PIT STOP: Ayutthaya — why it’s worth a visit
Forget about Shakespeare and all his “to be or not to be” questions. The only question I was really struggling with when planning this day trip was: do I choose Ayutthaya or Sukhothai? Picking between these two ancient cities was a lot harder than I had anticipated. It required more hours of digging into the depths of the world wide web than I'm willing to admit to. Did I mention I’m a trip planning ninja that will leave no research stone unturned? Anyways, I went a little Ayutthaya versus Sukhothai crazy, BUT in the end I know I made the best decision for my trip. (Says the girl who only had time to do one of the two and is still a little bit salty about it over a year later lol)
Ayutthaya & Sukhothai: Same same, but different…
At first glance, the two cities seem to have a lot in common.
former Thai capitals; Sukhothai being the big sister of the two
home to several impressive ruins that Google images could never do justice
historical parks that offer bike rentals to get from one site to another
considered UNESCO World Heritage Sites
I’ll be honest, I really wanted to go to Sukhothai. It seemed to be a lot quieter (likely due to the fact that it’s quite a trek from Bangkok), the ruins are typically in better shape given that the park is further away from the city and all that noise/air pollution, and the buddha images look so much bigger and more varied than Ayutthaya. Also, the green spaces and lakes surrounding some of the ruins were almost enough to convince me because, quite frankly, me and green spaces just go together.
And the verdict is…
However, the thing about travelling on budgeted time is that you have to play smart and well, budget your time. If I were back in my early teens backpacking and frolicking through Asia (which is really hard to imagine given my West Indian mother’s refusal to grasp concepts like backpacking, solo travel, couch-surfing, hiking, hostels…to name just a few), having to choose between the two would have been a non-factor. My reality was that I had 19 days in Thailand and a pretty packed itinerary, so I couldn’t risk being tempted by picturesque landscapes and big buddhas. I had to make the most practical (sigh) decision given the time I had and the other places I wanted to see, so Ayutthaya ended up being the winner.
Now, do not take me wrong. Despite my heart being with Sukhothai and my brain with Ayutthaya, it didn’t take long before I was saying: Sukhothai who??!
Have you seen the famous picture of the Buddha head wrapped in tree roots? Yea, well that’s in Ayutthaya. The place is breathtaking. Hot. So so hot. But breathtaking nonetheless.
Bangkok to Ayutthaya: How I got there
I really wanted to take the train, it being the scenic and most economic option. But, alas, I slept in after a night of impromptu partying in Bangkok and missed the train. So I ended up getting there by car with a tour company located inside Hualamphong station, which turned out to be the best of a worse case scenario. The sights I wanted to see were a bit far apart and being able to drive to each one saved me time and possible heat stroke. (Did I mention how hot it was already??) The ride there was a little over an hour, which is major thing working in Ayutthaya’s favor; you really have no excuse for not visiting the place.
Six Hours in Ayutthaya
I ended up visiting 3 ruins (Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, Wat Phra Si Sanphet and Wat Mahathat) before giving in and making the executive decision that my rumbling belly should not be ignored any longer. My driver was a Thai native and very familiar with the area, so when he asked me where I wanted to go eat I made the wisest decision and let him decide. I’m still not sure if it was because it was only Day 3 and I was still easing myself into traditional Thai food, but this 👏🏾 meal 👏🏾 right 👏🏾 here 👏🏾…I still think about it. The only picture I ended up snapping was of the seafood entrée. Distracting from the food to get a picture didn’t even dawn on me until it was done. I can’t even tell you where he took me. It looked a lot like the backyard of someone's home, which I came to recognize as a regular occurrence in Thailand; people create make shift eateries just about anywhere.
What I can tell you is this:
when you’re in a foreign country and someone you trust enough asks you where you want to go eat, just shut up and let them take you someplace instead.
Once refuelled, we hit up the last ruin, Wat Chaiwatthanaram which, in hindsight, I wish I’d gone to a bit earlier to have had more time to explore and take pictures as the sun was setting. It ended up being my favourite ruin of the day. There’s so much to see and a bonus was when they lit up the site after sunset which just sealed the deal for me.
Make time for either Sukhothai or Ayutthaya (or both if you can!) and make sure your camera and backup camera is fully charged. If you’re running short on time and in Bangkok, Ayutthaya is the smartest choice and 100% worth the visit. Check the weather before going and dress appropriately making sure to respect the dress code (no exposed shoulders, no pants/skirts above the knee, ect). These are sacred sites and the same restrictions that apply to active temples apply here. If you plan on biking around the sites, I’d recommend heading there early and with water to rehydrate because some of them are further apart. Not getting to do that is still one of my biggest regrets from that trip. Lastly, take your time and don’t rush yourself through the sites even though it can be tempting given how many there are to see. Being the Type-A personality I am, I of course had a list of the ruins I wanted to see most on hand and ready to go. All in all, Ayutthaya was an incredible day trip filled with so much history and I left there feeling extremely grateful for the experience.
Stay kind & stay curious,