The Top Things to Do and See in Ayutthaya, Thailand

The Buddha's face can be seen in the roots of a banyan tree in Wat Phra Mahthat, Ayutthaya Historical Park
The Buddha's face can be seen in the roots of a banyan tree in Wat Phra Mahthat, Ayutthaya Historical Park | © Thomas Levine Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Amanda Chain
19 May 2021

Golden Buddhas, stunning temples, a summer palace, the ruins of an ancient royal city and a Portuguese village … Ayutthaya is Thailand‘s unsung archaeological miracle and packed with adventures: here is Culture Trip’s list of the top things to do and see there.

The ancient kingdom of Ayutthaya is a vision of Buddhist temples, monasteries and ancient statues of monumental dimensions. Dating back to 1350, the city has experienced a turbulent history, rich in episodes of glory and strife. Now a Unesco World Heritage site, it demands your attention.

Historic City of Ayutthaya

Natural Feature
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By Thai standards, Bangkok is a modern city. The Thai monarchy were forced to relocate there after their royal capital of Ayutthaya – named after the mythical city of the hero-god Rama – was attacked and burnt to the ground by the Burmese army in 1767. Prior to that, the crumbling ruins you see today had been glorious – glittering with stupas, Buddhist libraries and gold-covered palaces and surrounded by gondola-filled waterways. Allow plenty of time to drift about this magical place.

Wat Ratchaburana

Buddhist Temple, Museum, Historical Landmark
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400 year old Wat Ratchaburana (Temple) Ayutthaya Thailand on 10/02/2012
© Anthony Partleton / Alamy Stock Photo
It looks like a miniature Angkor Wat – notice the Khmer-style stupa (or prang) covered with statues of the legendary god-bird Garuda, towering over a courtyard of chedis and a ruined temple hall. Once it was one of Thailand’s most impressive temples. A handful of precious relics, recaptured from drunken looters who raided the temple in 1957, brought in enough money to pay for the construction of Ayutthaya’s museum. The remainder are still on display in the collection.

Ayutthaya Night Market

Market
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There’s not much to do in Ayutthaya after dark other than wandering about the night market. Purpose-built with tourist transactions in mind, it is a whirlpool of stalls crammed with souvenirs – tiny by comparison with the sprawling night markets in Chiang Mai and Bangkok, which are better hunting grounds for bargain buys. Most people come for the street food – wok-cooked pad thais and curries, soups made with mouth-tingling morning glory and river fish and sushi – served at tables next to the river.

Wat Phra Ram

Buddhist Temple, Museum, Historical Landmark
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the wat Phra Ram in the landscape of the Historical park in the city of Ayutthaya north of bangkok in Thailand in southeastasia.
© FLUEELER URS / Alamy Stock Photo
Ayutthaya’s most Instagrammable shot may just be the view of this 14th-Century temple, reflected in the water of Bueng Phra Ram lake, and silhouetted against a pink sky immediately after sunset. It is one of Ayutthaya’s oldest, most venerated temples, with colonnades of chedis and long galleries once used by Thai royals and courtiers. A huge carved-sandstone Buddha footprint, covered in elaborate spirals with an intricate wheel-mandala, is preserved in the National Museum in Bangkok.

Wat Phu Khao Thong

Buddhist Temple, Historical Landmark
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Ayutthaya, Bangkok / Thailand - February 9, 2020: Name of this place  Wat Phu Khao Thong Temple  the temple is white and it's in Ayutthaya Province
© Ahmet Cigsar / Alamy Stock Photo
This enormous chedi towers over the landscape like a giant white bell, topped with a gold ball worth more than £100,000. It was built on top of an older structure by Ayutthaya’s most celebrated king, Naresuan, who reigned between 1590 and 1605. His statue, mounted on a horse, can be found in the grounds. The temple is a short walk from the main ruins and there are wonderful views of Ayutthaya, the river and lakes from the upper platform, reached via a steep set of stairs.

