Any trip to Bangkok should include two things: 1) Navigating around the city of Bangkok (easier when equipped with “The Ultimate Bangkok Transportation Guide”) and 2) Getting out of the city of Bangkok. One excellent day trip from Bangkok is the “Ayutthaya & Bang Pa-In (Summer Palace) Day Tour”.
Things to know prior to your trip to Ayutthaya
When we were researching this trip, we ran across many different posts that said that it was HOT in Ayutthaya. So, we planned ahead and looked for a potentially cooler day to go, and made sure that Ayutthaya was the first stop on the tour, and not the Summer Palace (as people noted that there were Air Conditioned spots at the Summer Palace, but not at Ayutthaya). Thus, we did this trip the CORRECT way - whereas the people who wrote the other posts did it backwards and didn’t pay attention to the weather. That being said, when we went it was UNBEARABLY HOT!!! Our favorite locations were the van/shuttle that brought us out there and the two air-conditioned shops at the Summer Palace. Generally speaking, we usually share a 1.5 liter bottle of water between the two of us on a day trip, and maybe get an extra 12-20 oz beverage with lunch. On this particular day, we drank 1.5 liters of water EACH, and then each had a 20 oz Fanta - plus another 500 ml of water bottle to share. After all of that, we were still THIRSTY!
Here is why that is the case - why it happened to us even though we planned it out - there are large bodies of water at both locations. And while it is hot and humid in Thailand in general, it was SUPER humid with a stale, festering heat (i.e. almost no breeze) in Ayutthaya. You are simply not going to beat the heat at Ayutthaya, so - plan ahead, like we did… or plan ahead differently. We recommend bringing a portable air conditioner, but if you don’t have that, make sure you wear plenty of breathable clothes (this is difficult because you require very “decent” clothes for the Summer Palace - so bring that in a bag but don’t wear it to Ayutthaya!). Additionally, bring plenty of water OR buy some cold water bottles at every stop (even if you don’t think you are thirsty - drink it). Which reminds me, I had to help carry a woman out of one of the Wats simply because she passed out due to dehydration. THIS IS NOT A JOKE - PLEASE PREPARE FOR THIS!
We recommend bringing a hat, umbrella (to block the sun & provide shade - not for rain), a portable air-conditioner or travel sized electric fan, and sunscreen! Whatever you do, don’t plan this trip the day after you’ve been out drinking. If anything, you should hydrate extra the night before this trip. Imagine walking around in a room sized tanning bed that is also a sauna at the same time. That’s what it will be like.
Some movies that were filmed in Ayutthaya that you should consider watching prior to your visit.
Alternatively, you could check out Fodor's Thailand book, which has a section on The Ruins of Ayutthaya, to learn about the historical site before you arrive. We also share some great information in this post.
The Ayutthaya & Bang Pa-In (Summer Palace) Day Tour from Bangkok, Thailand
One of the most recommended day trips to take is the “Ayutthaya & Bang Pa-In (Summer Palace) Tour”. We opted to try this out after spending a full month in Bangkok (and working on our blog while taking care of our baby) - so, it took us a while longer to get around to it - but we drove through some really amazing areas of Thailand and learned a lot of history about Siam (Thailand) in the process. After all, it isn’t called “Ayutthaya Historical Park” for nothing.
When you book this tour, you will likely be picked up at your hotel (or a nearby hotel that was selected) by a white van/shuttle and driven to the meetup point on Khao San Road. There you will be distributed into your groups and you will board another van/shuttle. The drive to Ayutthaya is 90 minutes long and our driver stopped about 30-40 minutes into our trip at 7-11/gas-station with a restroom, a Cafe Amazon, and a few other shops. We were given 10 minutes, but I think it ended up actually being about 15 minutes.
