Ayutthaya, Thailand

The ruined city of Ayutthaya is a good 70km from the Thai capital. The metropolis of the former Siamese kingdom was destroyed in the 18th century and still lies largely in ruins. Some of the grandiose temple complexes have been restored and can also be visited from the inside.

The historic city of Ayutthaya in central Thailand was founded on 4 March 1351 (the exact date is recorded in the meticulously documented "Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya") by the Thai King U Thong as the capital of the Kingdom of Siam. Today, the remains of the once stately capital can be seen in a history park, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981.


Ayutthaya as a Siamese metropolis

The capital of Siam was once one of the most magnificent and prosperous cities in Asia, with about one million inhabitants. Over 30,000 priests watched over the 1,700 temples and their immeasurable gold treasures, including entire Buddha statues made of solid gold. But its glory lasted only until 1767, when Ayutthaya was completely destroyed and looted by Burmese troops.

Almost 200 years later, reconstruction was begun by the Thai Academy of Arts. In 1976, Ayutthaya was designated a history park and restoration work continued.

Visit to the ruins of Ayutthaya

Wat Yai Chai Mongkon was completed in the early 17th century and is one of the oldest surviving temples in Ayutthaya, Thailand - © Isaxar / Fotolia
© Isaxar / Fotolia

Ayutthaya is located about 70km from the Thai capital Bangkok and is easy to reach by bus and train. In principle, the time-honoured complex can now be compared to a huge historical pile of rubble. What the Burmese left standing was later badly damaged by builders who needed stones for their houses (including the new royal palace in Bangkok), and by wind and weather.

There are still vast quantities of ancient stones lying around between the restored buildings. A paradise for amateur archaeologists and those interested in culture, an adventure playground for children. Admission is charged to visit some temples, but the history park itself can be explored free of charge.

Despite its desolate appearance, the history park is a fantastic voyage of discovery through exotic palaces, masses of Buddha statues and figures peeking out from between mighty tree roots, all surrounded by the mystical breath of the past. The tropical atmosphere and the ancient temples create an atmosphere all of their own, which is enhanced by the fact that, for example, a 500-year-old "chedi", one of the famous stone spires, also towers in the garden of the Ayutthaya Hospital.

Several rivers run through the middle of Ayutthaya, forming a 3 by 1.5 km island in the centre. The so-called "old city" with most of the important sights is located on this island. To get an overview of the temple complex, we recommend a 2-hour boat trip around it, which offers perfect photo opportunities.

Code of Conduct: Ayutthaya is still a religious site despite its destruction. Loud shouting or walking around should be refrained from, as well as climbing statues and towers, or even touching them with the feet. Shoes must be removed before entering temples. Photographing destroyed statues is considered disrespectful.

The temples of Ayutthaya

The gigantic Wat Phra Sri Sanphet to the south of the palace grounds is visible from afar. With its three imposing "chedis" (from chetiya, literally: "to pile up"), pointed tower buildings, it is considered the landmark of Ayutthaya and is probably the best known and most photographed building. It best shows the former splendour of Ayutthaya; the extent of the destruction by the Burmese can also be understood from the chopped-off Buddha heads and cracks in the walls.


The temple Wat Phra Ram was commissioned by King Ramesuan. The temple complex of Wat Ratchaburana was built by the Siamese king Chao Sam Phraya. Fantastic gold treasures have been found in the walk-in crypt, including a kneeling elephant.

The valuable finds are exhibited in the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum, which is also located in the "Old City" and gives an impression of the former prosperity of Ayutthaya. In addition to the two air-conditioned treasure chambers, a beautiful Thai upscale house is also on display, giving a feel for life in Thailand 200 years ago.

Next to the temple Wat Mahathat from 1374, the head of a Buddha statue decapitated by the Burmese peeps out between tree roots, Ayutthaya, Thailand - © sabino.parente / Fotolia
© sabino.parente / Fotolia

The temple Wat Mahathat from 1374 functioned as the ritual centre of Ayutthaya. Immediately to the right, the head of a Buddha statue decapitated by the Burmese peeps out from between tree roots.

Wat Suwan Dararam dates from a late Ayutthaya building period. In Wat Lokaya Sutharam you can marvel at a 42m-long reclining Buddha made of stone, which is ceremonially dressed in a new "robe" made of metre-long lengths of fabric every three months.

The Wang Luang, or "Old Palace" in the north of the island was chosen by most kings of Siam as their residence. Not so, for example, King Naresuan the Great. He spent his reign in the 16th century at Chandra Kasem Palace. An equestrian statue of the king is in front of Wat Phu Khao Thong.

Wat Phu Khao Thong is located in the north of the island. It was no longer commissioned by the Siamese, but by the Burmese king after the first conquest of Ayutthaya in 1569. The 80m high snow-white Chedi shines in the sunlight for kilometres.

Also located here are Wat Na Phra Meru, directly opposite the royal palaces with the largest bronze Buddha in Ayutthaya, and the Elephant Kraal, where the royal elephants were captured for work and war purposes.

In the west of the island lies Wat Chai Watthanaram, the temple of King Prasat Thong. Built in 1630, its royal patron also had Wat Mahathat generously restored.

The gilded statue Wat Phanan Choeng is 19 metres high, dates from the 14th century and reaches a width of over 20 metres, Ayutthaya, Thailand - © Isaxar / Fotolia
© Isaxar / Fotolia

South of the island, amidst the exotic temple and palace complexes, there is also a Catholic church. St. Joseph's Church was built over 300 years ago for the Catholics of the region. This church is also surrounded by temples.

Wat Yai Chai Mongkon was completed at the beginning of the 17th century and is one of the oldest preserved temples in Ayutthaya. Also from very early times is Wat Phutthai Sawan, which was founded by King Rama Thibodi at the beginning of the 14th century.

Those who were impressed by the reclining Buddha in Wat Lokaya Sutharam will also enjoy Wat Phanan Choeng. The figure of a seated Buddha there is one of the largest in Thailand. The 19-metre-high gilded statue dates from the 14th century, and the crossed legs reach a width of over 20 metres. Legend has it that shortly before the destruction of Ayutthaya by Burmese troops, "tears flowed from the sacred eyes to the sacred navel" of the imposing figure.

In the east of the island is Wat Maheyong, which has architectural elements from the Sukhothai Kingdom.

The Ayutthaya Historical Study Center stands out among the historic temple complexes because of its modern design. Designed by Thai and Japanese architects, the two-storey building serves as a museum, library and for the study of the temple city.