Interested in rediscovering kingdoms past? Embark on a journey via vintage train from the bustling capital and escape to Ayutthaya, the idyllic ancient capital of Siam. The historic town is about 70km from Bangkok. Located on an island framed by three significant rivers — Chao Phraya, Lopburi and Pasak — Ayutthaya Historical Park has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991. Its stone ruins are among Thailand’s most remarkable cultural marvels.
Buses to Ayutthaya are available at Mo Chit Bus Station in Bangkok’s Chatuchak District, but for a taste of the past, board a classic train at Hua Lamphong Station.
I hopped on a vintage train early in the morning to soak up some sunshine through the train windows and witness the locals sell hot coffee and finger food on the train as children wave along the tracks.
The top sites at Ayutthaya Historical Park can be visited in a day on two wheels. Riding a bicycle is a great way to cruise around the Ayutthaya. Rent one from your guesthouse or stop by one of the rental shops in Soi Chikhun across Wat Mahathat and Wat Ratchaburana. History buffs who want to skip the pedalling can explore the site via tuk-tuk.
I hired a guide for a five-hour tour of the park (800THB, including Thai lunch). From Ayutthaya train station, we went on a boat to cross the river, then on a tuk-tuk all the way to Ayutthaya Historical Park.
The top sights
Ayutthaya Historical Park contains four temples: Wat Phra Ram, Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Wat Mahathat and Wat Ratchaburana. The 14th-century Wat Mahathat was the first epicentre of Ayutthaya city and contains an abundance of relics. The principle prang (spire) in the temple is believed to be the first ever built in Ayutthaya history. Within it, a stone casket was discovered with religious images, gold ornaments and other valuables.
Being surrounded by these grand ruins, observing Wat Yai Chai Mongkol’s Reclining Buddha statue and the surreal Buddha head tangled in tree roots, you will be absolutely awed by the intricate details and tranquillity of the deserted stone temples, monasteries and Buddha images. I definitely was.
Important note: If you wish to take a photograph with the Buddha head, make sure your head is lower than the Buddha’s to show respect.
Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese in 1767, marking the end of the kingdom’s reign. Several sites have been restored, but many have been destroyed. Still, there are plenty of places left that give visitors an idea of what this royal capital was once like.
Tips: Don a pair of comfortable shoes, apply sunblock, bring your camera, and stop often for a water break.
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies to Bangkok from various destinations. airasia.com