The historic city of Ayutthaya: what was once the largest capital in the world

This is a story about the historic city of Ayutthaya: a city which was arguably the largest city in the world in the 1700s with a population of around 1 million as the capital of Siam. At that time, New York had only 4,937 residents and even London, one of the most developed cities in Europe only had about 600,000 residents. Its location in the middle between China, Malaysia, and Indonesia also made Ayutthaya a trading capital of Asia. However, after the Burmese attacks in the 18th century, the city was almost completely burned to the ground. Today Ayutthaya is one of the many small, forgotten cities in Thailand with remnants of the great ancient capital that allow you to take a glimpse of the past.

Ayutthaya trip

The historic city of Ayutthaya: how to get there?

The city is only 80 kilometers away from the capital and it’s very easy to get from Bangkok to Ayutthaya. You can reach by either bus or train from Bangkok. The journey lasts around one hour and both options cost less than 60 baht ($2). I decided to take the train (third-class, of course).

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It was a beautiful sunny morning. My cab just dropped me at Hua Lamphong Train Station. I walked to the ticket counter to a very friendly teller. The price of the ticket was only 20 baht (around $0.5) and that one-day field trip actually cost me only $5 USD. I took my ticket that didn’t have a specified class, which meant that you get to ride in the third class. That implies no AC and plastic seats, which aren’t the most comfortable seats in the world. Anyway, I never had a problem with the traveling conditions, as I’ve seen much worse and much better and I was happy to experience traveling in Thailand like a local, in the cheapest class.

The old train that was supposed to leave at 8:30 finally said goodbye to the train station an hour later. I was a bit frustrated that I’m wasting my time when I only have one day to spend at Ayutthaya. That was one of the first (and many to come) patience tests that Asia put me through. Sometimes you just need to let go the things that are frustrating you but are out of your control. I know that’s easier said than done, but Asia was a great mentor that made me actually start applying that in my life.

thailand rice fields

Around 10 rolling fields and a couple of provincial cities later, I saw the conductor entering the wagon just to tell me that we’re approaching Ayutthaya. That was a really amazing gesture, as I was the only tourist riding in the third class. It’s people like that conductor and their simple gestures that make you feel you’re never alone even when you’re traveling solo.

What to do after arriving?

 

Well, looking back I think it would be a good idea to rent a bicycle. I didn’t do that and I walked the entire city on foot. Understandably, that can get really difficult when the weather is hot and humid. And that day was exactly that, hot and f*ing humid. The weather in the morning was nice, but by mid-day, I was cursing myself for not renting a bicycle at the train station. The price was only $1-$2 USD for the whole day.

I just stormed out of the train station, already upset because the train was late, just passing by the group of tuk-tuk drivers that was generously offering to rip me off for a ride around the city. I walked all day, but I made sure I don’t miss out on anything. The ancient city is around 3-4 km away from the train station. However, once you get there, most of the famous sights are located within a 3km radius. There are temples on the other side of the city as well. I visited those too, walking again. So if you think you’re in a really good shape, you can walk and see everything in the city but I’d still say renting a bicycle as the best option.

Temples you must see in Ayutthaya

If you’ve been traveling around Asia, you probably are getting sick of temples, which was exactly my case. I don’t know if it’s because of the low expectations which I had, but Ayutthaya really impressed me. I can say I enjoyed every minute in the ancient city and there are some places in Ayutthaya every traveler should see.

Ayutthaya temples: my Ayutthaya trip

The most amazing thing about Ayutthaya was the way history and real-life intermingle here. Let’s say you’re in an ancient temple, like the ones you see in an Indiana Jones movie. All you need to do is turn your head to the right and you will see a 7/11. It was funny in the beginning, but it became fascinating after some time.

Planning to visit Thailand soon? Check out my guide to traveling Thailand on a budget.

Ratchaburana

The first place I visited was Wat Ratchaburana. Yeah, good luck trying to pronounce that. Not only does this temple have breathtaking architecture, but it also has an interesting history. It was built in the 15th century as a cremation site for the two royal brothers who died fighting each other for the throne. This monument was also robbed in the 1950s when looters took out several valuable items. This leads me to the second most amazing things about Ayutthaya. Even after the robberies, I still didn’t see any security guards that were guarding the monuments!

