Originally founded by King U-Thong in 1350 within a bend of the Chao Phraya river, Ayutthaya was the capital of the Thai kingdom at its mightiest. Conquered and sacked by the Burmese in 1767, today only the ruins of its splendor remain. The modern city was founded a few kilometers further east.
Ayutthaya was named after the ancient Indian city of Ayodhya, and is sometimes referred to by that name. Among Thai cities, Ayutthaya's English name is probably the least standardized - it is also known as Ayotaya, Ayothaya, Ayudhya, Ayutaya, Ayuthaya and Ayuttaya.
The cheapest and most colorful way of reaching Ayutthaya is by train. All north and north-east line trains depart from Bangkok's Hualamphong Train Station and stop in Ayutthaya, a trip of about 1.5 hours. Second class costs 35 baht (seats can be booked in advance), while third class is just 20 baht (no reservations).
Ayutthaya's train station is to the east of the central island. The easiest way to get to central Naresuan Road is to walk straight ahead from the station and take the cross-river ferry for 2 baht.
Buses operate every 20 minutes or so from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Moh Chit) directly to Ayutthaya. First class air-con buses charge 45 baht, while second class is 35 baht. Allow at least two hours for the trip since the buses stop rather frequently and there are often jams on the roads out of/into Bangkok.
In Ayutthaya, the central BKS bus station is on the south side of Thanon Naresuan next to the Chao Phrom Market. songthaews to Bang Pa-In also leave from here. Some 1st-class buses to Bangkok, however, leave from the north side of the road some 500m to the west, on the other side of the khlong (canal); the queue for air-con buses is easy to spot.
From Kanchanaburi, take a local bus from the main bus station to Suphanburi for 45 baht (2 hours), then another local bus to Ayutthaya for 40 baht (1.5 hours). A taxi from Kanchanaburi costs 2000-2500 baht (2 hours).
There is also a central bus station east of town serving northern destinations. It can be reached by songthaew - ask around to find the appropriate stop.
Convenient minibus service (can get stuck in traffic, but makes no stops like regular buses) operates from the Victory Monument square in Bangkok. Take BTS Skytrain to the Victory Monument station, and go right on the elevated walkway - keep on it until you cross a large road, then descend - the buses are parked at the side side of the main traffic circle). The cost is usually ~80 baht, takes around 1 hour.
Minibuses from Kanchanaburi can be arranged by guesthouses or any tour operators for around 350 baht.
Cruise boats run up the river from Bangkok, often stopping at Ko Kret and Bang Pa-In along the way. You'll need to book in advance as there are no scheduled services, just trips for tourists. It's a fairly lengthy trip (at least one whole day) and some of the larger boats offer (pricy) overnight tours.
It is advised to rent a bicycle. You should get a copy of a map for free at the shop that rents you the bicycle. If you are physically larger than most Thais, be warned that the larger bicycles are not necessarily well maintained, so be sure that they work properly (seats well attached, handlebars don't slip in relation to front wheel direction) before you leave.
Alternatively, you can hop around town by tuk-tuk or motorbike for 20-30 baht a pop. Ayutthaya's tuk-tuks are larger than the Bangkok variety and you can easily squeeze in four or more on the two songthaew-style facing benches. Only "official" tuk-tuk drivers can pick up passengers from the train station (their photos are displayed on a board at the southern end of the platform) and they are required to work to a fixed scale of charges.
The local bus to Lopburi leave the main bus station every 20 minutes and pass Wat Nah Phra Meru.
Tours to nearby natural and man made attractions can be made with local tour agencies. Some of the more reliable ones are Ayutthaya Boat and Travel or Nutty's Adventures. They both organize one day excursions and several day trekks in Ayutthaya Province. The single-day excursions range in price from roughly 500 to 2000 baht. You can also hire a Rice Barge, and cruise through Ayutthaya and see it's sights first class.