The first stop that we made was at Wat Phukhao Thong, which is located about 4 km away from Ayutthaya Historical Park. Including the history given by the tour guide, we were at this location for approximately 45-60 minutes. This Wat was originally built in 1387 and then altered when it was taken over by Burma in 1569 to include a large Chedi in the Mon style. This Chedi was again altered in 1587 during the reign of King Boromakot to become more of a the Thai style, with a square shape and indented corners. It is a very tall and mostly white Wat. Additionally, there was an area with a number of Buddah statues as well as a fairly interesting Ordination Hall, 4 Chedi rai, and a shrine of Buddha (Viham) at this location. While we began to feel the heat at this location, it was still a bit early so it was still bearable.
The second stop was at the Reclining Buddah Sai Yat, located next to Wat Lokayasutharam. Including the history given by the tour guide, we were here roughly 45 minutes. It was here that the heat became intense. Additionally, the reclining Buddah statue itself is really the only thing here worth seeing. It measures 42 meters in length and 8 meters tall (137.8 feet long and 26.25 feet tall) and is facing westward with the head to the north and feet to the south. When we were there the statue had no covering, which is usual as of late despite reports that it is usually wrapped in brightly colored orange cloth (much like the monks you see walking around Thailand).
When the Burmese invaded Ayutthaya, the capital of Thailand in 1767, they completely destroyed the royal palace that was located behind the reclining Buddha, but they left the statue in tact. A single prang (tower) survived the destruction as well. There are other Wats in the area around here, but tours usually don’t stick around here long enough for you to go check them out. Even if they did, you would probably decide to seek shelter in the shade near the row of local shops instead as the heat got so bad that we opted to return to the shuttle bus 15 minutes early to help keep our 2 month old son cool (and because we needed it too!)
The third stop was at Wat Maha That (a.k.a. “Wat Mahathat”) - the highlight of this tour! Here, we had a 15 minute history lesson from the tour guide and then were given another 60 minutes to explore the compound. From what we were told, it was an important venue for royal ceremonies and celebrations.
It is also where a woman collapsed on some stairs on the right side of the main Buddha statue, and one man called for assistance to hold her up - to which I responded (because Jenny informed me of the situation and nobody else was responding). Once I had her right arm secured around the back of my neck, the other gentleman and I picked her up. Then, two other good Samaritans rushed in and picked up her legs. We carried her over to where a security guard had a chair in the shade and further assistance could be made. The heat was real at this point, and it wasn’t just her that was feeling it. Many people were paying extra to go inside the air conditioned restroom (and completely dodging the free one just next to it), just to cool down. Yes, I’m serious - take heed!
However, Wat Maha That was still our favorite stop. Not only is it one of the oldest and most significant temples in Thailand, having been constructed in 1374 by King Boromma Rachathirat I, but it also has 11 vihara - including ubosot - and 200 chedi. This was likely because it was also the residence of the Supreme Patriarch, the leader of the Thai Buddhist monks. The central prang, having collapsed twice - once during the Burmese invasion in 1767 and again in 1911 - is located in the center of the compound and is surrounded by four smaller prangs at the corners of the platform - with a design of the ancient Khmer mountain temples of Angkor in Cambodia. These five prangs are then surrounded by a courtyard with a number of worn down statues of Buddha lining the sides - which were once covered with a wooden roof. It is quite an amazing place to see, and thus reminded us of Pompeii, in Italy, as a remarkable historical city but in a very different part of the world.
Additionally, it is the home of the famous Buddha face that is entangled in tree roots. So, Wat Mahathat is a very picturesque location and, if you can handle the heat, you may end up with a great number of photographs here. Sadly, with the baby (and ourselves) being so overheated, we returned to the vehicle after just about 40 minutes (even with a bathroom break to the air conditioned restroom for 10 baht).
Next, we stopped for lunch at an outdoorsy market-type restaurant that is in a strip of buildings just south of Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit, next to some more water. Seriously, the fans inside the restaurant didn’t help. I think we were melting at this point. The meal, however, was pretty good. There was plenty of authentic Thai food (none of the spicy kind though). Sadly, as it was so hot we definitely needed some beverages and they weren’t included in the price. I bought a 20 oz Fanta for each of us plus a 1.5 liter bottle of water here for 90 baht (30 each) and it was necessary!
