One of the irresistible charms of Ayutthaya province is that it’s isolated from the hubbub of Bangkok and yet just a quick journey away. Travellers can go to Ayutthaya and be back in the city without feeling too drained and exhausted. No wonder Ayutthaya tourism is in the pink of health, as adventurers pour in from all around the world.
Seventy-four landmarks are located in the Ayutthaya historical park alone, making it impossible for tourists to visit all in a day. Those who have a tighter timeframe can prioritize the following most visited landmarks in Ayutthaya instead.
Wat Yai Chai Mongkol (The Great Monastery of Auspicious Victory)
Situated along road no. 3059, the Wat Yai Chai Mongkol compound houses the Chedi of the Auspicious Victory or the Great Pagoda, a gallery of statues, and a larger-than-life Buddha monument. It is also home to an ordination hall called ubosot, which is filled to the brim with travellers paying their respects.
According to the Ayutthaya 2020 website, Wat Yai Chai Mongkol was built by King U-thong in 1357 A.D. as a home for monks returning from Ceylon. The group of monks, known as the Pa Kaeo Sect, studied in Ceylon under revered Buddhist teacher Phra Vanarat Maha Thera.
The monastery is a storied place that bore witness to wars and the life and death of monarchs. The Ayutthaya Historical Research website states that two princes who died of cholera were cremated there. A monastery or stupa was built in their memory, as well as a preaching hall (viharn). The monastery is called Wat Pa Kaeo, meaning, “Monastery of the Crystal Forest.”
Wat Phra Si Sanphet (The Temple of the Buddha Si Sanphet)
Erected in 1350, Wat Phra Si Sanphet is the most important temple during its glory days—and still up to this day. Built in honor of Buddha, the temple used to have a 16-meter high golden statue of him.
Located south of the old Royal Palace grounds, the temple rises at a site once known as Nong Sano. It is famous for its three imposing chedis, whose unobstructed views are visible to to tourists entering the temple from the southeast.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet was the inspiration for the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok. More chedis or stupas were built by King Borom Trai Lokanat, as well as a pavilion, forming one of the most iconic structures ever built in the ancient kingdom. Elsewhere, ruins of a number of minor chedis and viharas containing the remains of the royal family at that time can be spotted.
Wat Mahathat (The Temple of the Great Relic)
Wat Mahathat is perhaps the most recognizable location in Ayutthaya, made famous by the giant head of Buddha that’s entwined in tree roots. Abandoned until the 1950s, nobody knows for certain how the Buddha head landed on the site. Legend has it that a thief attempted to steal the Buddha head, but couldn’t move it past the outer walls of the temple.
The temple was built during the 18th century, according to travel website Atlas Obscura. It now serves as the headquarters of the Maha Nikai sect and Center for Vipassana Meditation at Buddhist University.
Wat Chai Wattanaram (The Temple of Long Reign and Glorious Era)
The temple of Wat Chai Wattanaram was constructed in 1630 and consists of a central prang or tower, surrounded by four smaller prangs and crematoriums. Buddhas, paintings and royal figures used to adorn the premises, though only crumbling statues remain.
Conservation efforts are currently ongoing for the landmark to repair further damages it sustained due to floods in 2011. The World Monument Fund came to the assistance of the Fine Arts Department of Thailand to carry on the initiative.
Wihan Phra Mongkol Bophit (The Buddha of the Holy and Supremely Auspicious Reverence)
Wat Mongkhon Bophit is the home of one of the largest golden Buddha structure in Thailand. Historical accounts point to different dates for the sculpture’s creation, although academics agree on the year 1538 for consistency. The structure was reportedly struck by lightning in the 1600s that led to its renovation. A wihan, or a chapel was constructed to protect the Buddha image.
According to an entry on the Don Muang Airport website, the structure that visitors see today is not the repaired, original one. Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram, Thailand’s third Prime Minister, was responsible for the reassignment of the wihan as the new home of the Buddha statue.
Wat Lokayasutharam (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)
The reclining Buddha of Wat Lokayasutharam sticks out like a sore thumb amidst a patch of arid field. The 37-meters-long and 8-meters high statue of a massive reclining Buddha is known as Phra Budhasaiyart. Fashioned from plaster and bricks, the Buddha lies on his side over a lotus.
Around the giant Buddha are the ruins of an old temple that was supposed to shield it from the elements. Like other structures then, it was destroyed during the Burmese raids. Offerings and burned incense decorate an altar near the Buddha.
Today, the historical site also serve as a playground for the neighborhood children. Their laughter fills the air, as trinket vendors wait for the right moment to hawk souvenirs to tourists. In front of the tourist spot are canteens and souvenir shops that sell fisherman or gypsy pants, as well as clothing made of luxurious Thai silk.
Side notes and updates
The climate in Ayutthaya is perpetually warm and permitting, while the land is blessed by rainfall from May to October. It is said that the province is at its hottest during May, and coolest in December. The weather is unforgiving at noon.
Refreshments are available at a cluster of canteens serving home-cooked fare at Wat Yai Chai Mongkol. Food vendors are also all around, from sellers of ice lollies to the famous Thai iced tea. Meat skewers and meals are available at some locations, such as at the Wat Lokayasutharam.
Recent reports revealed that the Ayutthaya city government will install lighting systems at the attractions, so that tourists would soon be able to visit the sites at night. In an interview with Pattaya Mail, Director of the Ayutthaya Historical Park, Sukanya Baonert, said they would commence the project early this year.