Beyond the most popular ruins found in the central Historical Park, Ayutthaya boasts a bunch of outlying temples and other sites that can be equally rewarding — but require more effort to reach. If you can swing more than one day in the ancient Thai capital, there’s plenty to see.
By “outlying” we refer to the many sites found off Ko Mueang island, which can be neatly strung into Eastern, Southern and Northern routes. Each route starts on the island and uses one of the bridges that fords either the Chao Phraya River to the southwest, the Prasak River in the east, or the Mueang Canal to the north. No matter which route you choose, expect to cover around 10 to 15 kilometres round trip.
Travelling by motorbike or hired tuk tuk, you could cover two of these routes in a day, perhaps all three if you get an early start. If going by bicycle you’ll probably need to stick to just one route per day — and you’ll want to take extra care along busy highways that can’t be avoided, at least for short stretches, in all three routes. Another option is take one of the late-afternoon boat tours that usually stop at Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Wat Phutthaisawan and Wat Phanan Choeng, three of the key sites in the South and East.
Wat Chaiwatthanaram and the Southern route
Setting off from Uthong Road at the far southwest corner of the island, take the bridge that shoots west over the Chao Phraya and then hang an immediate left (south), following signs for Wat Chaiwatthanaram. After a half-kilometre you’ll arrive at this spectacular set of ruins featuring a central Khmer-style prang surrounded by four skinnier towers. Overlooking the river, Wat Chaiwatthanaram is one of Ayutthaya’s most impressive sites.
Continue southeast from here, taking a left at the next intersection and then another quick left, following signs for the attractions mentioned below. You’ll first come across St Joseph’s Church, a marginally interesting site set beside the Chao Phraya on what was once a French missionary settlement. If you’re short on time, give the church a pass.
Next up is one of our favourites in Ayutthaya: Wat Phutthaisawan. A working temple with both modern and ancient sections, the highlight is a well-preserved Khmer-style prang that comes complete with ancient Buddha footprints in the shadowy inner sanctum. Also don’t miss the seated Buddha’s lined up in the surrounding cloisters.
Just north of Wat Phutthaisawan, a tangle of side streets cut west to the Muslim Quarter which stretches along the riverfront. While there’s no museum or memorial to mark the site as one of Ayutthaya’s ancient Muslim settlements, you will find several mosques and colourful life unfolding among the narrow lanes.
At this point you could take a ferry back across the Chao Phraya to the southern side of the island, or keep east for a few more kilometres to check out centuries-old skeletons laid out in an excavation pit at the old Portuguese Village. On the way back, you might stop by a small working boatyard set back from the road, where the owner is happy to let visitors wander among various boats under repair.
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon and the Eastern route
Heading east on Rochana Road (Route 309), depart the island via the main bridge over the Prasak River and continue straight east until you hit the huge traffic circle around Sam Pluem Chedi. Turn left (north) on Route 3058 and after a half-kilometre you’ll reach Wat Samon Phottharam, worth a quick stop to see an ancient brick hall that’s still in use. Keep north for another few hundred metres for a stop at Wat Khudee Dao, a larger ruined temple that was hit particularly hard in the 1767 Burmese invasion.
Cruise a bit further north and you’ll notice a sign on the right for Wat Maheyong. Highlights of this underrated set of ruins include a dramatic entry walkway and a large brick chedi with the upper part lying haphazardly on a base rimmed by what’s left of dozens of elephant statues — the only ones found in Ayutthaya. You might also pop over to the adjacent meditation monastery for a stroll among the ponds and pavilions.
Back-track south along 3058 and make a quick stop at Ayutthaya Floating Market, perhaps, before continuing south to the Sam Plueng Chedi traffic circle. This time, keep straight through the circle and continue south on Route 3477. After a few kilometres you’ll reach Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon and its colossal bell-shaped chedi — a highlight of Ayutthaya.
Once you’ve climbed the chedi and checked out the reclining Buddha at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, carry on south along 3477 for a few more kilometres until you come to Wat Phanan Choeng. Inside this ancient temple’s cluster of halls sits one of Ayutthaya’s most impressive Buddha images. Also don’t miss the twin wihaans sporting many more Buddhist statues imported centuries ago from Sukhothai and Southern China.
Keeping south along the eastern bank of the Chao Phraya River, you’ll notice a large Chinese cemetery on the left that marks an area settled by Chinese refugees at least two decades before Ayutthaya was founded in 1350. A bit further south, the old Dutch settlement is memorialised by the Baan Hollanda museum, while another well-put-together museum marks the site of the old Japanese Village a bit further up the road.
From here you’ll need to back-track to the traffic circle and return to the island the same way you came, or continue south for five kilometres to Route 356, where a right (west) turn will take you over the Chao Phraya River. If going this way, take the first right after the bridge to link up to the back end of the Southern route, starting with the Portuguese Village.
Wat Na Phra Men and the Northern route
Depart the island via a small bridge that cuts north off Uthong Road, just west of Wat Thammasikarat, and cross the Mueang Canal before arriving at Wat Na Phra Men. It might look unimpressive at first glance due to the lack of ruins, but this highly revered temple was almost completely preserved when nearly all other Ayutthaya temples were destroyed in 1767. Housed in a beautiful hall, the principle bronze Buddha image is one of Ayutthaya era’s finest.
Cruise west along the narrow lane that begins in front of Wat Na Phra Men and you’ll soon come to Wat Choeng Tha, a smaller temple that’s had more names than you can count on one hand. The working temple features a small Khmer-style prang along with an ancient ordination hall sitting forgotten near the Mueang Canal.
A few hundred metres west of Wat Choeng Tha, cross Route 309 and you’ll come to some minor ruins at Wat Phanomyong and Wat Phrom Niwas. Shortly after the latter, the road cuts sharply north to follow the east bank of the Chao Phraya on the way to Chedi Phu Khao Thong. A highlight of the Northern route, the base of this giant white chedi affords good views of the surrounding countryside and the nearby King Naresuan Monument.
After climbing down, keep following the lane north along the Chao Phraya to pass several more small temples and mosques before arriving at the back entrance to a park that was once a battflefield. Standing over a pond, the Queen Suriyothai Monument is a life-size depiction of a war elephant carrying the warrior-queen who still captivates the imagination some four and a half centuries after her heroic death in battle.
The park is a great place to grab a rest before pedalling back south to the island. If you’re on a motorbike or have plenty of energy left for cycling, you could also take Route 347 south over the river and then cut left (east) on Route 3263, which leads straight to the turnoff for Wat Chaiwatthanaram and the Southern route.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 1st March, 2016.