Like Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the ancient capital of Ayutthaya Thailand is almost too awesome to be true. Featuring rows of historically rich and visually astounding Ayutthaya temples—not to mention a feast of gorgeous green spaces and cultivated parks—it is one of those mystical wonders that keeps travelers returning again and again to Southeast Asia.
Ayutthaya history stretches back to the fourteenth century. For just more than 400 years it remained a stronghold in Siam (the Old World name for Thailand), until Burmese forces successfully attacked it in 1765. The attack is said to have plunged the kingdom of Ayutthaya Thailand into chaos, though Burma never completed its attempted takeover: Just as the Burmese army was about to declare its ascension to power, China attacked its homeland, forcing it to divert its attention away from Thailand. The Kingdom of Ayutthaya effectively came to an end then, but without Thailand truly losing its sovereignty.
Today this popular tourist destination is basically a dead city that’s made up of numerous and fantastically well maintained Ayutthaya temples, each of which speaks in its own way of the city’s illustrious past. These temples, also known as wats, can be split roughly into two categories: working temples and dead temples. Of the working temples, Wat Thammikarat is spectacular and certainly rewards time spent exploring. Remember to dress appropriately—ankle length trousers are a must. Of the ruined temples, meanwhile, make sure you take in Wat Phra Si Sanphet (on Sri Sanphet Road), which is the largest of all the Ayutthaya temples and is highly regarded for its row of Thai-style mini-temples known as chedis.
It’s futile to try to list all the temples worth seeking out here, however. Ayutthaya Thailand is simple bursting with mind-bogglingly beautiful stompas (another local word for Buddhist temples). As a result, the tourist visiting here is best served by hiring a bike, borrowing a map, and simply peddling around the various wonders to be found. For sustenance by way of food, drink, or even a place to sleep, meanwhile, the small new city of Ayutthaya, found on the borders of the old city, serves tourists with aplomb.
Having explored the main site of Ayutthaya Thailand, it’s well worth doubling up by visiting the neighboring area of Bang Pa-In, which is the home to the famed Bang Pa Palace, also referred to as the Summer Palace in Ayutthaya. A dream-like complex of buildings that were rescued from their fading grandeur by a restoration in 2001, the Summer Palace in Ayutthaya makes for a wonderful day spent exploring. The Divine Seat of Personal Freedom (a pavilion that sits amid a lake and lives on in the national memory as an abiding symbol of Thailand), and the Exhibition Hall (which takes visitors through the construction of the Summer Palace in Ayutthaya and its role in local history) are particularly worth a visit while here.
The Ayutthaya temples are located roughly 60 miles north of Bangkok, which means a visit here can easily be done in a day. Bangkok itself is one of Asia’s most heady and exciting cities, featuring the Emerald Buddha Temple and the Grand Palace among its throbbing mix of busy roads and traveler’s hangouts. The hotel scene here is second to none, so finding a place to stay should prove straightforward, whatever your budgetary needs.