Wat Mahathat's Buddha Head Sits in Growing Tree Roots

The head in the roots
The head in the roots | © edusma7256 / Pixabay
Kyle Hulme

Thailand has no shortage of awe-inspiring statues, but few leave a lasting impression in the way that Wat Mahathat’s root-covered Buddha head does. Located in Thailand’s former capital Ayutthaya, here’s a little more about the head and the city’s fate.

The Haunting Head

The head in the roots

At around 80 kilometres (about 50 miles), or an hour and a half from Thailand’s capital city Bangkok, Ayutthaya makes for a popular day trip for those looking for a spot of culture found beyond the walls of the Grand Palace. Under Thailand’s baking sun, the historic city hosts thousands of domestic and foreign visitors every day. The grandeur of the now-ruinous temples and statues can set the mind wondering just how much of a spectacular place it was in its heyday, but attentions and thoughts soon turn towards the present when tourists come across its most famous feature.

Close up

Under the watchful eye of a guard throughout the day, the Buddha head growing amongst the roots of the banyan tree is one of the most recognisable images of Ayutthaya and of Thailand in general. A striking sight with an enduring effect, it’s speculated that it was entwined in the roots after a thief placed it there and never returned, but its origins could also be traced back to the 18th century, when the city itself was razed to the ground during war.

A City Razed to Ruins

The ancient city

Founded in 1350 and becoming the second capital of Siam — now modern-day Thailand — after Sukhothai, Ayutthaya was thought to be the largest city in the world, with one million inhabitants, and was home to a number of awe-inspiring temples. Ayutthaya was also a trading hub that connected Asia with the West. Siam had frequently clashed with the Burmese Kingdom throughout its history, and were defeated in 1767. Following a long siege, the city of Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese and was razed by the invading forces, with its temples, statues and records all destroyed in the process. The city was left broken, abandoned and plundered, but was brought back to life by the Thai government in the 20th century.

Restoring its Former Glory

Ruins restored

Whilst the thief responsible for taking the Buddha head to the roots might not have been successful in his attempt to steal artifacts, others unfortunately were. With gangs of looters growing in frequency, the Thai government acted in the mid-20th century to protect the ruins and its heritage. The Department of Fine Art began restoring and protecting the city and, whilst the damage the Burmese inflicted on the city cannot be undone, it ensured that the city wouldn’t fall into further disrepute. The department provided the world with stunning examples of Khmer architecture, artwork and mysteries that may never be solved, but will be speculated on during the years to come.

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.