Ayutthaya and its ruins are a cultural experience and a worthwhile day trip from Bangkok. It is only 1.5-2 hours from Bangkok (depending on mode of transportation), and you can spend the daylight hours wandering the ruins, heading back to Bangkok in the late afternoon/early evening. It is worth noting at the outset (and you’ll probably read from others) that Ayutthaya has more to offer than you’ll be able to see in one day. But, if you only have one day, we believe you should still go and see what you can, if only to gain some historical perspective of Thailand and Siam (and take some great pictures). The vast ruins in today’s Ayutthaya give a glimpse into the importance and grandeur of the capital city in its prime.
There are a few different options for traveling from Bangkok to Ayutthaya – train, minibus, or taxi. We opted for the train, as we thought it would be more scenic than being on the highway and cramped in a bus or car. If you decide to take the train, the most important planning tip is to pay attention to which type of train is departing at which time. We used the State Railway of Thailand timetable to check train times and types to decide our schedule. The different train types are as follows:
- Ordinary – slowest, most stops, no air-conditioning, only 3rd class carriages
- Rapid – stop at almost every station, most do not have air-conditioning, 2nd class fan service
- Express – 2nd fastest, makes more stops than Special Express, air-conditioned 2nd class option
- Special Express – Fastest, most expensive, air-conditioned 2nd class option
We arrived at Hua Lamphong Train Station around 8:00 a.m. and walked to the ticketing area. After asking the ticket officer for two tickets to Ayutthaya, she quickly told us the total was 40 THB. This seemed extremely cheap, so we asked if the tickets were for 2nd class. She then reprocessed the request for 2nd class, which was 490 THB total (245 THB each). Glad we asked!
During our research for this trip, we had read that foreigners were assumed to want 2nd class tickets and that you could only get 3rd class if specifically asked for. However, this was not the case in our particular experience, so be prepared and be cognizant of the different ticket prices in order to end up in your intended class of service!
After a quick stop for some water and snacks at the convenience store in the train station, we made our way to the platform, took our assigned seats, and were on our way. Right before we arrived in Ayutthaya about 1.5 hours later, the conductor and workers on the train were all shouting out “Ayutthaya! Ayutthaya!” as they knew many of us would be getting off at this stop. This was quite helpful, as the train does not pause for very long at each stop.
As you’ll no doubt read while planning, there are three main ways to visit the spread-out ruins: Rent a bike, hire a tuk-tuk, or rent a motorbike. Renting a bike is the cheapest option, and you won’t have to worry about getting ripped off or communicating with a tuk-tuk driver about where you want to go and when. A tuk-tuk is more expensive, but it will be far less taxing on your body. A motorbike is in the middle cost-wise and will get you around a little faster than a bike, but you should be familiar with operating a motorbike.
There will be plenty of tuk-tuks to choose from outside the train station, and there are plenty of places to rent a bike or motorbike on both sides of the river. We choose to rent bikes for the day because we didn’t want to deal with a tuk-tuk driver, and we aren’t that experienced with motorbikes.
- Bike Tip: Plan a tentative route of what you’d like to see in advance and then choose which side of the river would be more convenient to rent a bike on.
- Navigation Tip: Before the trip, map out your destinations on Google Maps and save the map in “my places” (as of this writing, Ayutthaya was not available for download to use offline). Buy a phone mount for the bike so you can follow the navigation while biking. Look up directions to the next stop as you go. This saved us a lot of time and headache of figuring out where the ruins were and how to get to them.
We rented a bike on the road across the street from the train station (if you continue down this road, it will take you to the ferry crossing). Female DINK rented a regular bike that had a basket for our backpack for 50 THB. Male DINK rented a “sport” bike (a lighter, nicer bike with no basket) for 100 THB. Each bike also came with a bike lock. We paid the lady and also had to give her an ID for collateral. Luckily, Female DINK had brought her wallet with her driver’s license so we didn’t have to use our passports!
Be aware that biking through Ayutthaya to see the various ruins means that you’ll be using main roads with regular road traffic, roundabouts, stoplights, etc. There are very few, if any, dedicated bike paths or bike lanes.
So if you decide to rent a bike, be prepared to ride in the shoulder, on the road at times, and negotiate traffic. And, don’t forget…they drive on the left!
What to See:
Below is a list of the places we were able to see on our day trip, in the order we stopped at them. While we had planned on visiting one more site, the heat and stress of biking determined our physical limits.
