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Ayuthaya is a wonderful city with lots of history to see. The ruined Wats and monuments are absolutely stunning. I would recommend hiring a bicycle as the sites are quite spread out. I don't like cycling where there is a lot of traffic and this wasn't a problem, there seems to be lots of green spaces which to cycle through. Keep your eyes open for the huge lizards where the river runs through one of the city's parks. There are a lot of sights and it can be exhausting if you try to fit too much into one day.
Whilst the ruins do attract a lot of tourists, the place didn't feel 'touristy' especially compared to some of the other places we visited.
The town has night time markets which are very simple affairs but where you can get a very cheap and tasty meal and sample some weird and wonderful foods.
I would definitely recommend Aythaya as a one or two night trip either on it's own from Bangkok or on your way to Chaing Mai by train.
As some of you who often read my reviews will know, I visited Thailand last year and one of the places I went to was Ayutthaya. The city is made up of two parts, one that is encircled by a river, the inner city, and the part outside the river, the outer city.
Ayutthaya was founded in 1351 by U Thong, who later became a Thai King. The city was the capital of Thailand from around 1450 until about 1890. The population of Ayutthaya grew enormously until at one stage it was home to over one million people. The Burmese came and set fire to the temples and ransacked the city, stealing the gold in the 18th Century. In 1991, Ayutthaya was made a UNESCO World Heritage Sight.
What is there to see?
Firstly, there is a tourist information place in Ayutthaya, where the people speak at least enough English to understand you and communicate back. I went there and I found them very friendly and helpful. They gave me some brochures which were useful. The only negative is that by the time you get there, you have bypassed half of the things to see. Therefore I would advise printing off a map online or contacting them before hand to get some information.
Ayutthaya is a really beautiful place. I only visited inside the city because to visit outside you really need a car, which I did not have, as the roads are fast and not suitable for pedestrians or cyclists. That's ok though, as most of the sights are in the inner city. It is perfectly possible to walk around for one day and see most of what the city has to offer. Once you have got off the boat, follow the road straight ahead for about ten minutes, crossing two or three roads that run perpendicular, and you will come to two temples, or Wats, as they are known in Thailand. This is where your sightseeing begins, and from here almost all of the walking or cycling you will do will be through parks. (I should mention at this point that there is an extremely dangerous park on the outskirts of the inner city. However, none of the sights I am about to mention involve going through it, if you start off from the train station as I have described above.)
So, the first two Wats that you will come to are Wat Phra Mahathat and Wat Ratburana. It is interesting to know that the latter has a crypt which was actually in the television show called Around the World in 80 Treasures, with Dan Cruickshank. To be fair, with Wat Phra Mahathat, you can see most of it without going in, and Wat Ratburana is, I think, more interesting and more beautiful.
To the left of Wat Phra Mahathat, you will see a path through a park which will lead you to more Thai treasures. The walk through the park is beautiful, and you will cross a small bridge and walk down a path lined with trees. At the end of the path, you can turn left and visit a traditional Thai teak house. (This is also where the public bathrooms are, which I used and found to be spotlessly clean. They charge about twenty pence to use them.)
If you continue on from the teak house, you will come to a sort of elephant show ground. Here you can watch the elephants perform or ride them. I did not want to do this as I think it is cruel.
If you cross the road, past the elephants, you will come to a market that sells a range of Asian goods. I had a little look around here but did not buy anything.
Backtracking now, across the road and past the elephants again, you will see ahead of you another two beautiful temples, one of which is actually new! This is called Wat Phra Mongkohn Bophit and it is simply spectacular inside, with an enormous Buddha. This is free to enter. The other temple nearby is the one on all of the pictures of Ayutthaya- Wat Phra Si Sanphet. This was built to look like the Grand Palace in Bangkok and it is very beautiful.
Ayutthaya has even more sights to offer, but these were my favourite ones.
Most of the sights have an admission fee of between fifty pence and one pound, and you must take your shoes off when entering temples and the teak house. There will be a sign to tell you when.
Ayutthaya is slightly north of Bangkok. I went by train, from Bangkok's Hualamphong train station and it took about two hours. However, we were late departing from Bangkok by about forty minutes. Also it is useful to know that the trains from Bangkok to Ayutthaya only go early in the morning or in the evening, so you'll either have to make an early start or stay overnight (not a bad thing!). My ticket cost less than one pound.
Hualamphong is staffed by people that speak English. They wear badges to identify themselves. It goes without saying that you should be careful about talking to strangers who approach you, especially in bus and train stations! They will spot a foreigner a mile off and probably approach you and ask you in English if you need any help. I asked them because the ticket staff do not speak English.
Bangkok's Hualamphong train station is accessible by bus, or, even better, by using the MRT, and it is the stop at one end of the line. The MRT station staff will know where you want to go if you ask them for Hualamphong when you buy the token.
There are buses that leave from the market in Ayutthaya, which is next to the where the river boat drops you off. They are slightly more expensive than the train, but have more frequent departures and make the journey to Bangkok in about an hour and a half.
