The Ruins of Ayutthaya, Thailand’s Former Capital
The ancient Thai capital city of Ayutthaya is one of the most impressive archaeological ruins in Asia. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-visit destination for any traveler with an interest in history.
The Menam, Lopburi and Pasak rivers surround the city of Ayutthaya and most of the ruins of the major temples are located on the island between them. Walking through the blossoming streets of the ancient city, you can’t help but feel like you’ve taken a trip back in time. In addition to the temple ruins, you can explore the old districts of Ayutthaya, which all show influences from various other nations.
Make sure to take your time exploring everything this wonderful city has to offer. In this article, we’ll reveal the most interesting sights you can see at this historical place.
The Eight Most Important Wats in Ayutthaya
As a result of restoration work that began in 1987, Wat Chaiwatthanaram has gone from a deserted, ransacked ruin to one of the most visited attractions in Ayutthaya. The large complex on the western bank of the Chao Phraya is one of the most impressive temples in Ayutthaya and offers an insight into the Buddhism’s influence on Thai culture.
The complex depicts the traditional Khmer architectural style and consists of a central tower that stands on a rectangular base, surrounded by four smaller towers and eight temples. Long ago, reliefs that portrayed scenes from Buddha’s life decorated the exterior. Today, only fragments remain.
We highly recommend visiting the site at sunset, as the view of the monumental buildings illuminated by a warm golden light will likely leave you speechless.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet
The Wat Phra Si Sanphet is the most beautiful and historically significant temple in ancient Ayutthaya. The temple is one of the most impressive sights in the city, with its three large chedis and numerous miniature chedis creating a unique silhouette.
The eastern and central chedis date back to 1492, when King Ramathibodi II bult it to store the ashes of his father and older brother. His own ashes were then buried in the third chedi, which his son and successor, King Boromaraja IV, constructed in 1530.
Unfortunately, the Burmese looted all three chedis during their invasion in 1767. However, the numerous small Buddha statues, made from materials such as bronze, crystal, silver, lead and gold, were thankfully not spotted by the looters. Today, visitors can admire these treasures in the Bangkok National Museum.
As you leave the Wat Phra Si Sanphet, make sure to look to the left to see the ruins of Wan Luang, the royal palace of Ayutthaya. The palace was fully destroyed during the Burmese invasion, so only the foundations remain.
Wat Ratchaburana dates back to 1424 and 1448. King Boromracha II constructed it in tribute to his two older brothers, who died fighting each other in a duel for the royal succession. Large parts of the temple were unfortunately destroyed, but the columns and walls of the wiharn remain standing, as do some parts of the ruined chedi. The large prang is also remarkably well-preserved.
Interesting mural art can be found in the two crypts in the lower part of the prang. Archaeologists believe this to be the work of Chinese artists who settled in Ayutthaya and who were able to harmonize such styles as the Khmer, Burmese, Lopburi and Sukhothai in their work.
Two other chedis house the ashes of the royal brothers. A third chedi commemorates Queen Si Suriyothai, who disguised herself as a man during a battle with the Burmese around 1550 and rode into battle on an elephant to save her husband’s life.
Wat Mahathat is located directly opposite Wat Ratchaburana. According to local lore, King Ramesuan buit the temple in 1384. The face of a stone Buddha peering out from behind the roots of a tree is the most popular feature of this temple.
The temple’s central prang is one of the most impressive structures in ancient Ayutthaya. In 1625, the upper part of the tower broke off and was rebuilt approximately eight years later, around four meters higher than before. However, it later broke apart again and only the corners remain today.
In the 1950s, archeologists uncovered a hidden chamber in the ruins. Among the treasures found inside were gold jewelry, a golden casket with a relic of Buddha and elegant tableware.
Wat Yai Chai Mongkol
The extraordinary and impressive Wat Yai Chai Mongkol is found at the eastern border of Ayutthaya. One of the most notable features of the temple is the massive reclining Buddha statue near the entrance.
The enormous chedi is situated on a square base. Four smaller chedis surround the bigger one, built in 1357 under King U Thong. It was allocated to a particularly strict order of monks who had received their training in Sri Lanka.
