The only way to see Ayutthaya

Renting a bicycle provides a leisurely way to explore the ancient capital

The historical park of Ayutthaya, packed with its cultural treasure, is worthwhile to visit. Slowly roaming the park by bicycle seems to be the most relaxing way to explore the old capital.

It seems that all visitors in Ayutthaya are enjoying a lazy Sunday in this old capital. Sunday morning in Ayutthaya Historical Park is quite easy to get around. Under soft sunshine, I find myself among the refreshing greenery of the park. The traffic is very light and ample parking is available to everyone.

Established in 1350, Ayutthaya was the second capital of the Siamese Kingdom. It flourished from the 14th to 18th centuries, until it was attacked by the Burmese army who burnt the city to the ground and forced the inhabitants to abandon the city. Today, the archaeological ruins in Ayutthaya Historical Park are a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Late morning, more visitors are coming to the park. Peaceful lanes turn chaotic as cars exceed the available parking space. Some cars begin parking on the road as elephant tours start sharing the road as well. I think I will lose my opportunity to park my car again if I drive around. Walking isn't feasible in such an expansive area.

Instead, I drive to the nearest bike shop and load my pickup truck with rental bikes before heading to the TAT office -- which offers plenty of parking for visitors -- then purchase a map and some advice for my new plan.

Riding a bicycle is not bad even though it is a bit hot on a sunny day. This mode of transportation makes it easier to get around and explore the ancient city.

A tourist is making biking trip in the Ayutthaya Historical Park, next to an elephant, which is a popular ride among visitors. Peerawat Jariyasombat

Exploring the historical park now becomes a slower-paced, efficient adventure. I can get around and never worry about parking.

At first, I head north to pay homage to the massive restored temple ruin of Wat Lokaya Sutha. The highlight of this temple is its enormous reclining Buddha image, which is 42m in length and 8m high.

I proceed a bit further north to Wat Phra Ngam, which is situated north of the park. This temple is unique with a wall covered with roots of Banyan tree. The neglected temple houses a pagoda with octagonal-base, which was popular during the early Ayutthaya period.

Head south and get back to the elephant kraal and big green area of Bung Phra Ram Public Park, a swamp in front of Wat Phra Ram. The swamp was formerly called Nong Sano. When the city of Ayutthaya was established, soil under the swamp was dug out to raise the foundation grade of the temple. King Ramesuan ordered the construction of the temple in 1369 at his father's cremation site, so the temple was named after the king.

Going further a bit, I find myself in the middle of the historical park at Wat Maha That.

Wat Maha That was one of the most important monasteries of the Ayutthaya kingdom, not only because it was the religious centre and enshrined relics of the Buddha, but also because of its proximity to the Grand Palace. It served as a royal monastery and the seat of the Supreme Patriarch during the Ayutthaya period.

A short ride away is the bell-shaped pagodas of Wat Phra Si Sanphet, which have practically become a symbol of Ayutthaya.

Built in 1448, Wat Phra Si Sanphet is one of the grandest temples in the ancient capital, and is one of the best preserved in the historical park. It was built as a royal palace before being transformed into a royal temple. The temple took its name from the large standing Buddha image erected there in 1503. The image stood 16 meters tall and was covered with more than 150kgs of gold.

Unfortunately, the Buddha was smashed to pieces and the gold melted down when the Burmese sacked the city.

The three large pagodas were built to contain the ashes of King Boromatrailokanat, who built the temple, and his two sons. The pagodas are considered typical of the Ayutthaya style.

By bicycle, I can access the entrances of the historical sites and get privileged parking at designated bike parking lots at the ticket booth.

The park is comprised of 67 temples and ruins. The park may be too big to explore by bicycle, but it is easy to explore highlighted parts.

TRAVEL INFO

Ayutthaya is 76km north of Bangkok via highway 32 and 309.

From dawn until dusk, there are more than 15 trains leaving Bangkok for Ayutthaya. Call 1690.

There are a number of guest houses offering bicycles for rent starting at about 40 baht per day. Motorcycles can make the trip faster without any problem to find parking. Call the Tourism Authority of Thailand's Ayutthaya Office at 035-246-076/7.

A wooden house over 100 years old is found along a narrow lane in Ayutthaya. Peerawat Jariyasombat

Wat Phra Ngam and the gateway covered by the roots of a banyan tree. Peerawat Jariyasombat

Wat Phra Ngam and the gateway covered by the roots of a banyan tree. Peerawat Jariyasombat

Wat Phra Si Sanphet and its three pagodas. Photo courtesy of TAT Ayutthaya

About the author

columnist
Writer: Peerawat Jariyasombat
Position: Travel Reporter