We took a road trip from our home in Hua Hin on Thailand’ Gulf Coast to Chiang Mai in the far north-west – some 900 km one way. Overall a 2000 km round trip! We had set aside 2 weeks for the trip with a week in Chiang Mai and the remainder exploring places along the way. Two ‘must visit’ places for us were Ayutthaya and Sukhothai. This Blog post focuses on Ayutthaya – one of the ancient cities of Thailand which we found fascinating!
You can read about our exploration of the ancient cities of Sukhothai here!
Now World Heritage sites, Ayutthaya and Sukhothai tell the story of the original Kingdom of Siam. And as we have made Thailand our home it seemed essential for our own cultural knowledge and understanding that we visit and explore these sites.
On our route north and only 80 km above Bangkok is the thriving town of Ayutthaya and within is the Historic City of Ayutthaya.
Founded in 1350, Ayutthaya was the second capital of the Siamese Kingdom. It flourished from the 14th to the 18th centuries, during which time it grew to be one of the world’s largest and most cosmopolitan urban areas and a centre of global diplomacy and commerce.
Ayutthaya was strategically located on an island surrounded by three rivers connecting the city to the sea. This site was chosen because it was located above the tidal bore of the Gulf of Siam as it existed at that time, thus preventing an attack of the city by the sea-going warships of other nations. The location also helped to protect the city from seasonal flooding.
The central and strategic heart of Historical Ayutthaya is where most travellers (including us) spend their time. “The island” stretches between the Prasak River in the east, the Chao Phraya River to the south and west, and the Mueang Canal and The Lopburi River from the north. The roughly oval-shaped island comes in at roughly five kilometres long from east to west and three kilometres wide from north to south.
This excerpt from one of our favourite independant travel guides Travelfish paints a picture of Ancient Ayutthaya:
By all reports, Ayutthaya was magnificent! Set on a riverine island the inner city was fortified by a 12-kilometre-long and five-metre-thick brick wall. Nearly a hundred gates opened to roads and canals reaching into some of the most fertile land in the region. Gilded chedis and Khmer-style spires topped temples and palaces amid a glittering skyline. According to Cambridge University’s A History of Thailand, a French Jesuit remarked in 1687 that “a single Idol” in Wat Phra Si Sanphet was “richer than all the Tabernacles of the Churches of Europe”.
We spent 2 days exploring the myriad of archaeological and historical sites, and this is the least amount of time we would recommend, as the more you explore the more there is to see. Ayutthaya has an excellent tourist information centre at the TAT office (Tourism Authority of Thailand), we recommend all visitors make this their first port of call. Upstairs in this building are fantastic historical dioramas and other exceptionally informative visual displays. Great insights to help before you start exploring. Getting around the Historical City of Ayutthaya on the “Island” is easiest by bicycle, foot or colourful local Tuk Tuk’s.
Our time was taken up wandering between the historical sites in the Old City and other nearby archaeological ruins. Outside of the old town and on the banks of the Chao Phraya river sits a museum that I found very informative. Baan Hollanda, on the site of the original Dutch settlement here, informs visitors on what life was like in the 17th century and details of how this very busy trading post worked. Great insights to life here!
Although our pictures do not show all there is to see, we hope they do give some sense of what you might experience when visiting. We thoroughly recommend it!