The last train leaves Ayutthaya about seven o'clock in the evening, to go back to Bangkok, and again takes about two hours, plus delays!
If you arrive by train, you will need to walk out of the train station (there is only one exit), down the road straight in front of you, and to the river, where for about ten pence you get a boat that crosses it. The crowd will be walking this way so follow them!
Where to stay
Ayutthaya has several places to stay. You can find these by looking in a Lonely Planet/Rough Guide, by asking other travelers who have been there, or by using a website such as hostelworld. I stayed in the Ayutthaya Place Youth Hostel, which was cheap (about fiver pounds per night), and which was clean and staffed by friendly people. I would recommend it.
Earlier this year, in July, I went with some friends on a sight-seeing tour of Ayutthaya ( or to give it, its full name Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya ) the previous capital of Thailand. We went on a public holiday - one of the so called Buddha days that crop up through the year. This one was Kow Pansa, which marks the start of the "rains retreat", a two month period in the rainy season in which monks are supposed to stay within their temples and not wander around. The origin of this particular day is that, this was decided by the Lord Buddha himself, as during this time, rice fields are planted with young rice plants and there are many small animals about, and the Buddha was concerned that monks traipsing around the countryside would damage crops and trample small creatures. It is also supposed to be a good time for monks to dedicate themselves to reading and meditation. Since the rains retreat starts after the planting of the rice fields, many young men are free to don robes for the duration of the retreat -there is little to do in the flooded rice fields during this time. It was nice to get out of Bangkok and be a tourist for the day. The two hour train ride from Hualampong train station in Bangkok is amazingly cost only 15 Baht, ( about 25 pence ) per person, but was so packed at 7.30am that we had to stand all the way. Unfortunately, it was 3rd class only so no air con, the only ventilation was roof fans and the air coming in through the windows. One of the things you notice about trains in Thailand is that you will never go hungry or thirsty as every stop will have people selling you cakes, rice, pork, chicken, coke, beer, water.. And if you cannot wait until the station there are people carrying it through the carriage for you. This is definitely not British Rail catering! The only trouble is that when the train gets crowded it can be a real pain squeezing up to let them through every five minutes and for them to ask
you the same question Water? Beer?..... Standing in 90 plus degrees for the whole trip whilst being within 2 inches of umpteen other people can be very tiring and is not good on the legs. By the time we arrived, about 2 hours later, we were already a bit tired and we hadn’t even started walking around yet. After a quick research of the Rough Guide we decided on a rough itinerary and set off. The best way to get around is Tuk-Tuk, prices are negotiable from 30 Baht up for a single journey to 300Baht for 3 hours. It will depend on your bargaining skills. The first stop was the old Royal Palace grounds as a destination and discovered that basically it was just a low rise unimpressive bundle of ruined bricks in a muddy field overgrown with weeds. A wooden replica of part of the Palace was in the distance, so we selected another site from the book and went onward for another site that was more interesting. After coming out of one place, we were approached by a souvenir seller who had taken out photograph on the way in and had quickly attached it to the middle of a plate with Ayutthaya printed round the edge. Tourist tat or nice rememberence? You can decide. The problem I had was that basically seeing Angkor Wat in April spoiled me. The ruins, if I had seen them in February I would have thought they were really good, but after, they were frankly small beer. Nice beer but small. As is usual in Thailand, there is a dual entrance fee for each set of ruins, one for Thais and one for everyone else and of course everyone else pays double. Ok, its not such a large amount, 40 Baht instead of 20 Baht but annoying still the same considering I work and pay taxes here. After a couple of hours we started to flag and wanted to eat, so we set off to find a restaurant called "Tonie's". Happily, Tonie's also had a working fan, so we managed to relax for a while, a cold beer in the shade with the
pleasing breeze of a fan, and some delicious Thai food. What more could one ask for? Thus fortified and refreshed, we left the hospitable environment of Tonie's and hailed yet another tuk-tuk. On to another temple and its adjoining ruins - one of the most important Wats in town - Wiharn Phra Mongkhon Bophit so my friends wife could make merit. There were throngs of people attending the temple to tamboon on this special day. "Tamboon" is Thai for "make good", and is important in the context of Thai Buddhism in that doing good, particularly with respect to things Buddhist, is thought to help assure a better life the next time around, or maybe even help them escape the physical realm altogether. After the temple, we walked around some nearby ruins, including the resting place of King Rama 2, then having snapped our last pictures of the day, made our way back to the bus station ( or to be more accurate, a bus rank with a small collections of huts for shops and tickets ) in the middle of town. We had decided that the 15minute interval of buses would guarantee us a seat rather than risking standing for another 2 hours on the train. We found seats on a bus leaving in 10 minutes and leaned back and enjoyed the air conditioning. The fare back to Bangkok Mor Chit bus station? 45 Baht each (about 75 pence) So all in all a nice day out but as I said, it was maybe a little spoiled by the fact that all the ruins seemed small and unimpressive after Angkor Wat.