Once the trading capital of Asia and the world`s largest city, Ayutthaya lured merchants from the Arab world, Asia and far Europe. Especially the Dutch and French got mesmerised by the Siamese temples and palaces, most of which, however, were burnt to the ground. Today, Ayutthaya receive crowds of international visitors who come to catch a glimpse of a few remnants of the once stupendous city.

Wat Pra Si Sanphet – the largest temple in Ayutthaya

THE GLORY OF ANCIENT AYUTTHAYA

For 400 years, Ayutthaya was the capital of the mighty Siamese kingdom and home to 33 kings. It was the year 1350 AD when the Kingdom of Ayutthaya was founded. The city grew and expanded at incredible speed until, in 1700, it became the world`s largest city.

Wealthy and powerful, merchants from all over Europe and the Far East began to arrive, fascinated by the grand architecture and fine Siamese goods. For its strategic location and easy river access, Ayutthaya has quickly become a trading capital. Shockingly, during a brief Burmese invasion in 1767, the city was all but destroyed, and a new capital was established at the nearby Bangkok.

Wat Phra Ram, Ayutthaya

THE HISTORICAL PARK OF AYUTTHAYA

Nowadays, the ancient city of Ayutthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Being an island at the confluence of Pa Sak, Lopburi and Chao Phraya rivers, Ayutthaya is a compact area, and to reach it, visitors will need to catch a boat. Many tourists take a boat tour from Bangkok via Chao Phraya River that connects the cities – that is the easiest way to explore the island of Ayutthaya.

Wat Mahathat, Ayutthaya

The Historical Park of Ayutthaya comprises of the ruined temples that are scattered across the site, with many others stretching along the rivers` edges. The main temples can be searched around on foot, but if you are interested in an extensive tour, you will need to hire a tuk-tuk, scooter or a bicycle.

The entry fees to the temples are to be paid individually (approx. USD 10 in total). For best photographs, sunrise and sunset visits are recommended.

The famous Buddha Head trapped in bodhi tree roots (Wat Maha That, Ayutthaya)

THE MAJOR LANDMARKS

There are three main royal palaces in the area – the Grand Palace, the Chandra Kasem Palace and the Wang Lang Palace.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet was the largest temple in the city, serving as a palace for centuries. The adjoining Wat Mongkhon Bophit contains one of Thailand`s largest Buddha figures – all of bronze.

Other significant sites in the park are Wat Yai Chai Mongkhol, Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Wat Phanan Choeng, Wat Mahathat and Wat Ratchaburana.

Some of the temples were built in Khmer style. Many are ruined but still quite impressive, with beautiful Buddha figures, e.g. Wat Phra Meru from Sri Lanka more than 1,300 years old.

Phra Nakhon Si, Ayutthaya

OTHER ATTRACTIONS IN AYUTTHAYA

1.Ayutthaya Floating Market – a short boat tour will take the visitors to the local floating market where you will find vendors selling souvenirs, clothes, fresh produce and delicious food

2.Ayutthaya Bicycle Tours have also gained popularity – you will pay around USD 40 for a bike, helmet and an English-speaking guide who will show you around the major landmarks and tell you about the history of Ayutthaya (half-day tours available)

3.Royal Elephant Kraal Village – the increasingly popular Elephant palace offers numerous attractions, including accommodation (elephant stay), elephant rides and feeding shows. NOTE For responsible travels, elephant tourism is often referred to as ‘fuelling cruelty’, and it causes controversy

A sunrise elephant ride is one of the major attraction but causes controversy

NOTE

Ayutthaya is a sacred site for the Thai people, who like to dress many of the Buddha figures in yellow robes, scatter petals and burn incense sticks reverently at their feet. Visitors should respect the local culture, dress decently and behave appropriately. Posing behind statues of the Buddha for ‘comic’ photos causes offence.

Ayutthaya is a sacred site for the Thai people and their culture should be respected at all times

TRAVEL TIP

You will get to Ayutthaya:

  • By train from Bangkok (USD 3-15, one way)
  • By public bus/shuttle bus from Bangkok (USD 2-10, 1.5 hr one way)
  • By booking an all-inclusive day boat tour from Bangkok, via the Chao Phraya River (approx. USD 60 pp)

Once in Ayutthaya (provided that you travel independently), you can hire a tuk-tuk for the whole day (USD 10-15). Otherwise, you can rent a bicycle (USD 2) or a scooter (USD 5) at the train/bus station.

Floating market in Ayutthaya

WHEN TO TRAVEL

From March to June, Ayutthaya tends to be extremely hot, between July and October it rains heavily and the “cool” season goes from November till February that seems like ideal time for such a sightseeing tour.


HOW TO GET THERE

Fly to Bangkok.

For all international flights go to www.momondo.com or www.skyscanner.com

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Eva Bodova

By Eva Bodova

Saturday 23 June 2018

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