Many people like to do fast day trips to Ayutthaya. It’s a two hour train ride from downtown Bangkok and only costs about 40 cents USD to get there. However, I really don’t understand these short trips because there is just so much to see and do there! Lindsay and I spent a week exploring the ancient city and we each agree this wasn’t nearly enough time. Everyone is different though. We like to get there fast, then take it slow. We feel cities become more interesting once you begin to familiarize yourself and understand their layout. This takes a bit of wandering though.
The ancient city of Ayutthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage site famous for its magnificent temples. Most of the day visitors only get to see a few of the many amazing ruins. Usually their guide service only has time to take them to the Wats Phra Mahthat, Phra Sanphet, Panan Choeng, and Chaiwattanaram. These are each very beautiful, but we prefer to get away from the crowds and focus on the path less traveled. Plus each one of these aforementioned temples will set you back 50-100 baht each. For a couple traveling that can add up. It’s certainly not a bad price by American standards. We paid and saw them all, but we generally weren’t impressed. For less than half that price you could rent a motorbike and see some much more impressive places. Here is a short list of some free temples you can visit while exploring Ayutthaya.
1.) Wat Lokayasutharam (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)
These ruins are easily accessible on the west side of town. There aren’t any buildings as they were destroyed in 1767 when Burma invaded Ayutthaya. So bring your sunscreen! Despite the crumbled walls, it’s still a great stop. Not far from the main road is a 37 meter reclining Buddha. This is one of the largest open-air statues of Buddha during his last illness. It’s pretty rare for these to be outside of a wat and it’s not uncommon to see him covered in a large marigold robe when visiting. When we visited he did not have a robe, but it was still quite the site to behold. Plus it was free!
2.) Wat Thammikarat
We actually stumbled upon this temple while out riding bicycles. It doesn’t get a lot of visitors and I don’t understand why. It’s quite amazing if just for the ridiculous amount of rooster statues serving as tribute to King Naresuan. Legend has it that after Burma invaded Ayutthaya this king made a bet that if his rooster won a royal cockfight, then Ayutthaya would be free and independent of Burmese rule. His rooster won and he is celebrated to this day by locals who place a wide variety of rooster statues here. It’s also the place where Lindsay and I were blessed by an old monk and given protective bracelets. Months later we are still wearing them. Maybe they’re magical. Maybe it’s just superstition.
3.) Wiharn Phra Mongkhon Bophit
This temple is an active place of worship and many people come here daily to pay their respects to the massive 17 meter statue of Buddha. Originally built in the 1500s, it has since been restored and plated with gold leaf. It’s quite the sight and once served as the cremation grounds for the royal family. Today it’s a great place to see Thai Buddhism in action. Throughout the day there is a steady stream of people who come to offer donations of flowers, incense, and candles to the statue. If you feel like exploring some ancient ruins, then Wat Phra Si Sanphet is adjacent to the compound. It costs 50-100 baht and we didn’t find it near as interesting.
You can also find a steady stream of elephants to ride here. I would suggest against this. Riding or having your picture taken with endangered species only promotes their abuse and domestication.. Please don’t ride the elephants!! If you really want to get close to one there are many rehabilitation programs in Thailand to get involved in. You can even go on treks to visit them in their natural environment.
4.) Wat Cherng Tha
Assuming you rented a motorbike then this is a great place to visit. It’s actually outside the island of Ayutthaya on the northern side of the Lopburi River. Most maps don’t even list it since it is an active monastery. We were the only visitors here and were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by the chanting monks living on the grounds. It’s very peaceful and a person could get a lot of meditating done along the serene river. There is also a small museum here exhibiting old ceramics, terracotta craftware, and even a Buddha footprint. Not much is truly known about its origins, but legend claims it was built by a wealthy man when his daughter fell in love with a foreigner. She eloped against her father’s wishes and the main structure was built as a bridal house in hopes that she would return and be forgiven. However, she never returned and her father ordered it to be converted into a beautiful temple complex.
5.) Wat Yai Chaimongkhon
Of all the temples we visited this one was our absolute favorite. It’s also absolutely free! The only downside is it is located outside of town. If you don’t mind taking a taxi or driving your motorbike, then it’s certainly one to see. You won’t have the place to yourself as it’s an important worshiping grounds for the local Thai community and many monks live on site. However, it is extraordinarily well kept, and it’s also one of the only wats to have clean restrooms without charge. It was originally built to house a collection of important relics and riches such as an insanely large ruby of extreme value. In order to protect these treasures many faithful guards were asked by the king to give their lives to serve here forever. It is believed that if a loyal guard offers his life voluntarily then he will become an eternal monster capable of guarding the temple from thievery. Today you can climb the long steps to go inside and see the deep pit where these warriors were buried.
There is also a large park surrounding Wat Yai Chaimongkhon. You can easily spend a full afternoon here picnicking and exploring the surrounding outdoors. It’s also very interesting for the large turtle sanctuary nearby. What was once a moat protecting the valued treasures, is now a breeding grounds for thousands of turtles. There are usually a few locals situated around the waters that will sell simple cheap foods to feed the turtles. We had loads of fun just sitting by the banks watching the slow reptiles snack on the corn puffs we gave them. They can be easy to miss, so if you go be sure to stop by the water and have a look. You won’t be disappointed.
Overall Ayutthaya is an amazing town. You can’t go wrong no matter what you decide to do. But if you want to save some cash and keep traveling for an extended period of time, then I suggest checking out these free temples. They’re also some of the best ones in town!! — If you’ve stumbled across any other gems of Ayutthaya please leave a comment below. We all like to save money. It helps keep us wandering!!