Only a couple of hours from Bangkok by train and you’ll feel like you’re in another world when you visit the historic city of Ayutthaya.
Ravaged and burned to the ground by the Burmese Army in 1767, the city of Ayutthaya in Thailand was originally founded in 1350 by King U Thong. At that time, King U Thong was looking for a place to escape to in order to avoid a smallpox outbreak in neighboring Lopburi Province to the north.
Before it’s destruction, Ayutthaya was the capital of Thailand and considered the largest and most prosperous city in the world. During the 1600’s and 1700’s the city was a major commerce center due to it’s strategic location between China and India. A very cosmopolitan city in those days, Ayutthaya was built on an island encompassed by three rivers which connected the city to the sea via the Gulf of Thailand.
In 1991 UNESCO deemed Ayutthaya worthy of World Heritage status and rightfully so because inhabitants were forced to abandon the city in 1767, never to be rebuilt again in the same place. Today the site remains as an extensive archaeological site and is fascinating to witness first hand. I couldn’t help myself from posing in front of one of the many red brick prangs on the grounds of Wat Phra Mahathat.
Similar to what I experienced at Angkor World Heritage Site in Cambodia, the historic city of Ayutthaya is much larger than what I had expected. One could easily spend several days or even an entire week exploring all of the royal palaces, temples and other buildings that lay in ruins scattered across the city.
As with most places I end up visiting, I typically hear about them through locals or other travelers when talking about places we’ve been or will be heading in the future. I found myself having food and drinks with some new local friends one evening and inevitably the question of what I do for work came up. This is one of my favorite questions to answer for several reasons. The first reason is that I am following my passions and doing exactly what I love to do. In addition, I am constantly pushing myself and learning what it takes to run an online business while being my own boss and not really having a schedule to adhere to.
After explaining what I do for work, my local friends suggested that I visit Ayutthaya not only for the history and culture, but also for the amazing photo opportunities I would have there. They also mentioned that the ancient city is one of their favorite day trip and is easily accessible by public transportation from Bangkok.
Located less than 80km from Bangkok, there are several different modes of public transportation that will get you to Ayutthaya (or any other location in Thailand). For this adventure, I opted to take the local train so that I could enjoy the scenery and experience how local Thai people travel to this part of the country.
I arrived mid-morning at Bangkok’s Hualamphong Train Station and purchased my one-way third-class ticket for 20 baht (.60 USD). There are not many places in the world where you can catch a train and go 80km to your destination for that price! I quickly made my way onto the train to stake out a window seat for the 90 minute ride since the train was not air conditioned and temperatures were already hovering around 95°F / 35°C.
Upon arrival at the train station in Ayutthaya I crossed the main street and walked a short distance to the ferry dock on the river since the station itself is not on the island. Small ferry boats run every few minutes and cost 5 baht (.15 USD) each way.
Rather than hire a tuk tuk driver to take me around Ayutthaya, I decided to rent a bicycle from a local shop and power myself around the city. The friendly woman I rented my bicycle from also provided me with a map that highlighted a route to many of the best sites in the ancient city, including Wat Chaiwatthanaram, which is where I would eventually witness another beautiful sunset later that day.
If you want to save some money then wait until you cross the river by ferry to rent your bicycle as it is much cheaper on the other side! I rented my bicycle for the day for 40 baht ($1.20 USD) compared to the 150 baht ($4.60 USD) I would have paid if I rented my bicycle on the same side of the river as the train station.
When shooting sunset images, I tend to stick around for a bit after the sun sets to see what magical colors Mother Nature produces on any given day. Given that the last train from Ayutthaya to Bangkok departed about an hour after sunset, I knew it was going to be a race on the bicycle to get back to the train station in time to catch that last train.
As I packed up my camera equipment and started peddling, I instantly began to break a heavy sweat because the heat and humidity that I had been riding and walking around in all day didn’t just disappear once the sun had set. Fortunately for me, I had been hydrating with water all day and was mentally prepared for the strenuous cardiovascular workout I knew was in front of me.
Heading away from Wat Chaiwatthanaram I quickly glanced at the map and figured I could save a few minutes by following the road that looped around the ancient city. All I had to do was keep the river on the right side of me once I saw it. As long as I did that, I would have plenty of time to drop off the bicycle, hop on the ferry back to the mainland, and catch the last train of the day back to Bangkok.
I have no idea what happened, but when I arrived at the river it was on my left side. I pulled the bicycle over before too long and asked a local for some help getting back on track. The kind man pointed me in the right direction, or so I thought, but that took me back though town and added more time to my journey back to the ferry and train station.
As the skies grew darker I had that feeling of possibly missing the last train out of Ayutthaya. I continued cruising along at a good clip until I finally came across one of the main streets that looked familiar, made a right turn and peddled faster than ever. I made my way back to where I rented the bicycle from and the woman saw how drenched with sweat I was. She offered me some water and turned the fan in my direction. I thanked her but all I could think about was how soon until the small ferry made its way back to my side of the river so I could make the river crossing myself and catch my train back to Bangkok.
Luckily, I only had to wait few minutes for the ferry and once on the other side of the river I jumped off the boat, ran up the steps and paid my 5 baht as I was running past the man collecting the money. He must have thought I was being chased because I didn’t really stop and continued running all way up the street to the train station. After purchasing my ticket I was hurrying over to the platform where my train was supposed to be and one of the railway employees informed me that the train to Bangkok was going to be about 20 minutes late. Oh well, that’s how traveling in Thailand goes sometimes!
Looking back on my visit to the ancient city of Ayutthaya I now realize that I did not allow myself enough time to properly explore without feeling overwhelmed. As I’ve mentioned before, there are just too many structures and Buddha statues in ruins to see in one day so whenever you plan your visit, I recommend spending a minimum of two days. Simply put, there is so much to explore and see so plan accordingly because you don’t want to miss anything or have the feeling of being rushed as I did.
Click an image below to stimulate your curiosity and learn about a different culture halfway around around the globe.