Ayutthaya: Thailand's Abandoned Former Capital

Chedis in Ayutthaya
Chedis in Ayutthaya | © BondSupanat / Pi
Kyle Hulme

Before Bangkok was even on the map and before we came to know the Land of Smiles as Thailand, the capital of Siam was Ayutthaya. While it exists in ruins today, once upon a time it was a major city and trading hub. Here’s its story.

Loved by over 40s

Origins of Ayutthaya


Historically, Thailand – and indeed much of Southeast Asia – was made up of a series of different kingdoms, and it was from these kingdoms that Ayutthaya came to be. It’s thought that in the mid-14th century, King Uthong of Lavo Kingdom moved southwards towards the fertile floodplains of the Chao Phraya River, the very same river that now runs through Bangkok. It was strategically founded above the tidal bore on an island beside three rivers, meaning it was not only protected from flooding but from attacks from naval forces of nearby kingdoms. This location proved to be key, as Ayutthaya grew in power and influence over the coming centuries.

Rise and fall

Ayutthaya became a cultural and commercial hub

Ayutthaya began taking over nearby kingdoms, such as fellow former Thai capital Sukhothai and Lan Na – modern day Chiang Mai – but it was wars with nearby Burma that proved to be the downfall of the great city. Ayutthaya had grown to be a large kingdom with in excess of a million inhabitants, and was one of the largest trading centres in Asia, connecting the continent with Africa and Europe and ideally located between India and China. Foreign traders and settlers brought new ideas, architecture and artistic styles, which were evident from relics found in the modern-day ruins, and importantly brought prosperity to the city.

The neighbouring kingdom of Burma invaded and fought many wars with Ayutthaya between the 16th and 18th centuries, with mixed results for both states. Ayutthaya had a particularly memorable victory during the fourth siege of Ayutthaya in 1593, where King Naresuan defeated the Burmese crown prince Mingyi Swa in single combat, with both fighters on elephants. However, while that was one victory, Burma eventually came out on top. Following decades of power struggles in Ayutthaya, Burma’s siege of the city proved to be its downfall, and the Burmese razed the city to the ground. A new capital was later founded in Thonburi, close to modern-day Bangkok, by Taksin, who fought to liberate his people from the Burmese.

The city today

Chedis in Ayutthaya

Following its destruction by the Burmese, the city was largely left abandoned. The wooden buildings in the city might be lost forever, but many of its stone buildings, including temples, prangs, chedis and statues, can still be seen today. While many of its treasure were lost to looters, it’s thought that such practices actually provided it with its most enduring image – that of the Buddha head growing in the roots of a banyan tree. It’s said that a thief left it there, unable to carry it due to its weight, and forgot about it, with the rest being history.

The head in the roots

Its close proximity means it’s a popular day trip choice for those staying in Bangkok, and the success of the Thai TV show Buppae Sanniwas – a rom-com set in 17th-century Ayutthaya – has seen crowds descend on its ruins in their droves on weekends. Its historical park is home to some of the most beautiful and well-preserved ruins in the country, and is truly a must-visit for anybody coming to Thailand.

Did you know – Culture Trip now does bookable, small-group trips? Pick from authentic, immersive Epic Trips, compact and action-packed Mini Trips and sparkling, expansive Sailing Trips.

culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.