After eating lunch, we walked around the corner and straight past Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit to arrive at Wat Phra Si Sanphet, which was another amazing stop. This was the largest and most significant temple in Ayutthaya since it was used as the royal temple and palace for several Ayutthaya Kings (no monk is allowed to reside here). It also served as a model for the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok and the symbol of Ayutthaya province.
The most distinguishing features here are the three large bell shaped chedis standing on an elevated platform, which is believed to have been the base of royal houses. The platform is surrounded by a walled and roofed gallery lined with Buddha images. The core of each stupa contains the ashes of Ayutthaya Kings.
East of this stands the principal viharn, Viharn Phra Si Sanphet, a massive Royal assembly hall that measures 50 meters long and - at one point - included a 16 meter tall gilded Phra Si Sanphet Buddha (standing Buddha), which was coated with between 143-340 kilograms of gold, which was cast during the reign of Ramathibodi II. Today only the foundation and lower sections of its walls remain - as well as the alter at the back of the hall upon which the standing Buddha once stood.
This temple was also mostly destroyed by the Burmese in 1767, except for the three massive stupas. The Burmese also melted the gold coating from the statue of Phra Sri Sanphet, leaving the bronze core badly damaged. It was later taken to Bangkok where it was restored and enshrined at Wat Pho.
After a 10-15 minute history lesson of this location, we were given an entire hour to look around and take photos of this location and Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit - which we walked past just after lunch - to see a giant golden Buddah. Sadly, it was so hot that Jenny had to stay in the shade with the baby because it just didn’t make sense for her to walk around with him any more (our poor baby was perspiring!). I rushed around the area in about 15 minutes to take some photos.
As an interesting note, Wat Phra Si Sanphet appears in the movie Mortal Kombat. However, if you want to visit Wat Chaiwatthanaram by the Chao Phraya River, which was another filming location for Mortal Kombat and Kickboxer, you should check with your tour prior to going to Ayutthaya - because our tour sadly did NOT include this stop. We also didn’t stop at Wat Ratchaburana, which appears as “Stone City” in Kickboxer and is the third temple that appears in Mortal Kombat.
After my quick walk around of Wat Phra Si Sanphet, we walked over to see the giant golden Buddah. The process of entering Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit required appropriate clothing and the removal of shoes - however, this spot wasn’t air conditioned either - although it did have a few fans. We spent about 10 minutes inside and then headed straight back to find the shuttle to sit inside and cool down from the heat. TIP: Try to memorize your shuttle’s license plate number! We spent 10-15 minutes trying to locate our shuttle in the parking lot because they all look very similar from the outside!
The last stop was 30 minutes away, at the Bang Pa-In Palace (a.k.a. the “Summer Palace”). Getting in took about 10 minutes as the security checked us all for appropriate attire (you must be dressed in a respectable way - according to their standards). A few people were turned away and needed to go across the street to “rent” some clothing that was acceptable which they wore over their personal attire. Once we entered, we headed to a sign that showed a map of the grounds and were given a brief explanation of what there was to see at the Summer Palace. Then, we were set free to explore the grounds for 60 minutes. There is a shop / cafe / ice cream place / restroom (all air conditioned) at the entrance. Golf Carts were also available for rent for 400 baht if we desired, but we decided to walk. It was still quite hot, and this meant that we needed to rush a bit as we also stopped half way at the Devaraj-Kunlai Gate for about 20-25 minutes (which has a few historical exhibits as well as a small beverage / ice cream shop - all in an air conditioned facility). We had some ice cream and cooled down a bit before continuing.
King Prasat Thong created this Palace complex in 1632, and was used by Siamese royalty and their consorts as a summer dwelling. However, it is unknown if it was still in use when the Burmese raided it in 1767 and left it in ruins - but it was certainly abandoned afterwards. King Mongkut (Rama IV) started a revival of the palace sometime between 1851 and 1868. His successor, King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), created most of the buildings with features of European-style architecture - as they appear today - between 1874 and 1899.