Related: Things I wish I knew before visiting Thailand.

Wat Mahathat

This monument contains one of the most photographed places in the world. That’s a giant Buddha head just sitting there in the middle of nowhere. Even though you can’t say that by looking at the pictures, the head is enormous in real life. The most reasonable explanation that’s widely accepted is that when the city was under attack, thieves attempted to still the head from one of the temples, but they couldn’t carry it because it was too heavy, so they just left it.

giant buddha head ayuthaya

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

I think that this one was the largest temple in Ayutthaya. These ruins are the remnants of the-once glamorous royal palace.   The 3 distinctive stupas make an amazing postcard image of Ayutthaya as this is one of its most beautiful ruins. I can only imagine how this palace looked like in the 17th century since its ruins still wow tourists from around the world 500 years after the fall of the city. It used to be even better, as there was a 52 feet tall Golden Buddha in front of the palace. It’s even hard to imagine that! That monument was destroyed when the Burmese sacked the city.

Wat Si Sanphet: Ayutthaya trip

Chai Watthanaram

This temple is located out of the complex on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River and is my personal favorite. The entire complex consists of several fascinating temples. It was built in the 17th century and it’s a lot newer than other temples in the historical park.

Wat Chai Watthanaram, Ayutthaya trip

Wat Yai Chai Mang Khon

The last or first stop, depending on where do you start your tour. This temple looks like it literally came out of a movie with all its towering stupa, golden statues and rows of Buddhas in saffron robes.

Wat Yai Chai Mang Khon, Ayutthaya trip

A few words for the end

As you could see from my pictures, Ayuthaya was a great city once upon a time. A city filled with enormous temples, exquisite palaces and monasteries, considered one of the finest cities in the world. The remnants of Ayutthaya made me seriously think about life. It was a city that had it all and was one of the richest capitals of its time. But still, the city was torn down in a blink of an eye. It’s amazing how at one moment you have everything, and in the next, the only place you’re mentioned in are history books…

Ayutthaya trip

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23 thoughts on “The historic city of Ayutthaya: what was once the largest capital in the world”

  1. Wow.. I’ve never read about Ayutthaya’s history before. Sad how a war/ violence can completely change a nation/ city’s status and it’s future, in so many ways.. Nevertheless, Ayutthaya looks really interesting. The temples alone are incredible and such an awesome site to see!

    Reply
    • Hi Marvi, I’m glad you loved the article. It indeed is fascinating and scary at the same time, the power of history. Ayutthaya is really an amazing place that gives you a glimpse of history

      Reply
  2. Really interesting post! I’d not really heard much about Ayutthaya previously. Crazy to think how quickly it went wrong and cool to see what’s left! Definitely one to visit

    Reply
  3. Thanks for the adventure!

    And the philosophy. What great cities will be ruins in another two centuries, I wonder. People will wander around the ruins of the Statue of Liberty, the Kremlin, marvelling at how and why they let it all go to hell.

    Reply
  4. The temples of Ayutthaya are one of a kind. They are a testimony to the glory of the largest city that once stood around them – isn’t it? A must visit I would say and totally agree with you about the experience! Will use your writing as my guide when I go there.

    Reply
    • Hi Neha, thank you I’m glad you enjoyed the article. It definitely is a must visit. I hope my tips will help when you visit 🙂

      Reply
    • Thanks for commenting Bruce. I’m glad you found the article welcome. I hope you’ll get the chance to visit Ayutthaya and have a great time there 🙂

      Reply
  5. Wow! This place looks beautiful. Sometimes the most amazing places get shadowed by some other famous cities or sights. Looks like there weren’t a lot of people so you got really cool pictures. I will have to remember this place when visiting.

    Reply
    • Yes Paula, it is an amazing place. There weren’t a lot of people because I visited in the offseason when there weren’t a lot of tourists

      Reply

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