Ayutthaya temple tour
First published 31st August, 2008
This tour takes in the best temples Ayutthaya has on offer and a few other sites along the way. It allows plenty of time to explore each site, and the full circuit can be done in a day or split over two half days. Those doing a full day need to set off by around 09:00, but you can also bail out half way if you just want to see the top sites on the island or can't be bothered to get up early. If you want to start first thing when it's cooler and the light is better for photography, the temples open at 07:30. Whatever time you go, remember to take sunscreen.
The best way to get around is by bicycle, so start your tour at the main backpacker area of Soi 1 Naresuan Rd, where plenty of bikes can be hired for around 40B per day. Mopeds can also do this tour, but will have to make simple detours as you cannot ride through the park areas. If you're stuck for a place to stay, Baan Lotus is our favourite.
Head up the street and turn left onto Pamaphrao Rd. If you didn't eat breakfast already there are a couple of noodle shops along the way as you head for Chikun Rd, the first left after the main traffic lights.
On Chikun Rd, about 100m along to your right, is Wat Ratchaburana founded in 1424 to house the cremated remains of King Intharacharthirat. Entry fee is 30B. All was peaceful until 1957 when grave robbers broke in and stole priceless gold relics buried alongside him. The thieves were nabbed so you can see the recovered relics in Chao Sam Phraya Museum. Entering the site you will see the main prang, or tower, framed perfectly by the doorway of the grand hall. This site has various fragmented stone Buddhas scattered around its walls. At the base of the tower on the south side, a small set of steps in the wall gives you access to the top, where you will get breezy views and then the chance for an Indiana Jones-like experience of descending deep into its belly to view the ancient murals inside.
Back on the road, 200m further down on the right is Wat Mahathat. Entry fee is 30B. This site is home to the famous 'Buddha head in the tree'. There is little else here, so unless that photo has got to be taken, it's not really worth stopping at this tourist hot spot.
Turn right after leaving and go 100m down the cycle path before turning right again through a gateway into the park. Here you may see fishermen, birds chasing insects and sweaty joggers. Just follow this tree-lined path straight, all the way, until you come to a wall at the end. You are now at the back of Wat Phra Ram, but need to get to the front. Turn left, follow the road down and then cut across the field to your right, which runs alongside a lotus-filled moat. Rejoin the footpath and follow it round to the front of the wat, taking care to avoid any huge splats of elephant poo. Entry is again 30B.
Leaving this wat, turn right and continue 100m until the bend in the road. Over to your left is the entrance gate to Wiharn Phra Mongkon Bophit where you can park the bike. But wait. Conveniently located next door to the right is Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, entrance is 30B. This is a great site to explore, full of crumbling red brick buildings surrounding the central feature of three huge chedis constructed to contain the ashes of King Borommatrailokanat, along with those of his sons King Borommarachathirat III and King Ramthibodi II, in the 1500s. Take a break beneath shady trees and soak up the scenery. If you can't get a decent photo here, it's time to throw away your camera.
Now walk over and have a look inside the relatively modern Wiharn Phra Mongkon Bophit. Free entry. Inside the red-carpeted temple is an enormous seated Buddha, beneath which worshippers pray. Some may be rattling a box full of chopsticks. Eventually one of the numbered sticks falls out, allowing a fortune sheet to be collected from a small cupboard over to the left. This sheet is conveniently written in both Thai and English. Around the back of this temple are hundreds of stalls selling an array of souvenirs and snacks of every description. This is a good place to take your lunch, as options are limited for the rest of the tour.
Coming down the steps of Wiharn Phra Mongkon Bophit, immediately over to your right is a white hexagonal pond. Further right of that is a wooden footbridge over a small lake, and this is where you need to head with your bike. Very soon you come to a wooden house on your left. Built in 1894 in traditional Thai style, Khun Phaen's Residence was the home of a former governor of Ayutthaya. Carry on straight another 100m to arrive at the elephant kraal which marks the end of the first half of the trip.
After watching these graceful animals for a while, get back on the road. Turn right out of the main entrance to the kraal, heading along Patone Rd to the junction. Go over the large arched wooden bridge directly ahead, then turn immediately right. Count the small wooden footbridges to your right as you go up the road. When you have passed the third footbridge, turn left down a tiny lane (look for the small sign on a lamppost saying, '150m big Buddha recline'). Directly ahead, the prang emerges erect from the stark remains of Wat Lokayasutha, and just beyond lies the biggest reclining Buddha in Ayutthaya, complete with fitted yellow robe and an inner elbow decorated with gold leaf. Free entry.
Follow the road back the way you came, away from the Buddha, but instead of going down the little lane, carry on for another 100m to Wat Worachetharam, built in 1593. Free entry. This temple boasts a Sukhothai-era bell-shaped stupa with sash adorned Buddha in front. The difference is the legion of fierce looking, kitsch cockerels standing guard at the front of the temple, adorned with garlands of flowers around their necks.
Having refreshed your visual palate, head back again to the reclining Buddha's feet and take a left at the junction. Follow this long road right to the end where it snakes around a corner to the right, then left, taking you along the left side of a lake and along to a junction that joins a main street. Turn left here and then turn right (road sign to Sena), over the big bridge. If you stop on top of the bridge and look down river to your left you will see the main prang of the next destination. Turn left after the bridge and follow the road until you arrive at Wat Chaiwatthanaram. Entry fee is 30B. Less visited than those on the island, this wibbly, wobbly temple set amid peaceful grounds is very photogenic. Surrounded by headless statues lining the walls, great views can be had from the central tower, which also offers an endurance challenge of climbing all four stairwells.
Carry on along the road for around 10 minutes then take a left at the crossroads (signs pointing to mosques). Another 10 minutes along brings you to Wat Phutthaisawan, set beside the river. Free entry. Popular with Thais, this temple is particularly interesting as the modern functioning wat at the front of the complex contrasts with the intact older buildings in the middle and crumbling ruins at the rear. Large Buddhas are usually being welded together in a workshop near the car park. The main attraction is the white Khmer-style prang, where a black reclining Buddha can be found tucked away behind the central altar.
As this is the last temple on the tour, simply carry on down the road a short distance and take the first left after the school, down a narrow soi. The small boat allows bicycles onboard, but if there are a lot of you or you have a moped, just go 1km further down the road where a larger ferry runs 24 hours a day.
There are several restaurants next to the ferry stop serving cold beer and good food, the perfect ending to a day round the ruins.
Story by James Barr
Related readingA weekend on Ko Samet, Thailand
A Thai homestay in Ayutthaya
Roll your own Kanchanaburi
Exploring the Lungs of Bangkok
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