-Thong, the first ruler of Ayutthaya, in 1357. The large bell-shaped chedi, which is the temple’s highlight, was built in 1592 by King Naresuan the Great, as the memorial for his victory over King Maha Uparacha of Burma. During the Burmese invasion of 1767 the temple was largely destroyed.
Surrounding the platform is a gallery connecting in the West to the principal vihara. Lining the gallery walls are hundreds of Buddha images seated on pedestals in subduing Mara posture. In the Northeast corner of the grounds are the remains of the Viharn Phra Phuttha Saiyat, containing an impressive Reclining Buddha image.
Wat Phanan Choeng
Wat Phanan Choeng is located in Khlong Suan Plu subdistrict, on the south bank of Pasak River opposite the main city. According to the Northern Chronicles, King Sai Namphung, a king who ruled from 1111- 1165 (before the founding of Ayutthaya Kingdom), had it built at the royal cremation site of Princess Soi Dok Mak.
The assembly hall houses a majestic Buddha image cast in 1324. It was built of stucco in subduing Mara posture and was magnificently lacquered and gilt. Its walls are lined with hundreds of niches containing small images of the Buddha. The ordination hall enshrines three very old Buddha images seated on a raised pedestal. There are splendid mural paintings which depict the gathering of angels and scenes from Jataka stories or the life stories of Lord Buddha.
Wat Sena Sanaram
Located on U-Thong Road, next to Chankasem National Museum, this temple was built during the King Naresuan’s era. The temple was destroyed by the Burmese army in 1767, and had been abandoned until the reign of King Rama IV (1851 - 1868) when it was restored. The ordination hall and assembly hall of the temple feature beautiful mural paintings of Rattanakosin period. The murals in the ordination hall exquisitely depict the gathering of angels and the royal ceremonies of the twelve months.
Wat Choeng Tha
This old temple is located off the city island in the northern part of Ayutthaya. It is situated beside Khu Mueang canal and near the location of the royal boatyard in the Ayutthaya period. Many elaborately painted murals can still be found at the sermon hall close to the canal bank. These murals, depicting the Jataka stories, were painted in the period of King Rama IV.
Wat Chang Yai
Wat Chang Yai is located on Highway 309, about 2 km. off the city island. In the Ayutthaya period, this area was used to keep war elephants, as Mon people living here were talented in taming elephants. To honor Mon people and the abilities of kings' elephants, local people were united to build this temple and named it "Wat Chang Yai" meaning great elephant. In front of the temple lie the statues of King Naresuan and his warrior elephant.
The ordination hall has mural paintings of the Rattanakosin period, painted during the reign of King Rama IV. They depict the deities in heavens with Mount Meru in the centre surrounded by seven mountain ranges and seven seas.
Another popular activity is riding on elephant back to explore the temple ruins around Ayutthaya Historical Park. Wang Chang Ayutthaya located on Pa Thon Road, not far from the park, offers elephant rides as well as daily shows.
How to Get There
- Take Highway 1 (Phahonyothin Road) then Highway 32 to Ayutthaya.
- Take Highway 304 (Chaeng Wattana Road) or Highway 302 (Ngamwongwan Road), turn right onto Highway 306 (Tiwanon Road), then take Highway 3111 (Pathum Thani – Sam Khok– Sena) and turn right at Sena onto Highway 3263 to Ayutthaya.
- Take Highway 306 through Nonthaburi and Pathum Thani, then take Highway 347 to Ayutthaya.
By Bus: There are buses and minivans leaving from the Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit) to Ayutthaya many times daily. The trip takes 1 – 1.30 hours.
By Train: Trains depart from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong Station regularly throughout the day. The train takes about 1.30 - 2 hours, depending on the type of train.
Remark: For more information, contact Tourism Authority of Thailand, Ayutthaya Office,
Tel. 035 246 076 -7, or visit www.tourismthailand.org/ayutthaya.
Bang Pa-in Palace
The Summer Palace Built in the Ayutthaya Era
Bang Pa-in Palace, situated 60 km. north of Bangkok and within easy reach of Ayutthaya, is one of the most popular attractions that is included in most Ayutthaya tour packages.
This palace, dating back to Ayutthaya period, was built by King Prasart Thong in 1632. After the Burmese invasion in 1767, the palace was left abandoned for a long time. King Rama IV (1851- 1868) started a renovation of the palace. Anyway, most of the buildings seen today were created by King Rama V (1868 – 1910), who also expanded the area into the magnificent gardens with features of European-style architecture.
The palace complex was used as a summer residence by the royal family. It comprises several impressive buildings, built in different architectural styles. As they spread across a large park, renting an electric cart is a good way to get around. Bang Pa-in Palace is a great stopover on the way to Ayutthaya. Anyway, a full day can easily be spent in this attractive and very photogenic place.
The Highlights of Bang Pa-in Palace
- Phra Thinang Aisawan Thiphya-Art, situated in the middle of a lake, is the best known one. This structure was built in traditional Thai architecture during the reign of King Rama V.
- Phra Thinang Wehart Chamrun, a Chinese-style two story mansion, was a gift from the Chinese rich merchants to King Rama V presented in 1889.
- Phra Thinang Warophat Phiman is a one storey mansion built in neo classical style. This building has a very European look and contains the throne hall. The building’s interior is richly decorated with beautiful paintings.
- Ho Withun Thasana or “Sages Lookout”, built in 1881, is the three-storey tower of 30 meters high. It somewhat resembles a lighthouse painted in red and yellow colors and was used to observe the surrounding areas.