Since we live on the beach back home we’d decided that instead of heading south to the resorts Thailand is famous for we’d go a different route and from Bangkok head North to Chiang Mai. It’s a fair way between these two cities and since we’re trying to work with a budget, we decided to go overland and break the trip up with a few stops along the way. Enter Ayutthaya, Sukhothai and some pretty cool ancient ruins.
We started with Ayutthaya, just 1.5 hours north of Bangkok and on the ‘must see’ lists in all the guide books it seemed like a safe bet. Again keen on saving those $ we caught the 3rd class train, a local train from Bangkok and an experience in and of itself – so much so that we wrote a separate blog about it here!
Ayutthaya is the former capital of the Kingdom of Siam which reigned from 1350 until 1767 when it was invaded by the Burmese. These days Ayutthaya is a sprawling, flat town of some 800,000 people and while it’s busy it’s not too chaotic making it pretty easy to get around.
The first thing to know about Ayutthaya is that the ruins are not centrally located. Instead there are numerous sites dotted around the city offering a glimpse of a time long gone that catch you by surprise. This is not really apparent until you get there, we spent ages trying to research where exactly the ruins were so that we could figure out the best part of town to base ourselves in. Turns out it doesn’t really matter. The ruins are pretty spaced out so staying in either the old and new towns has it’s perks.
Everyone told us the best way to see Ayutthaya is to hire a bike. So with that in mind, we hired bikes from our guest house for a whopping 50 baht a day and armed with our map set out on the hunt for some ruins. Ayutthaya is an easy riding city, it’s pretty flat all around the city and even though the traffic in Thailand still doesn’t make much sense to me after 3 weeks here, the locals in Ayutthaya are very used to tourists on bikes so it’s pretty safe, it did take us a little while to get up the courage to cross through a roundabout though – but as they say once you’ve done it once it’s just like riding a bike!
We managed to cover of the main ruins in one day, if you wanted to see every single one by bike you’d probably need two days. One word of warning- it’s crazy hot! So sunscreen, loads of water and occasionally taking refuge in an air-conditioned coffee shop are definitely recommended!
We hit the main ruins stopping at each one for about 40 mins to an hour. We started with Wat Maha That home to one of the most photographed pieces of the park, the famous Buddha head in the tree trunk
Wat Ratchaburan founded in 1424 by King Borommarachathirat II who order the site built on the cremation site of his two brothers.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet, a temple used exclusively for royal ceremonies of the time.
Wat Lokkaya Sutharam impressive due to it’s 42m reclining Buddah
By this stage of the day I’d kind of had enough. Yes the ruins were awesome and I had enjoyed seeing them but it was hot, I was sweaty, my butt was sore from a bike with absolutely no shocks and I’d just crossed a bridge on which I was certain I was going to die…but then we saw Wat Chaiwatthanaram
As soon as I had a glimpse of Wat Chaiwatthanaram I forgot all of that and just stared in open mouthed wonder at one of the most breathtakingly beautiful sites I never even knew I had to see. It’s simply magic, to stand in a place, a holy place non-the less, and gaze in wonder at a monastery that was built some 360 odd years ago. If this place isn’t on your bucket list already do yourself a favour and go and add it. Spectacular isn’t a big enough word to cover what its like to see this place in person.
After a massive day biking around the ruins we were pretty keen to head further north where the locals kept telling us it wasn’t as hot (lies!), so we jumped on a bus to see more ruins in the town of Sukhothai.
Pretty much everyone who comes to Sukhothai comes for the Historical Park. We’d seen the pictures and after our awesome time in Ayutthaya we were pretty excited to see the ruins. The ruins of Sukhothai date back to the 13th and 14th centuries and the historical park covers some 193 ruins over 70sq km’s-n sounds awesome right? Buuut, if I’m honest, after Ayutthaya I was a little underwhelmed by the ruins at Sukhothai. The historical park itself is lovely, the crowds are certainly smaller, the small town vibe and the people are just gorgeous but the ruins in terms of scale and beauty- sorry Sukhothai but Ayutthaya wins this one hands down.
If you’ve got time and you want to travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai with a few stops in between, yes definitely stop at both Ayutthaya and Sukhothai but if you’re on a schedule and wondering which ruins to try and fit in my vote would be for Ayutthaya for a truly unforgettable experience.