The structures are placed along an artificial ornamental pond. The “signature piece” of the Summer Palace is a Thai-style pavilion in the middle of a pond (“Phra Thinang Aisawan Thiphya-art”) which now houses a statue of King Chulalongkorn and is the only piece of classical Thai architecture within the palace. However, the Chinese style palace and throne room (“Phra Thinang Wehart Chamrun”), which was built in China and gifted by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in 1889, is the most intricate building - and the only inner-complex building open to the public - at the Summer Palace. To enter, you must remove your shoes.
The main things we saw were the Ho Hem Monthian Thewarat, the Phra Thinang Aisawan Thiphya-art, the Ho Withun Thasana, and the Phra Thinang Wehart Chamrun - although we did pass by a few other stunning buildings and structures on our walk.
After this, we got back into the shuttle and went for a 60 minute drive back to Bangkok, passing a number of amazing looking temples and traditional-style thai houses. After arriving in Bangkok, a few of us switched into another vehicle and then were delivered back to our hotels over the next 15-30 minutes. Apart from the heat, this trip was actually quite amazing and we would definitely recommend going to Ayutthaya if you have the time for it on your trip.
Here are 5 tours that we recommend to see Ayutthaya:
The simplest and most affordable one takes just a single day, but you may be limited on your time at Ayutthaya like we were, seeing only the highlights, before your river cruise back to Bangkok. If this is what you desire, choose the “Ayutthaya Tour W/ River Cruise & Lunch“ over the others.
However, we recommend trying the Bangkok Cultural Escape tour, which is a self-guided 4 day experience that picks you up from the airport and includes 3 nights in hostels or hotels (your choice). As it is self-guided, the first day they just pick you up from the airport and bring you to your accommodation. The second day you will enjoy a Thai Cooking Class and then be at your leisure the rest of the day. Day 3 and Night 3 are spent in Ayutthaya where you can self-guide yourself around to the various locations (and see everything you want to see on your own schedule - potentially with an air conditioned vehicle or bicycle), and the last day they bring you back to Bangkok. Don’t worry, you can always book your own accommodations for night 4 and beyond if you intend to stay longer! The best thing is that it takes care of planning a lot of accommodations and transportation within the first few days and is exceptionally affordable (under $300!) considering what it includes!
Alternatively, you could check out the River Kwai & Ancient Thai Kingdoms tour if you want a 3 day / 2 night trip to Ayutthaya (the first day), which includes one of Thailands most amazing National Parks (Erawan) and it’s waterfalls (day two), and then some real history at sites along the Death Railway and River Kwai over the 2nd and 3rd days. If you’re interested in learning more about what the Death Railway and the River Kwai have to offer, check out our post “River Kwai Tour and Death Railway to Kanchanaburi - From Bangkok, Thailand”.
If your interests are in exploring the temples in Bangkok as well as Ayutthaya, the Bangkok Must See in 4 Days tour is probably better suited to you. It includes transfer from the airport to your hotel (day 1), the highlights of Bangkok - including the Grand Palace, Wat Pho (the gold reclining Buddha), Wat Arun (the temple of Dawn), and Wat Traimit (the massive Golden Buddha) on day 2. Then do the trip to Ayutthaya, as described in this post with the Summer Palace, on day 3. Day 4 is a transfer to either the airport or your next hotel if you’re extending your stay in Bangkok. This tour, with accommodations, is also exceptionally affordable at under $300!
If neither of those four spark your interest, the last one we’ll recommend is the Central Thailand Explorer tour, which includes the Mae Klong area famous floating market “Damnoen Saduak” with a canal cruise via longboat to some interesting temples (day 1), explore the “River Kwai and Death Railway” history - as well as Prasat Muang Singh Historical Park in Kanchanaburi (day 2), then the longest wooden bridge in Thailand (the “Uttama Nusorn Bridge”) which connects with the Mon Village (on day 3) plus transfer to Ayutthaya in the evening, and then a full day in Ayutthaya and the Summer Palace on day 4. It’s quite an adventure!
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Jenny & Bradley of EatWanderExplore