10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Ayutthaya

The old Thai capital of Ayutthaya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most impressive ruined cities in Asia, and a must-see for history buffs visiting Thailand. The Menam, Lopburi, and Pasak rivers ring the island of ruins. Wandering through this once-thriving place will make you feel you've stepped back through time. Allow at least two days to see all of Ayutthaya's attractions, and more if you don't want to feel rushed. This place is steeped in history and you'll want to get the full experience while you're here. Ayutthaya Historical Park is open 8:30 am-4:30 pm daily.

1 Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Wat Phra Si Sanphet
Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Wat Phra Si Sanphet is the loveliest but also the most historically important temple in old Ayutthaya. Its three large chedis and numerous smaller ones make this wat - also known as the King's Temple - one of the most impressive sights in the ruined city. Two of the large chedis, the eastern and central ones, were built in 1492 by King Rama Thibodi II to house the ashes of his father and elder brother. His own ashes are interred in the third chedi, built in 1530 by his son and royal successor, King Boromaraja IV.

All three chedis were plundered by the Burmese, though they failed to find the hundreds of small Buddha statues in bronze, crystal, silver, lead, and gold now on display in the National Museum in Bangkok. Other smaller Buddha figures were also taken to the capital to be placed in Wat Buddhaisawan (now also part of the National Museum in Bangkok) and the western wiharn of Wat Pho.

You'll see the ruins of Wang Luang, the Grand Palace, to your left as you leave the wat. There is nothing left except the foundations, as the palace was thoroughly destroyed by the Burmese.

2 Wat Ratchaburana

Wat Ratchaburana
Wat Ratchaburana

King Boromracha II (1424-48) had Wat Ratchaburana built in memory of his elder brothers Ay and Yi, who were killed in a duel over the succession to the throne. Columns and walls of the wiharn still stand, as do some ruined chedis. The large prang with its fine figured stucco, portraying nagas supporting garudas, is exceptionally well preserved.

You'll find some interesting wall paintings in the two crypts in the lower part of the prang, likely the work of Chinese artists who settled in Ayutthaya and had the skill to harmonize such different styles as those of the Khmer and Burmese, Lopburi and Sukhothai. Two more chedis at the crossroads house the ashes of the royal brothers while a third commemorates Queen Si Suriyothai who, during a battle with the Burmese in about 1550, dressed as a man and rode into the fray on a white elephant to save her husband's life - but losing her own in the process.

3 Wat Mahathat

Wat Mahathat
Wat Mahathat

Immediately across the road from Wat Ratchaburana stands Wat Mahathat, which tradition claims King Ramesuen built in 1384. The central prang here is one of the old city's most impressive edifices. In about 1625 the top portion broke off, being rebuilt in 1633 some 4 m higher than before. Later it collapsed again and only the corners survived. In 1956 a secret chamber was uncovered in the ruins; among the treasures found inside were gold jewelry, a gold casket containing a relic of the Buddha, and fine tableware.

4 Chao Sam Phraya National Museum

Chao Sam Phraya National Museum
Chao Sam Phraya National Museum Joel Ormsby

Certainly one of the most modern buildings in Ayutthaya, Chao Sam Phraya National Museum was founded by King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 1961. It houses a number of sculptures and works from different periods throughout Thailand's early history. Two highlights are a seated Buddha and a huge bust of the Buddha in the U Thong style.

5 Wat Yai Chai Mongkol

Wat Yai Chai Mongkol
Wat Yai Chai Mongkol

On the eastern outskirts of Ayutthaya stands the exceptionally interesting Wat Yai Chai Mongkol, its massive chedi rising from a square base surrounded by four smaller chedis. The wat, built in 1357 under King U Thong, was assigned to monks of a particularly strict order trained in Ceylon, members of which still live there. To find this wat, cross the Pasak River and take the Bangkok road, turning right about 300 m beyond the railway.

6 Wat Na Phra Men

Wat Na Phra Men
Wat Na Phra Men Heiko S

Wat Na Phra Men is one of the few temples to have escaped destruction by the Burmese. It is not known when the temple was built, existing records showing merely that it was restored under King Boromakot (1732-58) and again during the early Bangkok period. The bot is a large, imposing building with beautiful wood carvings on the gable and door panels. Strangely, a large figure of Buddha found in the bot is dressed in royal garb, which is highly unusual.

