Temples in Ayutthaya: Cycling Around Thailand’s Best Ancient Ruins
This post was originally published in May 2016 and updated in January 2019
March is the beginning of the hot season in Thailand. I’m sure you’re thinking that it’s pretty much always hot in Thailand, and you’re right, but at this time of year the scales often threaten to tip 40 degrees. It was in these conditions that we decided to cycle to temples in Ayutthaya, a former capital of Thailand that reached its peak between the 13th and 17th centuries. The Ayutthaya temple ruins are scattered throughout a still thriving city and a bicycle is the perfect way to see them. Here’s a quick look at the some of the best historic Ayutthaya temples.
Wat Phra Mahathat
We started off our cycling adventure early in order to beat both the crowds and the heat. Our first stop was at this iconic set of ruins, which are most well known for the Buddha head entangled in the roots of a tree. Why is it there? No one really knows, but it’s a pretty striking image. The rest of Wat Phra Mahathat is worth a look as well — there are plenty of prangs (towers) and Buddhas (most of which were decapitated by the invading Burmese) to explore. Make sure you get there early — it was almost deserted when we arrived at about 8.15 am (it opens at 8 am) but it fills up with tour groups later in the day.
This massive chedi (stupa) was in the process of being restored, which kept most of the crowds away. It was still worth the 50 Baht entrance fee though, especially to see some of intricate (and obviously heavily restored) carvings near the top. There are some other ruins scattered around this site and we had it all to ourselves — definitely check it out even if it is still covered in scaffolding.
READ MORE: Check out my post about the ruins (and monkeys) in nearby Lopburi
Cycling between the temples in Ayutthaya was turning out to be easier than we expected. After a short ride we reached Wat Thammikarat, a still functioning temple featuring about 20 donation boxes, each with a sign imploring you to part with some cash (there is no entrance fee). The main feature here is the small chedi surrounded by lions in various states of disrepair. There is also a temple covered in cocks — apparently a former king was a big fan of cock fighting.
Wat Phra Ram
We cycled around this small complex for a few minutes looking for an open gate and a ticket counter. We didn’t find one, so we eventually called out to a guy who was sitting under the shade of a tree next to the temple. “50 baht”, he replied. “Ok, where is the gate…?” I asked. He pointed to the small wall which we’d have to climb over if we wanted to enter. I guess the temple was closed and this guy was the “guard” who was trying to make some extra cash. It worked out pretty well as we had the whole site to ourselves. The main tower is impressive and you can even climb most of the way to the top.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet
Wat Phra Si Sanphet was the busiest set of Ayutthaya temples that we visited. We were there at around 11 am which is a popular time for tour groups, and it is also one of the most famous sites in town. The stars of the show are the three white / grey chedis lined up in a row. There is also a seated bronze Buddha statue in a nearby temple (Vihara Phra Mongkhon Bophit) which is worth checking out.
This weathered looking reclining Buddha was worth cycling in the increasingly intense sun for — it’s probably the best of the Buddhas in Ayutthaya. There are also lots of other small ruins nearby including one which looks like a pyramid. If you’re cycling around the ruins in Ayutthaya you’ll probably be getting hungry at this point. There are a few restaurants nearby or you could push on and get some good old 7/11 on the way to the next site.
Wat Phu Khao Thong
Most of the temples in Ayutthaya are located on an island surrounded by three rivers. There are a few off the island that are worth checking out, including Wat Phu Khao Thong. It’s only a couple of kilometres outside of town and again it was really quiet. There was one other guy there — it makes such a big difference when sites like this aren’t crowded with hundreds of people. It’s also the biggest single ancient structure that we saw in Ayutthaya; it’s worth the extra effort to reach it.
If you’re thinking of cycling around the temples in Ayutthaya make sure you listen to this piece of advice: watch the sunset at Wat Chaiwattanaram. It’s the best way to end the day and the silhouettes of the temples and Buddha statues make for some great sunset photos. We actually cycled back to our hotel after visiting Wat Phu Khao Thong and rested for a few hours before taking a tuk tuk to Wat Chaiwattanaram. We paid 70 Baht to get there from Ayutthaya’s tourist area and 100 Baht to get back after sunset. We arrived at the complex, possibly the most impressive (and most complete) of all the ruins in Ayutthaya, at around 5 pm and the light was perfect. A decent sized crowd gathers here for sunset each day but it’s not overwhelming.
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon
We visited this temple the next day as the afternoon heat made us a bit lazy. You could easily fit it in if you only have one day though. It’s a little way out of town but it is worth visiting. The giant temple is surrounded by hundreds of Buddha statues and there is also a large reclining Buddha.
READ MORE: Check this out if you’re interested in learning about the Ayutthaya Kingdom
Cycling to the temples in Ayutthaya FAQs
- Is it hard? Not really. The distances between the ruins are quite short and even though the temperatures are scorching you still get a bit of a breeze while cycling. It becomes a bit harder when you cycle to a few of the off-island ruins. If you can afford it, I’d recommend dropping your bike off and taking a tuk tuk to Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon and then to Wat Chaiwattanaram for sunset. All up that should cost you around 200 Baht (including the return journey to your hotel). There’s no need to hire a driver for a couple of hours to do that — it’s probably cheaper to just flag down tuk tuks when you need them.
- How much does it cost? A bicycle will set you back 40-50 Baht and most of the temples are either free or cost 50 Baht. We ended up paying 250 Baht for entrance tickets to 5 of the sites (Wat Phra Mahathat, Wat Ratchaburana, Wat Phra Ram, Wat Phra Si Sanphet and Wat Chaiwattanaram). There are lots of other minor ruins scattered around town that you can visit for free.
- Should I do a day trip to Ayutthaya? You could, and if you’re pressed for time it’s not a bad option, but spending a night or two in Ayutthaya allows you to beat the crowds in the morning and see the ruins in a more relaxed fashion. We took a train from Bangkok for 15 Baht each (not a typo) and it took 2 hours. We then took a tuk tuk to the tourist area for 60 Baht and found a decent double room for 300 Baht. It’s an affordable town and a nice place to spend a few days.
Cycling around the temples in Ayutthaya is one of the best things you can do as a tourist in Thailand — just grab a bike and a map and go explore.
Have you been to the ruins in Ayutthaya? Would you ride a bike in close to 40° heat? Let me know in the comments below!