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Ayutthaya was once one of the richest cities in the world and the capital of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, the precursor to modern Thailand. It was sacked by the Burmese in 1767, bringing down both the city and the kingdom. It’s estimated that its population was more than 300,000 by the early 1600s, and grew to almost a million inhabitants in the early 1700s — a truly staggering number, that if true, would have made Ayutthaya the largest city in the world.

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The royal capital's fall from grace was so quick and the evacuation of the population so sudden that the extensive temple complexes were abandoned to sit unused for years before the city repopulated. The old royal palace and many other structures were almost completely destroyed by the invaders. Most of the temples still sit unused, although many have been partially restored. It’s a haunting testament to how quickly a civilization can fall.

Nothing makes a man hungry for a picnic lunch like a fallen civilization.

There are many options for day trips to Ayutthaya, but we firmly believe that there's a right way and a wrong way to do it. The right way involves bicycles, picnic lunches among the ruins and plenty of time for lazing about. The wrong way involves a minibus tour from Khao San or Silom, getting hauled around at lightening-speed, and a lot of aggravation. Choose wisely.

Wrap a yellow ribbon around it.

Located 80 kilometres north of Bangkok, Ayutthaya isn’t hard to get to. The train runs right through town, buses run multiple times an hour, and public vans shoot back and forth constantly. The train is the slowest at two and a half hours, the cheapest at 35 baht for a 3rd class carriage, and the most beautiful, passing through kilometres of bright green rice paddies, fresh water ponds, and herds of water buffalo on the way. Minivans are the fastest option, leaving from Victory Monument (take BTS Exit 2 and u-turn at the bottom of the stair way, the van loading station will be to your right less than 25 metres away, between the mall and a 7-Eleven) and only taking 75 minutes — busses split the difference between speed and cost, but leave from Morchit station in the north of Bangkok.

Once in Ayutthaya, biking around is great fun. Traffic is light, and many times you’ll be the only one cruising through some of the ruins. There are several places that rent bikes for the day (50 baht) clustered around the cross-river ferry near the train station, on the backpacker strip near where the buses and minibuses drop off, and near the ruins.

Street food is plentiful, especially around the hospital to the west of the main ruins. Grab some food to go and eat laying in the shade of the trees growing around the ruins. You don’t really need a map or a guide book for Ayutthaya; just ask whoever you rent a bike from which way to ride, and away you’ll go. Ask anyone in town and they’ll point you towards the main cluster of ruins. Part of the fun is discovering some of the quiet wats that are out of the way, off leafy side streets. Some sites have nominal entry fees, while the main temple complexes each cost 50 to 100 baht per person.

I will be killed by my mother, the bicyclist, for using this picture. Worth it. Wheeeeee!

An afternoon beer next to the river rounds the day off nicely, followed by either a speedy van ride back to Bangkok or a lazy train journey. Or you could skip the beer and squeeze in Ayutthaya's outlying temples, reachable by tuk tuk for around 500 baht depending on your negotiating skills. If that sounds like too much for one day, just settle into one of Ayutthaya's many cheap, quality guesthouses for an overnight.

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