I’ve been to Bangkok a bunch of times, but I’d never been there long enough to get out of the city. So on our last trip we added a few extra days to the itinerary, hired a driver, set our alarm for the crack of dawn and headed a few hours north out of Bangkok to visit the ancient island ruins of Ayutthaya.
Once one of the most beautiful cities on earth, Ayutthaya was founded in the fourteenth century and was the capital of Thailand for over 400 years. The city was built on an island surrounded by three rivers (the Chao Phraya, the Pa Sak and the Lopburi River) that provided a natural barrier against invaders.
In its glory days, Ayutthaya’s illustrious reputation was legendary. It was the center of high culture in the east, mesmerising foreign diplomats and traders with its spectacular architecture and incredible wealth. Home to three palaces, 400 temple monasteries, and valuable art and treasures, Ayutthaya’s wealth and size was often compared to Paris.
But despite the city’s strategic positioning, its wealth provided too tempting. During the second half of the eighteenth century, the island kingdom fell under attack by the Burmese and Ayutthaya was burnt to the ground. The king had no choice but to move his capital and palace to Bangkok, where they have remained ever since.
Walk through the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped onto the set of an Indiana Jones movie. Rows of headless Buddhas and crumbling towers scatter the UNESCO World Heritage site, providing a constant reminder of its violent past. The temples may be in ruins, but offerings are still made today at important shrines within Ayutthaya.
While Ayutthaya is a pretty popular tourist attraction, there was only one part of it that felt overly touristy. Most of the visitors were crowded around the head of a Buddha entwined in Banyan tree roots at Wat Phra Mahathat, which left the rest of the ancient city ours to explore.
Treat yourself on the way out (near the carpark) with what could possibly be the best coconut ice cream and banana pancakes in Thailand – I do not exaggerate.
How to get there:
Ayutthaya is the perfect day trip from Bangkok. You can book private transportation or an organised tour, but it’s also super easy to get public transport and do it yourself.
You can get there by train (second-class seats with air conditioning cost 245-345 baht, third-class is just 15-20 baht) or by public mini van (approximately 70 baht). Allow around 90 minutes to two hours travel time for both means of transportation (depending on Bangkok traffic). Trains leave approximately every hour from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong railway station and can be slower than the mini vans. Mini vans leave from Victory Monument in Bangkok every 30 minutes or so (at the Victory Monument skytrain station) – you don’t need to book – just rock up. If you’re going by public mini van, be prepared to be smooshed in close next to the other passengers – they don’t leave for Ayutthaya until every seat in the van is filled.
Once you arrive at Ayutthaya you can book a tuk-tuk driver for the day – just be sure to negotiate on the price – 200 baht per hour is a good guide. If you’re up for cycling in extreme heat and humidity, you can also rent a bicycle for between 50 and 100 baht per day.
- Cameras: Canon EOS 5D Mark III (on loan from Canon Australia), Canon EOS 70D (my personal camera) and GoPro HERO4 Silver Edition.
- Lenses: Canon 24-70mm 2.8L II and Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM (on loan from Canon Australia) and CanonEF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM.