Where We Be
#1 on our list for Ayutthaya was seeing this Buddha head completely entwined
in tree roots -- in our opinion one of the most evocative images in the world
Day Trip to Ayutthaya, Thailand
From Chiang Rai we flew to Bangkok and
settled into Hotel Mermaid for a few relaxing
days before heading home. But we couldn't
resist one last day trip to celebrate my 54th
birthday. We arranged for a driver to take us on
a tour of Ayutthaya at a cost of 2,500 baht ($75).
Ayutthaya is about 1½ hours north of Bangkok.
It was the capital of the Kingdom of Siam from
1350 to 1767 until it was razed by the Burmese.
The ruins now form an archaeological park that
is surprisingly big. It takes at least a full day to
see the key sites, and a car or tuk tuk is helpful
in getting between the main points of interest.

Wat Mahathat was tops on our list because we
really wanted to see Buddha's head entwined
in the roots of a banyan tree. In fact it was this
one iconic image that made us want to go to
Ayutthaya in the first place. For years we had
mistakenly assumed it was located in Angkor
Wat in Cambodia (nope!). The head was a bit
bigger than expected, and it was so perfectly
nestled in the roots of the tree, facing outward,
that we couldn't help but wonder if someone in
the distant past might have given it a helping
hand. Of course there's a lot more to Ayutthaya
than this one magnificent head, so read on to
learn what else we saw during our full day here.
We arrived at Ayutthaya around 8:30 am. This was our very first stop,
and we were lucky enough to have Buddha all to ourselves for awhile.
We were glad to have done a little research ahead of time or we might
have missed Wat Chai Wattanaram, and that would have been a shame
The site contains an impressive collection of prangs and towers. It's located off the main
"island" of Ayutthaya (a series of moats and canals surrounding the main historic city).
Situated on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, Chai
Wattanaram was built in 1630 during Ayutthaya's late period
The king built the prang on the cremation site of his two elder brothers,
who dueled to their deaths for the royal succession to their father
Do make time for the big Reclining Buddha. It's located at ground level
but half-hidden by a brick wall, so ask for directions if you can't find it.
Our last stop was Wat Phanan Choeng, a modern Buddhist temple with one main thing to see: an
absolutely enormous gold Buddha (right) that towers above you. The place was packed with worshippers
so we only got a quick glimpse, but it was viscerally impressive -- much more impressive than the photo suggests.
This is the crumbling but dramatic base of the central temple at Mahathat. The temple
was initially constructed in 1374. Sadly, the majestic prang on top collapsed in 1904.
As you can see we had the run of the place. We can't emphasize
enough how much more enjoyable sightseeing is if you get an early start.
We especially liked this large statue of Buddha sitting
serenely amidst the ruins of an ancient kingdom
Wat Mahathat was one of the most important temple sites in the
Ayutthaya kingdom. The ruins here are extensive and quite beautiful.
Let's start with Buddha's head as seen from a distance at Wat Mahathat. We include this image
because the head is almost never shown except in closeup. Here you can see the banyan tree
across the courtyard and may just be able to make out the head ensnared in the tree troots.
The sign suggests the stone head dates from around the mid 1600s. Whether Mother Nature entwined
it on her own or got a little assistance from an obliging person in the past, it's marvellous either way.
A sign posted at the site says, "The head was once part of a sandstone Buddha image which fell off the
main body onto the ground. It was gradually trapped into the roots of a constantly growing Bodhi tree."
FYI, this is actually a banyan tree -- Buddha was enlightened while sitting under a Bodhi tree.
Wat Mahathat
Wat Phanan Choeng
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon
We visited two additional sites in Ayutthaya township recommended as must sees. The first was
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon with its enormous bell chedi wrapped in gold around its middle section.
We climbed the stairs and nearly fainted from the heat! Skip the climb as there's not much to see.
Wat Chai Wattanaram
Founded in 1424, Ratchaburana is one of the
most impressive prangs still standing at Ayutthaya
Its tall central prang simply cries out to be
photographed from within its door frame
Near the top of the prang is a statue of winged
Garuda swooping down on naga (snakes)
Wat Ratchaburana is practically right next door to
Wat Mahathat and is way too dramatic to miss
This temple served as the model for Wat Phra Kaew
in Bangkok, which houses the Emerald Buddha
Each of the main temples we visited cost us 50 baht ($1.50) per person, although we later learned about a
combo ticket that would have saved us a few dollars. Still, $1.50 each to see such amazing ruins is cheap.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet
In the capital city's heydey, Wat Phra Si Sanphet with its three bell-like chedis was
considered the holiest and most beautiful temple on the site of the old Royal Palace
We made a complete circuit around the three chedis and
enjoyed seeing them from different angles and lighting
We also found an atmospheric area towards the back
with crumbling red brick walls, small chedis, and graceful trees
Wat Ratchaburana
After lunch at a restaurant overlooking the Chao Phraya River, we returned to our humble abode in Bangkok.
We really liked our stay at Hotel Mermaid ($54 US), where we splurged on a corner suite king with huge soaking
tub and balcony. Located on Sukhumvit 29, it's close to the Skytrain, making for an easy airport connection.
We saw five ancient temples at Ayutthaya: Mahathat, Ratchaburana, Si Sanphet, Chai Wattanaram, and Yai Chai Mongkhan.
In addition we saw one "bonus" modern site: Phanan Choeng. As the map shows, you could easily spend a lot more time here,
but we took the approach of seeing "the best of the best." The first three ruins listed are easily visited without a car or tuk tuk.
Feeling curious, I tracked down this photo from 1903 showing what the main temple
looked like before the prang collapsed (photo courtesy of ayutthaya-history.com)
Some of the smaller prangs at Mahathat
lean precariously to this very day
A big thanks to Ayutthaya 2020 for recommending the "must see" temples
at Ayutthaya. Chai Wattanaram turned out to be one of our favorites, and we
might have missed it without guidance since it's set apart from the central temples.
(Note: The Thailand webpages following this one
document our one-week stay in Bangkok in May 2014)