All of the key sites plus a few intriguing diversions in the central Ayutthaya Historical Park can be hit in a single day by bicycle. This do-it-yourself tour allows plenty of time to explore each site if setting out by around 09:00, but you can also bail out half way if you just want to see the top sites or can’t be bothered to get up early. Take sunscreen and stop often for water breaks.
Bicycle is the best way to get around the Historical Park; rent one at your guesthouse or stop by one of the rental shops located across Chikhun Road from Wat Mahathat and Wat Ratchaburana. Earl Restaurant is a good option for a quick Thai breakfast and fresh coffee if you’re heading west along Naresuan Road towards the Historical Park from the Soi Farang backpacker strip. Be prepared to spend 350 baht on tickets if hitting all of the sites mentioned here. We know it’s hot out there, but when visiting temples it’s important to wear clothes that cover shoulders, bellies and thighs.
Located at the corner of Chikhun and Naresuan, Wat Mahathat starts the day with a bang. The large ruined temple is best known for the head of a Buddha image encased in the roots of a banyan tree, but you’ll come across plenty of other surprises. If possible, arrive just after the 08:00 opening time for thin crowds and good light for photography. Afterwards, pop across Naresuan to view ancient Buddhist frescoes inside the crypt of Wat Ratchaburana‘s large Khmer-style prangs.
Keep west up Naresuan for a few hundred metres but before you continue to the heart of the Historical Park, hang a right (north) onto the side lane marked with a sign for Wat Thammasikarat. Often overlooked, this working temple features attractive lion guardian statues and the massive brick ruins of an assembly hall, while the highlight is a highly revered reclining Buddha covered in gold leaf in an easy-to-miss wihaan.
Keep west on Naresuan and, shortly after road veers south, take a right onto the bicycle-only brick lane that runs west to Wihaan Phra Mongkhon Bophit. After ditching your wheels, stroll up to this imposing 20th century hall for a look at a large seated Buddha that somehow survived the Burmese attack of 1767. Afterwards, pop next door to wander among Wat Phra Si Sanphet‘s three graceful chedis — a highlight of Ayutthaya — before striking further north and west into the sprawling ruins of the Ancient Palace.
Once you’ve had your fill of headless Buddha images, return to your bike and pedal south down Naresuan for another few hundred metres to Wat Phra Ram, an atmospheric and less popular set of ruins anchored by a Khmer-style prang. Wander to the back side of the complex and perhaps take a stroll amid the ponds and footbridges in the sprawling Phra Ram Park. If you happened to pack some food, this is a great spot for a picnic.
In front of Wat Phra Ram you’ll no-doubt see elephants dressed in red-and-gold attire for their daily tourist rides — stay out of their way! Keep south on Naresuan, passing a traffic circle at the junction with Pathon Road, and you’ll soon see the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum complex on the left. Turn left on Rochana Road to find the entrance. Providing a welcome burst of air-con, the museum displays a bunch of the artifacts discovered in the crypts of Ayutthaya’s many temples.
Afterwards, briefly back track north, perhaps stopping by the TAT office to pick up some maps and brochures, and then turn left (west) on Pathon at the traffic circle. About a hundred metres up on the right will be Khun Phaen’s Residence, followed by the Historical Park’s elephant kraal. Continue west and hang a right (north) on Khlong Tho Road immediately after crossing the canal for a kilometre-long cruise up this leafy, low-traffic street.
Just before you reach Uthong Road, take a left (west) down a narrow side lane within view of Wat Wara Pho, a minor site where you can snag a good photo of a Buddha image through the front window of a roofless brick hall. Stay on the lane as it cuts back south, passing Wat Wora Chet Tha Ram on the way to Wat Lokkayasutharam‘s 42-metre-long reclining Buddha — another highlight.
At this point the sun will probably be sinking low and you might be ready to head back to base. If there’s time, you could cruise north from Wat Lokkayasutharam to Uthong Road and take a right (east), perhaps stopping at the Pridi Panomyong Memorial before hanging a left (north) over the second bridge to check out Wat Na Phra Men and Wat Choeng Tha.
Alternately, wind your way west from Wat Lokkayasutharam through some old neighbourhoods and then take a left (south) on Uthong, stopping at Chedi Phra Sri Suriyothai before taking the bridge west across the Chao Phraya River. Hang an immediate left after the bridge towards Wat Chaiwatthanaram, which looks splendid in the late-afternoon light and would be a great place to end the day.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 28th February, 2016.