Located at the confluence of the Chao Phraya and Pa Sak Rivers, the ancient city of Ayuttaya is approximately 50 miles (80 km) north of Bangkok and is often visited as a day trip. Ayuttaya was the second capital of the Kingdom of (Siam) Thailand and existed as such from 1351 until 1767 when it was invaded and sacked (for the second time) by the Burmese. During this port city’s peak, it was an important international center on the trade route between India and China. In 1767 Siam’s capital was moved to what is now Bangkok, the former kingdom was essentially abandoned.
The remaining 700 acres (289 ha) of ruins now exist as the Ayuttaya Historical Park, a UNESCO world heritage site. The park contains a number of Buddhist monasteries, prang and statues spread out between beautiful tree covered green spaces and canals. The most iconic, most visited and most photographed Buddha images are located at Wat Mahathat, a tour bus favorite. Here you will find the large banyan tree with the head from a statue of Buddha embedded in its roots. Wat Mahathat and Wat Rajaburana (to the north) were probably the area's most important Buddhist centers. A large collection of artifacts, many made from gold and precious stones, have been excavated from both sites. Many of these antiquities are displayed at the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum. The museum is a great place to view the work of skilled artisans and learn about the monastic life and history of the Kingdom. Across the street from the National Museum is the Ayuttaya Historical Study Center. This museum’s displays focus more on the city’s secular history and affairs. Visiting both of these museums will provide a tremendous amount of information on the ancient capital while providing an escape from the mid day tropical heat.
I made a brief trip to Ayuttaya in 2013 and have contemplated a return ever since. Besides revisiting the temples I wanted to see the remains of the Portuguese and Dutch settlements located to the south of the city. The museum at the former headquarters of the Dutch East India Company, Baan Hollanda, is particularly impressive and should not be missed. Since my trip to Sri Lanka I have become very interested in the history of this institution which was once known by the acronym VOC. Operated by masters of navigation, seamanship and trade, it was basically the world’s first publicly traded corporation.
Ayuttaya is a popular stop on a well worn traveler’s path which includes Bangkok, Kanchanaburi and Chiang Mai in the north. Many people opt to take a tourist mini van from Kanchanaburi to Ayuttaya and then connect with the over night train to Chiang Mai. The mini van is a good choice; the 01:30 PM departure time coincides with departure of the north bound train and provides door to door service.
From Ayuttaya it is also possible to take a train to Thailand’s north eastern region of Isan. My plan is to take this train to Khorat, Issan's gateway, and work my way to Surin. From Surin I will head to Chong Chom and cross the Cambodian border. There are a number of Angkor era temple complexes between Khorat and Cambodia and I’m looking forward to seeing as many as possible.
Until next time,