Before you leave this solemn temple, make sure to climb the stairs of the chedi. From above, you get a great view of the massive statues and elegant gardens of this giant temple complex.
Wat Na Phra Men
Unlike many of the other temples, Wat Na Phra Men escaped destruction during the Burmese invasion. The temple’s exact construction date is unclear. However, by analyzing existing records, archaeologists have been able to find out that King Boromakot restored the temple, an undertaking that continued during the early Bangkok period.
The bot, the temple’s largest room, is particularly impressive. On the gable and doors, you can see beautiful carvings in the wood. In addition, there is a large Buddha statue that is draped in regal robes – a sight that is unusual.
Wat Thammikarat is a large temple just outside the Ayutthaya Historical Park. It has been overgrown for quite some time, but the ruins are still worth a visit.
Among the other sights here, you can see parts of the terrace, the columns of the portico and a chedi surrounded by lion statues. One oddity found here are the dozens of colorful rooster statues. Archaeologists theorize that the locals made them as offerings to sacred entities.
Additional highlights of the temple are the large bronze Buddha head and a golden reclining Buddha, the latter of which is hidden away in a building to the right of the chedi.
Wat Suwan Dararam
This temple, which is encircled by three small lakes, was built around 1700 by the grandfather of King Rama I. Under the rulers of the Chakri dynasty, Wat Suwan Dararam underwent extensive restoration, resulting in its expansion.
The paintings that decorate the temple are one of the most popular features of the site today.
Among other subjects, the paintings depict Buddha triumphing over Mara, a demon who personifies death in Buddhist cosmology. There are also murals of battles with mythical figures and a battle scene between King Naresuan the Great and the Burmese army.
Unlike the other temples in Ayutthaya, Wat Suwan Dararam is still active. Even today, Buddhist monks live at the site. You should therefore be extremely considerate and treat them with respect when visiting the temple.
Bang Pa-in Palace
If you’re getting a little tired of all the ruins, you should definitely head to the Bang Pa-in Palace. The palace dates back to the 17th century and served as a summer residence for the king. It’s also the best-preserved site in Ayutthaya.
The complex’s buildings display various architectural styles, including traditional Thai and Chinese features. The Phra Thinang Uthayan Phumisathian, a two-storey manor built in the Victorian style, is particularly impressive.
Another interesting building is Ho Witthunthassana. It’s a three-storey, tower-like building that served to provide a view over the surrounding landscape. At the top of the building, you can keep a look-out for the elephants that inhabit the surrounding area.
In its glory days, Ayutthaya attracted settlers from all over the world. The city was therefore extremely diverse and cosmopolitan. The foreign settlements are all located very close to one another, so you can explore the old French, Portuguese, British and Dutch districts in a single tour.
Due to European influence, Ayutthaya also has many Catholic churches. The most popular one is St. Joseph Church, which was built in 1666 and is in the French settlement.
Many Japanese people also settled in the old capital of the Kingdom of Siam. Today, you can still feel traces of an earlier time when exploring the old Japanese settlement. The Suan Phlu canal separated the Japanese district from the European settlements.
If you want to gain insight into the history of Thailand, then you can’t afford to miss out on Ayutthaya, the capital city of the former Kingdom of Siam. In its golden days, Ayutthaya was a cosmopolitan city that drew in travelers from all over the world. However, during the course of the Burmese-Siamese war, the Burmese army took over the city and almost totally destroyed it.
Today, travelers can explore the remains of the ancient and powerful city in the Ayutthaya Historical Park, which includes numerous temples. One of these, the Wat Suwan Dararam, is still home to Buddhist monks to this day.
Another sight worth seeing is the Bang Pa-in Palace. This was the summer residence of the King of Thailand. As the ancient city also drew in plenty of European settlers, you can also explore the French, Portuguese, British and Dutch settlements in Ayutthaya.
Overall, Ayutthaya is an exciting travel destination. You’re sure to enjoy immersing yourself in the country’s fascinating history and learning even more about Thai culture, customs and traditions.