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon – Located off the island, southeast of the train station. This site is fairly compact, with a reclining Buddha in addition to the main ruins.
- Biking Tip – You’ll need to completely cross Rojana Road (when coming from the train station) in order to eventually go right, instead of getting on the highway. You’ll come up to a very large roundabout – go right, and after awhile you’ll arrive at the site on the left side of the road.
Wat Phanan Choeng Worawihan – Located off the island, further down the same road as Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon. This site is a Buddhist Temple, rather than a complex of ruins. There is a very large golden Buddha as the main attraction. We aren’t sure what else was at the temple, as there was quite a bit of construction going on at the time that limited public access.
- Biking Tip – There aren’t any bike racks to leave your bike for your visit. We ended up locking our bikes in the shade under the large covered area on the east side.
- Navigation Tip – There is a ferry crossing outside the temple (on the north side). It is the dock to the right of the covered structure for feeding fish. We had guessed there was a ferry crossing here from looking at Google Maps prior to the trip, although we couldn’t verify this information anywhere. Once we got there, it was not readily apparent there was a ferry here, either (there are no signs). A few local women were eating lunch by the river and saw us wandering around with our bikes. One of them told us “ferry, 5 minutes” and pointed us to the dock. A few minutes later, the ferry arrived and cost 10 THB each (since we had bikes). So, we can confirm there is, in fact, a ferry crossing here!
Wat Mahathat – Located in the center of the island. This is a large (and popular) site of ruins that also houses the famous Buddha face in tree roots. Please note, if you would like to take a “selfie” with the Buddha face in the background, you need to kneel down (and will be asked to do so by a guard), as this is a sacred site.
- Food Tip – At this point, we needed some calories to fuel us for the rest of our journey. We stopped at Long Lex Noodle, which is just up the road from Wat Mahathat. They have a short menu available in English, and you can see the food being made off to the side. We ordered the noodle soup with beef and the noodle soup with pork (both were great), along with a Chang beer. Long Lex was a cheap, quick stop in the much-needed shade!
Wat Ratchaburana – Located in the center of the island, just north of Wat Mahathat. The ruins center around the intricate main prang.
Wat Phra Ram – Located in the center of the island. This was closed at the time, so we took pictures from the side of the road.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet – Located in the center of the island. Impressive complex of three main chedis. This is the holiest temple in the old Royal Palace of Ayutthaya. It is also the model for Wat Phra Kaew in The Grand Palace in Bangkok.
Wat Lokayasutharam – Located on the west side of the island. The large reclining Buddha is here. We were running low on energy and fading quickly under the intense heat, so we did not explore the ruins, choosing instead to only take pictures of the reclining Buddha.
Wat Chaiwatthanaram – Located off the island. This is one of the most complete ruins complexes we saw.
- Biking Tip – Don’t try to ride your bike across the large bridge when crossing the river – it has a steep incline. Instead, walk your bike on the (narrow) sidewalk.
After biking back to the ferry crossing near the train station, crossing the river, and returning our bikes, we arrived back at the train station. The next train to Bangkok was a Rapid train, which we did not want to take (no air conditioning). However, the next air-conditioned train wouldn’t depart for another 2.5 hours. Since the Ayutthaya train station is open-air, though, we decided to go ahead and take the Rapid train since we would be in the heat for the next few hours either way. Again, we had to ask for 2nd class tickets after first being quoted the price for 3rd class.
The platforms at the Ayutthaya station were a bit confusing for the Bangkok train. The train stops at the platform a ways off to the left, apart from the other platforms.
This was not communicated well prior to the train arriving and resulted in the workers running out to rush everyone down to the other platform as the train arrived. We took our assigned seats and endured the heat (with a little help from the fan service) for the 2-hour journey to Bangkok. The train was mostly bearable without the air-conditioning, except when we started getting into Bangkok and having several delays (mostly due to traffic in the city). Sitting on the tracks for 15 minutes at a time was brutal, as the sun was setting and mosquitoes were starting to come out.
What We Learned from Our Experience:
- Take your time in picking out a bike. Make sure the brakes work, the seat is positioned well, etc. Rent a “sport” bike (or nicer bike), if possible. The regular bike didn’t seem to have any gears, and the brakes didn’t work very well.
- Pick a handful of “must-see” sites and accept that you won’t be able to see everything (we didn’t make it to Wat Phu Khao Thong).
- The heat is sweltering, and it may go without saying, but everything is outside. Drink lots of water and don’t overdo it.
- The ruins are beautiful and are worth the effort.
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