Famous for its "enigmatic temples ruins", the ancient city of Ayutthaya (อยุธยา) is probably the reason why I wanted to visit Asia so bad and what actually took me to Thailand.
Located around 80 km from Bangkok, Ayutthaya has been the royal capital of Siam (the second of the Siamese Kingdom) from 1350 until 1767, when it was brutally razed by the Burmese.
Today, Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya is an archaeological site that keeps attracting tourists for its palaces, statues, Buddhist temples, towers and gigantic monasteries.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO VISIT AYUTTHAYA?
Even though a day trip from Bangkok is enough time to visit, you'll experience the atmosphere deeper and at a more relaxing pace if you decide to stay for at least 2 days as I did.
Part of The Historical Park was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. The sites that are not part of it are the ones beyond Ayutthaya "Island".
HOW TO GET TO AYUTTHAYA
Cost: 20 to 300 THB.
I got on a first class train at Bangkok's Hua Lamphong Railway station (right at the MRT subway station) on my way to Ayutthaya, and I was pretty satisfied with the journey. We had air conditioning and we were even given a lunch box for around 300 baht.
The 3rd class ticket costs around 20 baht if you are looking for saving up.
But be mindful! The trains going back to Bangkok are pretty much always DELAYED. So I highly suggest taking a minivan.
Cost: 70 THB.
On my way back to Bangkok I hopped on a minivan, which I extremely enjoyed because it dropped me directly at Don Muang airport (where I caught my flight to Cambodia).
I was lucky since I was sitting in front with the driver, so I wasn't exactly sharing my space with any other stranger. Even though some people find it uncomfortable, I highly recommend you to consider it.
You can catch a minivan from Ayutthaya at Naresuan Road, it will cost you around 70 baht.
From Bangkok you'll want to catch it at Mo Chit Bus Station or near Victory Monument .
Cost: from 2000 to 3500 THB
GETTING AROUND AYUTTHAYA
Tuk-Tuks and bicycles are the best options.
It's probably going to be quite hot so, if you don't feel like biking, just negotiate with a tuk-tuk driver a fair rate for a complete temples' tour. It should cost about 200 baths.
WHERE TO STAY IN AYUTTHAYA
I had no doubts about where I wanted to stay during my visit: I chose Sala Ayutthaya, a piece of heaven in town.
The entire structure is so elegant and quiet that immediately immersed us in a peaceful atmosphere. Our Superior Room was a dream come true. I've always wanted to experience a luxurious room with an indoor bathtub and this was actually my first time! I felt so pampered during the entire stay. Every night we were given a different "goodnight" local herbal tea, and every morning we could choose a different breakfast.
I particularly appreciated the bathroom geometrical details and the exterior design of Sala Ayutthaya's pools, which is as well worldwide renowned for its geometric, detailed elegance.
The Pad Thai I had in Sala's restaurant (admiring the temples by night) was the best one I've tasted in the whole Thailand. Chapeau!
The ticket for the 6 main temples will cost you 220 baths, but you can choose to pay singular passes for the temples you want to visit. More info on the admission fees here.
Wat Phra Mahthat
Entrance price: 50 THB
Even though this location might be the most popular and photographed one in Ayutthaya, I was in total awe.
I could barely contain my excitement in front of this nature's masterpiece: the worldwide famous Buddha head entwined within the roots of a Banyan tree, which has become one of Thailand's iconic symbols.
You can't STAND in front of it, but by sitting down anybody can easily take pictures.
Wat Yai Chai Mongkol
Entrance price: 20 THB
Located a few kilometers southeast of Ayutthaya, it's easily recognized by the large Chedi that can be seen from distance. The flowers in blossom mixed to the Buddha statues were beyond gorgeous.
I was very inspired by this place, and I decided to light up some incense and pray to the Buddha.
Wat Yai Chai Mongkol also features an impressive Reclining Buddha, which can been admired at the entrance.
"Only ruins remain from this period of thriving trade and art, but dozens of crumbling temples evoke Ayuthaya's past grandeur. Standing among towering stupas, it's easy to imagine how they looked in their prime." - Lonely Planet
Wat Phra Si Sanphet / Ayutthaya Historical Park
Entrance price: 50 THB
"The three chedis are one of the landmarks of the Ayutthaya Historical Park. The three chedis are believed to keep the ashes of three Kings : King Trailok, King Borom Ratchathirat III, and King Rama Thibodi II, as well as Buddha relics."
Unlikely other stupas, here it's possible to climb up the stairs and admire the view (obviously you'll need to get in line though.. but who would miss out on this photography opportunity? ;).
Massages, markets, street food. And never riding elephants.
Other then temple hopping, we spent some time at local markets or just walking around enjoying the suggesting atmosphere.
We even got a well-deserved Thai massage, even though, I must confess, it definetely wasn't the best I got in Thailand so I'm not linking the spot.
WHAT NOT TO DO IN AYUTTHAYA
PLEASE AVOID RIDING ELEPHANTS or participating in any questionable activity that involves animals.
The only thing I couldn't stand in this town was that animals welfare is NONE. I witnessed stray dogs being beaten in front of me by restaurants owners, baby elephants in chains and adult elephants being forced to carry tourists all day long.
RIDING ELEPHANTS IS NEVER OK. They go through a very violent, cruel and abusive process in order to be ridden.
I'M HONESTLY SHOCKED by the ridiculous number of tourists that still ride these poor creatures, not even caring or thinking about the pain that they've endured, and still endure. Please don't be careless and help spreading awareness. Riding elephants is not ok. Feeding elephants in chains is not ok. Don't support this sick system. Find places that rescue and take good care of them, if you wanna interact with elephants or any other animal.
If you wanna learn more about the cruel processes they go through, my fellow photographer Sara Melotti wrote a comprehensive article that you can find HERE.
In this photo, you can see some tourists who PAID for a basket of bananas to feed the baby elephant in chains, completely careless about his conditions.
In these pictures you can see some of the stray dogs that inhabit Ayutthaya. None of them bit or even tried to get closer to me. They all seemed very scared.
HERE you can have more information about the Thai Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (TSPCA).
Asia in general has still a long way to go regarding animals welfare, but as a friend reminded me "it's hard to speak about animal rights when even human rights are still questioned."
That's all folks!
Ayutthaya was definitely magical, and even though I didn't appreciate how animals are treated I still suggest you visit it. It's important to open our hearts and mind when traveling, so my invite to you is to observe carefully and make wise, less "touristic" decisions.
If you got extra time in Bangkok, check out my city guide with the most photogenic spots in town!