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Ayutthaya

Orientation

Ayutthaya covers a fairly large area, but most of what will interest travellers is on "the island", a wide oval of flat ground surrounded by rivers on all sides.

U-Thong Road runs beside the rivers and circles all the way round the island. The best known historical sites, including Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, Wat Ratchaburana and Wat Mahathat, are clustered near to one another on the northwestern side of the island between Chikun Road and Khlong Tho Road.

A smattering of smaller ruins are found all the way to the island's northwestern corner, while the southwestern area is home to Ayutthaya Hospital at the corner of Si Sanphet and U-Thong roads. Just across U-Thong from the hospital is what's known as "Roti Road", an area where a sweet Ayutthaya speciality -- roti sai mai -- is sold in abundance.

Continue east on U-Thong from here and you'll pass a host of riverside Thai restaurants before turning a gradual corner and heading north towards what could be dubbed a town centre in the area where U-Thong is met by the west-to-east running Rochana, Pa Thon and Naresuan roads, all of which host several places to stay.

Rochana Road continues east by two different bridges over the Chao Phraya to "east Ayutthaya". Here you'll find a more typical small Thai city feel, and the train station and a few worthwhile sights are located out this way. Rochana Road continues east before turning into the eight-lane Route 309 and cutting southeast. Route 309 then crosses paths with the main north-to-south highway out of town, Route 32 (aka Asia Highway), which goes all the way to east Bangkok and beyond.

Back on the island, if you head west on Naresuan Road from U-Thong Road you'll pass the lively Chao Phrom day market before reaching the small backpacker strip on Naresuan Soi 1 (off the north side of Naresuan Road) and the nearby bus and minibus departure points. Continue west and Naresuan takes you straight to the historical park.

Leave the island via one of several bridges to the north and west and you'll enter a quiet and charming stretch of countryside and paddy -- it would be worth a trip for the scenery alone but several impressive sights are also located just northwest, west and south of the island.

The main provincial police station is located near the immigration office at the northeastern corner of the island, right on U-Thong Road. There is also a tourist police station next to a helpful tourism information centre near the most popular ruins on Si Sanphet Road, right across from Chao Sam Phraya National Museum. If you want a decent map, make the tourist centre your first stop as the ones offered by guesthouses are pitiful in comparison.

Banks and ATMs are readily available throughout town and a few can also be found around the major sights. Internet cafes are also easy to find, including several on Naresuan Road and U-Thong Road as it skirts the eastern side of the island.

A quick safety tip -- Ayutthaya has lots of stray dogs and there have been reports of them occasionally being aggressive, particularly on side streets at night. It's more of a problem during low season when the streets are empty, but you might consider taking a tuk tuk rather than walking after dark if you're alone for this reason.

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