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Ayutthaya is the capital of the second kingdom of Siamese from 14th to the 18th century, and it’s only an hour or so north of Bangkok. It was abandoned after the Burmese burned the city in the late 18th century, despite the invaders being driven up by the rallied forces after. While some of the temples and royal buildings are badly damaged, there are still plenty to see. If you are pressed for time, a day trip from Bangkok is totally doable. In fact, we went on the best tour with highlights of Ayutthaya’s three temples, amazing Thai food at a local shrimp farm and a visit to local neighborhood temples and market with Mai!
Note: this trip was hosted by Thailand Tourism Board and Take Me Tour Thailand but all opinions are my own
Bangkok to Ayutthaya
The drive from Bangkok to Ayutthaya is about 1.5 hours, which is shorter if not the same as the drive to the floating and railway market! Since we booked a private tour, we were picked up at our hotel by the lovely Mai and her husband.
Choosing an Ayutthaya day tour
While it is perfectly doable to DIY the trip, we wanted to make the best use of our time and experience the local culture, too. Take Me Tour has been a great platform for finding locals who offer unique trips in Thailand, through them I was able to visit some off the beaten path spots in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. This time, we decided on a tour that includes private transfer to and from Bangkok, with visits to Ayutthaya temples and a local shrimp farm for a home cooked meal!
Our lovely host Mai picked us up on time at our hotel lobby at 8am and since the traffic out of Bangkok wasn’t so bad, we went on our way smoothly. The car was spacious and Mai even provided us with neck pillows, so we could catch a quick nap since we were tired from arriving yesterday.
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon
We arrived at our first temple of the day around 9:30. Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon was built in mid 14th century by King U-Thorn, the first king of Ayutthaya Kingdom, as a monastery. Many visit the Ubosatha Hall to pay respect to the Buddha image there. The hall was used for important religious ceremonies for the Sangha (brotherhood of the monks). The chedi wasn’t added until 1592.
There is also a wishing well inside the Chedi and we were allowed to walk around the level to see the surrounding view.
For the classic viewpoint of the temple, go to the back of the temple where there is a white Buddha statue. The rows of Buddha surrounding the Chedi are also popular photo spot.
We then walked to the front where there is a statue of reclining Buddha. There are many people who are offering incense and lotus flowers there, and Mai told us that the numbers of incenses offered has different meanings: 3 for self, 5 and 7 for parents and 9 for gods.
Entrance fee: 20 baht
Wat Phanan Choeng
The next temple on the list, Wat Phanan Choeng is also known as the temple of the seated Buddha. It was built even before the founding of the Ayutthaya Kingdom and had survived being burned by the Burmese who had spared it as a gesture of goodwill.
While it doesn’t have a stunning exterior, there are several halls inside with the main one housing the seated Buddha. The temple is popular among Chinese tourists as it was visited by Zheng He in 1407 during one of his expeditions. The temple is also made of teak wood, with several other halls and Buddha statues dotted around. One of these rooms has beautiful wall painting.
Entrance free: none
Quick snack break
Before we head to the last temple in Ayutthaya, Mai took us to a local snack shop by the side of the street to sample some! It’s definitely a timely break as I was feeling peckish after the early breakfast and being out and about.
There are two employees making the roti by the shop front, rolling it out on the flat slab, which is one part of the equation. The other part is dragon’s beard candy, which are string like sugar and we also observed it being made at the back of the shop. To eat it, you put the candy in the middle of the roti and roll it up! It’s a great texture contrast.
Right by the Roti Saimai shop, there’s a street food stand selling Kanomboung. It is kind of a tiny, crispy thai taco with fillings. Commonly, it’s either coconut and shrimp paste or egg yolk with sugar. Personally, I prefer the former as it has a salty, spicy taste.
Its architecture style is reminiscent of Angkor in Cambodia and My Son in Vietnam, and it suffered significant damage from the fire during the Burmese War.
Another notable tidbit related to the Buddha’s head is that the Burmese had cut off many statues’ head. The reason is that the heads are usually made of gold(at least in part), which they took to finance the building of their pagodas. The bodies of the statues that had been cut are left in piles by the temple’s side.
The grounds of the temple is big, and you can see a reconstruction of what it used to be like by the bathrooms.
Please note that you shouldn’t climb onto the ruin, or take photos standing with the Buddha’s head
We ended up getting a watermelon juice (40 baht but included) to cool ourselves down as it was getting towards midday and extremely hot.
Entrance fee: 50 baht, 10 baht for bathroom
Shrimp farm visit and lunch
Mai’s husband family owns a shrimp farm in the Suphan Buri region about an hour from Ayutthaya. We went over after our visit to Wat Mahathat, sipping our watermelon juice and finishing the little thai tacos.
Despite being a fair distance from the sea, there are many shrimp farms in the area. We said hi to Mai’s husband’s family on arrival and was shown the shrimp farm at the back. Mai explained that each individual pond holds about one ton of shrimps, and they have two types in there.
They had installed a self-made system to pump oxygen into the pond due to the high heat, and red strings are hung above to stop birds from swooping down to pick at the shrimps!
After the tour, Mai started cooking a feast for us for lunch. They had planted numerous herbs around, and we followed as Mai picked lemongrass, lemons etc from the grounds. She whipped up a dish of fried mushroom, bought in the market on our way here, to snack on first. Here are the delicious dishes we had:
- Fried fish with garlic and black pepper
- Tom Yam Gon – Mai had especially added less chilli for me
- Coconut fish soup
- Fried shrimp with garlic and black pepper
- Cooked lemongrass
- Grass jelly dessert
Lotus farm visit
Mai surprised us by getting her uncle in law to take us out to their lotus farm! We hopped on a small boat which was very close to the water, but I decided to risk it and bought my phone and camera on. We were fine and I got some pretty good shots!
Local temples and market in Suphan Buri
After we finished the lotus farm tour, it was time for the last part of our trip. We visited a Big Buddha temple first. It was already after 5, so the temple was closed for visitors, but we were able to see it from the main road outside. Mai told us that it was built 70 years ago!
While we were supposed to go straight to the market, I couldn’t resist asking Mai to stop by the Wat Pairongwua with the sunset right behind it. Then we also decided to run over to see the Buddhist cemetery across the road, which is definitely the first time I’ve seen Buddha statues in lieu of headstones.
Last but not least, we went to the local market. The people there are all friendly and curious to our presence, and Mai bought us some milk tea and snacks to prepare for our two-hour drive back to Bangkok.
We ended up arriving back at 8pm due to a traffic jam – as it was the King’s birthday and a public holiday the next day. But overall, we had a great time that day and couldn’t recommend the trip more!