Wat Yai Chaimongkol

Buddhist Temple
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Not all Ayutthaya’s temples are in sorry states of disrepair. Wat Yai Chaimongkol (the Temple of Auspicious Victory) is a working monastery, complete with a 20th-century viharn (prayer hall) and reclining Buddha remodelled from older structures. The towering central chedi echoes the summit of Mount Meru, a sacred, mythical peak. The temple itself dates from the early 14th century and is named in honour of the defeat of the Burmese Crown Prince in single combat by the Ayutthaya king Naresuan in 1592.

Ko Loi

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It may be a long way from the sea, but Ayutthaya has its islands. Ko Loi sits in the middle of the Pa Sak river, linked to Ayutthaya town by a narrow footbridge off U Thong road, between the Bangkok Bank and the immigration office. There’s not much of historical interest to waylay you here, but there are no vehicles and, if you venture beyond the tourist crowds, you’ll find Ko Loi an agreeable place to cycle round, observing people fishing and going about their daily lives.

Portuguese Village

Natural Feature
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The first Europeans in Thailand were the Portuguese, who came to Ayutthaya in the 15th century. Some 3,000 of them lived in this now-ruined village, which borders the Chao Phraya a hundred or so metres north of the 2053 highway bridge. The only remains today are graveyards and a derelict church. But their community lives on in Kudi Jeen, in Bangkok. Many aristocratic Thais have Portuguese surnames, after the forebears who changed Thailand for ever, bringing chillies and papaya to the country.

Ayothaya Floating Market

Market
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Set up by the local tourist authorities for visitors keen to buy keepsakes for the folks back home, Ayutthaya’s floating market is a smaller, more concentrated version of the real thing. For a £5 entrance fee, you are invited to board a boat for a tour of the diminutive lake, with stops to shop for souvenirs that aren’t always bargains. Visits are worth it if you want to top up your photograph bank of Thai vendors in straw hats selling their wares from canoes and long-tail boats.

Wat Chaiwatthanaram

Buddhist Temple, Building
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Ayutthaya Historical Park, Thailand
© Sorin Colac / Alamy Stock Photo
Welcome to a truly magnificent Buddhist temple on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River – a design template for a number of subsequent sites throughout Thailand. The eye-catching layout includes a raised platform and eight towering chedis, all linked to secret passageways containing colourful paintings that illustrate the life of Buddha. There are 120 sitting Buddha statues placed around the area. Thought to have been painted originally black and gold, they now sport orange drapery, creating a peaceful, beautiful scene.

Wat Phra Sri Sanphet

Ruins
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Meaning “Temple of the Holy, Splendid and Omniscient”, this wat was revered as the grandest, most beautiful temple when it served the Siamese capital more than 700 years ago. It remains to this day a remarkable testament to an old culture. Built on former palace ground, the site comprises three ruined chedis, all that was left of the temple after its destruction by the Burmese in 1767. The steps are demandingly steep but the architecture is captivating. You can, if you are feeling sun-faded and weary, reach the site on elephant-back.

Wat Lokaya Sutha (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)

Monastery
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Ayutthaya, Thailand - Nirvana statue at WAT LOKAYA SUTHA in Ayutthaya, Thailand. It is part of the World Heritage Site - Historic City of
© beibaoke / Alamy Stock Photo
This restored ruin of a monastery in northwest Ayutthaya, in the Pratu Chai sub-district, is one of the region’s unmissable sites. You can contemplate what remains of the monastery floors, walls and pillars, and inspect the fragments of Buddha images. The highlight is the huge reclining Buddha, 42m (138ft) long, eight metres (26ft) high, and usually wrapped in bright orange cloth. There is a small altar beside it where you can make offerings. Afterwards, beat the heat of the day with a refreshing mango juice at one of the roadside cafés overlooking the temple.