7 Wat Suwan Dararam

Wat Suwan Dararam
Wat Suwan Dararam Fabian Mohr

Wat Suwan Dararam stands proudly surrounded by three small lakes. Built around 1700 by the grandfather of Rama I, it was extended by the rulers of the Chakri dynasty who also carried out a considerable amount of restoration work and decorated the temple with numerous paintings. Wat Suwan Dararam is the only temple on Ayutthaya island still inhabited by monks.

8 Bang Pa-in Palace

Bang Pa-in Palace
Bang Pa-in Palace

If you tire of seeing ruins and are looking for a little more modern regality, head to Bang Pa-in Palace, dating to the 17th century. Also known as the Summer Palace, this royal residence is one of the best-preserved compounds in the area. The buildings feature several architectural styles, including traditional Thai and Chinese structures, and there's also Phra Thinang Utthayan Phumisathian - a two-story Victorian style mansion. Another interesting spot is Ho Witthunthassana, the three-story, tower-style building used for scoping out the countryside and watching for royal elephants.

Hours: Daily 8 am-5 pm

9 Foreign Quarters

St Joseph's Church
St Joseph's Church Uwe Schwarzbach

In its glory days, Ayutthaya drew settlers from all over the world, making the city a diverse and cosmopolitan one. As you'll see from a map, many of those lie quite close to one another so you can visit the old French, Portuguese, British, and Dutch quarters by taking a sightseeing bike ride through the area. The European influence is responsible for the number of Catholic churches in the area, including St Joseph's Church, which still stands today. Located in the French quarter, the church was built in 1666 and is a testament to the French settlers who left home to settle in what was formerly Siam.

There was also a strong Japanese presence in Ayutthaya, and there is still an old Japanese quarter. The riverside Japanese settlement was separate from the European ones, divided by the Suan Phlu Canal.

Hours: Daily 8 am-6 pm

Address: 30 Mu 11 Tambon Samphao Lom, Amphoe Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya

10 Elephant Stay

Elephant Stay
Elephant Stay

Tourists can bond with one of Thailand's most revered animals by spending a few days at the Elephant Stay. The minimum booking is three nights, and includes an elephant you'll care for throughout the duration of your stay - guests feed, bathe, and ride their assigned elephants.

The organization is a non-profit devoted to conservation and supporting retired elephants. In addition to providing a home for retired elephants, the organization runs an active breeding program and has seen dozens of births since 2000.

Admission: Prices begin at 12,000 THB for the three-night package for one person

Address: 34 Royal Elephant Kraal

Where to Stay in Ayutthaya for Sightseeing

If you're visiting Ayutthaya for the first time and plan to tour the temples, the best place to stay is near the historical park. Most of the larger upscale hotels lie a short tuk tuk drive away, but you'll find plenty of small, homey guesthouses within walking distance. Below are some highly-rated hotels in these areas:

  • Luxury Hotels: Ayutthaya has few luxury options, and they lie a drive from the historical park. The best of these include the Kantary Hotel, 14 minutes by car from the ruins, and the Classic Kameo Hotel & Serviced Apartments, a little closer to the historical park. Both offer apartment-style accommodation, buffet breakfasts, and swimming pools. Set in lush gardens, steps away from the floating market, Baan Thai House exudes authentic Thai style with its teak villas, spa, and peaceful pool area.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: Close to the night market, Ayutthaya Grand Hotel offers large, clean rooms as well as a pool and gym. In the center of town, the older Ayothaya Hotel has a swimming pool and great-value rates, which include a hearty breakfast, while Prom Tong Mansion is a more intimate option, steps away from the ruins.
  • Budget Hotels: Near restaurants and entertainment and less than a five-minute walk from the closest temple, Goodmorning by Tamarind Guest House scores rave reviews for its friendly staff and great-value rooms. Bikes and scooters are available for rent. Other budget options include Adam Place, with free bikes and basic but spacious rooms, and the hip Stockhome Hostel Ayutthaya, which offers dorm rooms and private rooms within walking distance of the historical park.

Other Points of Interest

Wat Thammikarat

Wat Thammikarat
Wat Thammikarat

This large temple has long been overgrown, but the ruins are still considerable. You can see sections of the terrace, the pillars of the portico, and a chedi with a crooked spire.

Sanphet Praset Palace

Located opposite the Grand Palace's sparse remains, guests can see some of the tall pillars of Sanphet Praset still standing. This palace was built in 1448, commissioned by King Boromaraja II.

Phom Phet

When you leave the temple compound, you'll see the ruins of Phom Phet, the only fort of which anything now survives, on the banks of the Menam River.

Elephant Compound

This square enclosure constructed in its present form by King Rama I was used for catching, taming, and exhibiting elephants. It is the only such compound still in existence.

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