The temples with entry charges are usually in ruins, so there is no dress code, although visitors are still requested to refrain from blatant stupidity like clambering up the Buddha statues. Working temples tend to charge no fees and there are often no officials to check that dress is appropriate.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet (Sri Sanphet Rd) is the largest temple in Ayutthaya, known for its row of chedis (Thai-style stupas). Housed within the grounds of the former royal palace, the wat was used only for royal religious ceremonies. It once housed a 16-meter Buddha covered with 340 kg of gold, but the Burmese set fire to the statue to melt the gold and destroyed the temple in the process. Entrance fee of 30 baht.
Viharn Phra Mongkol Bopitah (Sri Sanphet Rd) is next to Wat Phra Si Sanphet and houses a large bronze cast Buddha image. No entry charge.
Ancient Palace (access through Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, no additional entry charge) is mostly low-lying ruins set in large grounds, with only a few free standing buildings remaining.
Wiharn at Wat Thammikarat
Wat Thammikarat (U-Thong Rd) is a working wat, but also contains the ruins of a large chedi and a huge wiharn which has a large tree growing picturesquely out of the side of one wall. No entry charge.
Wat Ratchaburana (Naresuan Rd) stands out for having a large prang recently restored to its original condition, clearly visible if you come in from the east. A major find of golden statues and other paraphernalia was made here in 1958, although much was subsequently stolen by robbers — the remnants are now in the Chao Sam Phraya Museum. You can climb inside the prang for nice views and a little exhibit. The mysterious staircase down, leads to two unrestored rooms with original paintings still visible on the walls. Entrance fee of 30 baht.
Headless Buddha statues, Wat Mahathat
Wat Phra Mahathat (Naresuan Rd), across the road from Wat Ratburana, is a large temple that was quite thoroughly ransacked by the Burmese. Several Leaning Prangs of Ayutthaya are still feebly defying gravity though, and the rows of headless Buddhas are atmospheric. This is also where you can spot the famous tree that has grown around a Buddha head. Entrance fee of 30 baht.
Wat Phra Ram (Sri Sanphet Road) consists of one huge prang and some smaller chedi and outbuildings, all in disrepair though the top of the prang is complete. Staircases to the side of the prang give views of Ayutthaya. Entry charge of 30 baht.
Phra Chedi Sisuriyothai
Phra Chedi Sisuriyothai (U-Thong Rd) is a white and gold coloured chedi built as a memorial to a previous queen. Set in a small, well-kept gardens. No entry charge.
Chedi at Wat Phu Khao Thong
Wat Phu Khao Thong (about 3km out of town, west off the Ang Thong Rd) is a huge white, and slightly wonky, chedi set in a big field. The actual nearby wat is still working and has small grounds with a smiling fat buddha image set in the ruins of a small viharn. You will see the Monument of King Naresuan the Great on the way. No entry charge.
Wat Cheung Tha (about 1km out of town, east off the Ang Thong Rd) is a small working wat with small grounds with chedi and viharn ruins and some buddha images. No entry charge.
Wat Nah Phra Meru (about 1km out of town, east from Wat Cheung Tha) has a large viharn containing the biggest bronze buddha image in Ayutthaya, cast dressed in full royal regalia. The viharn is set in well maintained grounds with buddha images, a small koi carp pond, and three ruined chedis, one of which has a large bodhi tree growing out of the top of it. No entry charge.
Wat Phanancherng (on the Bang Pa-in Rd, about 1.5km out of town) is a working wat which contains the oldest large cast bronze Buddha image in Ayutthaya, though it was covered in scaffold in June 2006 for refurbishment. There is a small room to the right of the main hall which contains a nice collection of Buddha images and the room is painted with many individual unique pictures, in bright colours offset with gold. Entry charge of 20 baht.
Wat Yai Chaimonkorn, Courtyard with Buddha Images
Wat Yai Chaimongkon (on the Bang Pa-in Rd, 1km east of Wat Phanancherng) is a large working wat, with ruins that appear on some of the well known photos of temples in Thailand. It features a large reclining Buddha in saffron robes in its own ruined wiharn, and, most spectacularly, a huge chedi swathed in golden cloth set in a courtyard which is lined by Buddha images all wearing saffron robes. Very photogenic. Entry charge of 20 baht.
