A day trip to Ayutthaya: Exploring temples & history just outside Bangkok

For the temple-trekking crowd, Ayutthaya promises beautiful ruins that are surprisingly accessible. An easy day-trip from Bangkok, this UNESCO-listed, picturesque old city bespeaks the glory of Ayutthayan-period Thailand.

Getting to Ayutthaya

There are tours to Ayutthaya from Bangkok, but the easiest and cheapest way to get there is to take the train on your own. Trains depart from Bangkok’s main train station, Hua Lamphong, every hour or so; take an early one to get to Ayutthaya before the day gets too hot (and it will get very, very hot). Third-class seats (no A/C, wood seats) will run you less than USD1, and the ride takes  a couple of hours. You’ll arrive at the Ayutthaya train station, which is across the river from the ancient sites.

Getting around Ayutthaya

Your best options for getting around Ayutthaya are either tuk tuk (you can hire one out to escort you from temple to temple for the day), scooter, or bicycle. You can get your scooter or tuk tuk at the train station, but if you plan to rent a bicycle, you should wait until you’re across the river.

From the train station, walk straight across the road, bypass the bike rentals here, and walk directly down the street to the end, where the ferry crossing is. If you’re renting a bike, there is at least one bike rental shop at the opposite pier; it costs about the same price, and you won’t have to carry your bike up and down the steps and onto the ferry. Bike rentals cost about THB50 ($1.50) for the day and should include a lock, though most people don’t even bother locking their bikes since there are hundreds at every site.

In general, we found traffic on the temple side of the river to be very manageable. The roads are well-paved and wide, and there are so many tourists on bicycles that the cars drive very cautiously (for Thailand, that is). If you’re on a bike, we recommend avoiding the other side of the river, though. The bridge to cross is steep, and there’s significantly more car traffic.

What to see in Ayutthaya

The ancient city of Ayutthaya, dating from the 1300s, was once one of the largest and most modern cities in the world. The capital of Siam, it was extremely wealthy, naturally protected, and a crossroads for traders and travelers. If you have time before your visit, the Museum of Siam in Bangkok offers a great introduction to the history of Ayutthaya.

When you rent your bike or scooter, the rental shop will provide a map with the popular temple circuit numbered for easy navigation. Tuk tuk drivers will also be familiar with the popular routes. There are a handful of additional sights and a museum as well, though we skipped these. Generally, the sights at the beginning of the route tend to be the most crowded with huge tour buses full of people, but the crowds thin out as you continue.

Quick tips:

  • You can hire a private tour in advance, but if that’s not in the budget, I recommend picking up a guidebook that includes a tour of the temples. We had neither, and while there are signs, we definitely would have gotten more out of our visit if we’d had more info.
  • There are a handful of sights, hotels, and restaurants on the train station side of the river, but unless you plan to stay for more than a day, you can bypass these. The sights — namely the floating market — are not worth your time or money.
  • You only really need a day to see Ayutthaya. That said, if you’re a huge fan of ancient ruins and/or you plan to employ a guide to give you a super-in-depth tour, you could spend longer. At night, spotlights around the temple light up, so if you’re planning on staying a night, you can check out this different perspective.
  • Scrambling over these ruins in the blazing sun is hot. Stay well-hydrated, eat well, and take some breaks in the shade.

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