You may have seen pictures of the iconic Buddha Head buried in Tree Roots. Perhaps you have seen several Thai epic films that tell stories of the ancient war between Thailand and Burma (Burmese-Siamese War). If you have come across a Thai movie or a Thai animation with plot about war, often times it will revolve around Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya was an ancient Kingdom in Thailand and was also its capital city until the 18th century when it was changed to Krung Thep Maha Nakhon (Bangkok). Due to the repeated wars from the 16th to 18th century, many of the buildings and temples in Ayutthaya have been burnt down and broken into scattered ruins. These great cultural ruins were recognized in 1991 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ayutthaya is perfect for people who are interested in culture and the history of Siam (the former name of Thailand). The city is located only a few hours away from Bangkok and it is not as crowded as other tourist sites.
If you’ve purchased Ayutthaya tour from a tour company, then your transportation will already be arranged for you. But if you want to be spontaneous and make your own trip, there are couple of ways to get to Ayutthaya from Bangkok via public transportation. Option #1 is take a taxi. It will be a good idea to discuss and agree on the price with the driver before you leave. If possible, ask the receptionist at your hotel/residence to arrange it.
Option #2 is to take a minivan. Minivans are located at Mo-chit Bus Terminal. To go there, you could take the sky train (BTS) and get off at Mo-chit BTS station or, if you take the subway (MRT), get off at Chatuchak station. From either the BTS or MRT station, you could then take a taxi to Mo-chit Bus Terminal. But there’s one thing you should know ahead of time: It can get very crowded and confusing at Mo-chit Bus Terminal. There are many white vans heading to different destinations and the signs are not really clear either. You should ask around for the minivan that go to Ayutthaya. You can ask in Thai: Pai-aa-yoot-taa-yaa, and (hopefully) the person you’re asking will point you to the right van to get on. Just to be double sure, ask the driver standing near the van you’re planning to get on if he’s heading to Ayutthaya. If the van is not full, it will not leave the station so you’ll just have to be patient and wait. The van is not a direct route to Ayutthaya and it will make couple of stops before reaching your destination.
Finally, option #3 is to take a train at Hua Lampong Train Station. In Thailand, there are first-class train, second-class train, and third-class train. First-class train is relatively clean, chairs could be converted into beds, there is air conditioning, but you’ll have to purchase the ticket ahead of time. With second-class train, it may or may not be air-conditioned. Third-class train is open-air with overhead fans. It is not clean and some seats are rusty. With third-class train, you may purchase the ticket on the day of your trip. If you could find a seat on the third-class train, that’s great. Otherwise you’ll be standing crammed up with other passengers for hours. Another slightly irritating thing about the third-class train is that it might be delayed. It will make frequent stops for other passengers to on and get off, and each time the train stops, the food vendor at each station will be waiting to bring their basket and tray of food to sell on the train . If you’re the unlucky ones who couldn’t get a seat, you’ll constantly have to shift your standing spot at the aisle to make room for these vendors to squeeze through with their food and drinks. This could be a total of six or seven times of shuffling before you reach Ayutthaya. If train is delayed, you could expect to be standing on the train for three hours.
Once you have reached the Ayutthaya train station, there are places nearby for you to rent bicycles and motorcycles. You could explore the city with these transportation otherwise you could rent a tuk-tuk with a driver to take you around. Negotiate the price and places with him before choosing the tuk-tuk route.
As part of your tour in Ayutthaya you should try giant grilled prawns and cotton candy wrapped in soft crepe (ro-ti-sai-mai). Ayutthaya’s version of cotton candy is different from the fluffy cotton candy that many of us are familiar with. The Ayutthaya’s version is made of sugar that is pulled and stretched on a stove until it becomes a “floss” that looks like strands of hair. Food colors are added into the sugar mixture to give the strand an attractive pink, cream, and green tint. To eat the candy floss, you take a few strands of each color, wrap them in a soft crepe (roti) and devour!
When you come to Ayutthaya, Wat Mahathat temple is one of the must-see locations. In Thai, Wat Mahathat means “Temple of the Great Relic” and it is the place that has the famous Buddha Head in the Tree Roots. There are many legends as to how the head got entwined in the trees but many versions would agree that it happened during wartime between Ayutthaya and Burma.
Bang Pa-In Royal Palace is located next to the Chao Phraya River in Ayutthaya. It is known as the Summer Palace and was formerly used by Thai kings. Nowadays the palace is opened to the public and may (rarely) be used by the Thai royal family to hold banquets. The palace complex consists of large gardens with a yellow-orange lookout tower (Sage’s Lookout), Chinese-style royal palace and throne room, royal residence, and a pavilion in the middle of a pond.
Another temple worth visiting is Wat Sri San Phet. It is one of the most beautiful and important temples in Ayutthaya. Although it is called a temple, Wat Sri San Phet is actually a palace complex for royal families to reside, not monks. This complex is quite impressive even after the Burmese-Siamese War that left many buildings destroyed. Countless reconstructions have been made throughout the century with the three iconic stupas (Chedi) and several low pavilions (Sala) still standing to this very day.