Chao Sam Phraya Museum (Rojana Rd) is where you can find some of the Buddha heads that are so conspicuously missing at the sites themselves. Opened in 1961 and looks the part. Perhaps the most interesting displays are the golden regalia from Wat Ratchaburana, on the 2nd floor of Hall 1. Open Wed-Sun from 9 AM to 4 PM, entrance 30 baht.
Ayutthaya Historical Study Centre (Rojana Rd), across the road and to the east of the Chao Sam Phraya museum, is a more modern museum that tries to depict life in Ayutthaya with models. A good place to start or end your tour, but a little pricy (by Thai standards) at 100 baht.
Phra Ram Park (behind Wat Mahathat) is a large wooded area with paths and bridges over waterways leading the way past various statues, buddha images and buildings. No entry charge.
Khun Phaen Residence (Sri Sanphet Rd) is a renovated traditional teak house set in a good-sized park with water and various seating areas. The elephants doing the tourist circuit stop here for photos, with Wat Phra Ram in the background. No entry charge.
Monument of King Naresuan the Great (in front of Wat Phu Khao Thong), is a large bronze statue of King Naresuan on a horse. Situated on the entrance road to Wat Phu Khao Thong.
Siam Restaurant (Chee Kun Rd) serves unremarkable Traditional Thai and Vietnamese food, but makes up for it with an excellent location with views of Wat Mahathat as you eat, air conditioning, and possibly the best toilets in the city. Most mains 50-100 baht. Call +66 35 211070 and Fax. +66 35 245654.
Boat noodle In front of telephone authority building. Original boat noodle was cooked on a boat. It's noodles and soup with meat and vegetables. They are served in a little bowl and most people would eat more than one to relieve their hunger. Expect to pay about 10 Baht per bowl.
Vegetarian Restaurant,Khlong Makham Rieng Rd (50 metres south from the junction with Naresuan Rd), is one of the usual Thai rahn a-hahn jair. With 8 different meals available and side orders of gluten and gluten. Daily early-2PM. 15-25B.
The usual excellent night market fare is also available, ask your guesthouse for the most recent night market locations. At the same time, you may wish to ask some advice on what to order if you don't speak any Thai.
The main traveller oriented area is Soi Torgorsor, between Pamaphrao Road and Naresuan Road opposite the western end of Chao Phrom Market. It has a number of bars staying open until late, some with projection screens for sports.
There are a large number of traveller-oriented guesthouses on an Soi Torgorsor between Pamaphrao Road and Naresuan Road, opposite the western end of the Chao Phrom Market. Accommodation in the upper price brackets is limited though, and many people choose to day-trip from Bangkok.
Ayutthaya Guest House - a friendly place offering aircon rooms with TV for 400 baht, and fan-only with TV for 300 baht, all en-suite. With internet access and a 'order what you like' restaurant. The three 300 baht rooms along the side alley have air vents open to a public restaurant next-door. For budget travellers, they offer in a nearby building some rooms for 100 baht each, neat, friendly doubles with fan.
Other guest houses:
Thong Chai Guest House - on a road directly opposite Wat Ratchaburana and a little away from the main action, but closer to the sights. Offering fan-only rooms at 200 a night with private bathrooms, this is a more Thai-oriented guest house.
P-U Guest House - despite its name, the place provides very clean rooms for a decent rate (~300 Baht for twin with fan and private bath, some knowledge of Thai may net you a small discount). It's hidden off Soi Torgorsor, keep walking north until you see the P-U sign on the left, it's at the end of the small lane.
Ayutthaya has a lot of hungry stray dogs in poor condition. They can particularly be a problem in the off-season when there aren't so many people in the streets. While largely docile and harmless, to avoid being chased around by a pack of them it is best not to walk around alone, particularly at night. For those accustomed to travel in developing areas, there should be no problem.