Wat Phra Mahthat

Buddhist Temple
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One of the most photographed spots in Ayutthaya, Wat Phra Mahthat is famed for a large stone Buddha head trapped in the exposed roots of a colossal banyan tree. Exactly how it got there is unclear; many believe serious flooding prompted rapid vegetation growth. A few metres from this spot, legend holds, two brothers fought violently over who would succeed as the King of Siam. The victor, King Ramathibodi I, built the palace and its Buddha statues in honour of his brother. The head is considered to be an eerie likeness of the conquered sibling. True or not, it’s a riveting tale, spun engagingly by many of the guides.

Ayutthaya Historical Park

Park, Ruins
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A must-see for history buffs and admirers of archaeology, this park is part of the Unesco World Heritage site, and numbers almost 70 spectacular temples and ruins. It’s a huge expanse, which embraces the former Siamese capital city, with imposing Buddha statues in a serene green landscape, striking under hot blue skies. You should visit in order to experience the beauty of what was the Siamese centre of power and commerce. It can’t fail to move you.

Wat Yai Chai Mang Khon

Ruins
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Row of Buddha statues at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon temple in Ayutthaya, Thailand
© Petr Svarc / Alamy Stock Photo
One of the lesser-visited temple sites in the city permits a more intimate experience of Ayutthaya’s architectural heritage. Magnificent rows of Buddhas dominate the main temple; another huge sleeping example is believed to possess a soul radiating magical qualities – citizens come to rub coins on the feet for good luck. There are towers in various states of preservation, and statues inside the temple to make your eyes pop, adorned with intricately moulded golden leaves. Festivals and celebrations are regularly held here by Thai locals, reinforcing the belief in the area as monumental and sacred.

Boat tour from Ayutthaya to Bangkok

Natural Feature
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Thailand embraces the water that surrounds it, and ferries and boats are extremely popular modes of transport throughout the land. For our money one of the best experiences is a cruise – usually a day return – from Ayutthaya to Bangkok on the Chao Phraya River. As you chug along, you’ll relax and unwind to the engines’ thrum and the swish of the water, as magnificent sites rise on the riverbank. Tours can cost as little as £42, with air-conditioning and an expert English-speaking licensed guide to explain the attractions you pass.

Wat Panan Choeng (Golden Buddha)

Buddhist Temple
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Wat Panan Choeng is a Buddhist temple on the east bank of the Chao Phraya River, its overriding focus the gigantic golden Buddha figure posing majestically on high. It is 19m (62ft) high, 14m (46ft) wide, and revered throughout the region as sacred for mariners. Built in 1324, this is one of the oldest (not to mention largest and most worshipped) Buddha statues in Thailand, and they say it shed tears when the Burmese burnt Ayutthaya down in 1767. The temple is still used regularly for religious ceremonies, so dress appropriately – modestly, and well-covered – to respect Buddhist custom.

Bang Pa-In Palace

Historical Landmark
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Bang Pa-In Royal Palace known as the Summer Palace. Located in Bang Pa-In district Ayutthaya Province THAILAND
© Chirasak Tolertmongkol / Alamy Stock Photo
Bang Pa-In Royal Palace – or the Summer Palace, former residence of the Thai monarchy – is reserved today for regal retreats and holidays. It dates from the 17th century, and Russian and Chinese architecture as well as traditional Thai designs blend brilliantly to create a colourful symmetrical exterior. Climbing the brightly painted lookout tower is a treat to make time for. From the top you are rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding city. With few exceptions, the palace is open to visitors year round, and you can join official tours of the Chinese-style royal palace and throne room as well as the lavish, vibrant gardens.

Viharn Phra Mongkhonbophit

Historical Landmark
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Restored temple ruin Viharn Phra Mongkhonbophit is a magnificent structure that shelters another stupa-fyingly lovely Golden Buddha. Built in 1538, with a name that translates as Buddha of the Holy and Supremely Auspicious Reverence, it has undergone many painstaking restorations since. It was famously once the location of a sanctuary so beautiful that, during a war with the Siamese, Burmese troops were utterly awe-struck and left it untouched.

Alex Robinson contributed additional reporting to this article.

These recommendations were updated on May 19, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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