Ayutthaya is an ancient city around 85km north of Bangkok full of temple ruins, floating markets, and even an elephant camp but, while official tourist information suggests going overnight in order to properly experience everything Ayutthaya has to offer, it is quite easy to make the trip for one day and still get a good idea of the area. That said, you will have to be selective so we curated our own itinerary based on our own habit of getting templed out eventually (it's a word - ish, you hear it a lot in Asia!), as well as our having already seen temple ruins in Cambodia! In fact, check out our post on Siem Reap and Angkor Wat here..
So, here goes, a quick guide on how to make the most of Ayutthaya in a day!
Take the train...
Most tour companies will offer a day trip from Bangkok to the ruins, and double it up with a trip to the floating market, but there's nothing like the freedom of going by yourself and, while some taxi's will offer to do the two hour round trip for about 1000 baht, taking the early morning ordinary class train from Bangkok's Hua Lamphong station will cost just 15 baht each way (less than 50p) and is a much better way to take in the scenery. This is especially true in those ordinary class trains that have the windows open and even have people wandering up and down the carriages with food and drinks.
Rent a bike
One of the coolest things about Ayutthaya is that it is completely accessible by bike. A quick ferry across the river sees you faced by a fair few bike rental places that charge about 50 baht a day (80 if you want it for a full 24 hours/ if you want to shoot the sunset somewhere) for a bike and it is a great way to explore. With the furthest temple about 5km from the heart of the old town, good fitness isn't really a necessity, just be sure to lock it up and use the covers to avoid losing things/ having things stolen from the basket on the bumpy roads.
Pick and choose those temples
Anyone who has been to Southeast Asia, especially Angkor Wat, knows how easy it is to get 'templed out' and tired of staring at ruins all day so, with only a day in the area, it's important to pick and choose the ones that you visit. Thankfully, Ayutthaya has some big ones, with Wat Chaiwatthanaram a key visit (and the best place to watch the sunset if you are there into the evening) while the huge golden statues of Wat Yai Chai Mang Khon are definitely worth the trip. However, it was the sight of the Buddha head grown into the roots of a tree at Wat Mahathat that originally drew us to Ayutthaya. Legend has it that the sacking of the city in 1767 by the Burmese saw the beheading of many of the Buddha statues, with this head in particular becomming lodged into the tree's roots, but more recent tales talk of it being caused by flooding in the area. However it was caused, the head is definitely worthy of a detour and puts Wat Mahathat firmly on the list of photographic locations!
Have a coffee break
Anybody who reads this on a regular basis knows that coffee is an absolute necessity to my daily life! Thankfully, there were a couple of spots that were worthy of a little break. Both Coffee Old City and Busaba Cafe are good little spots right next to Wat Mahathat to enjoy a break and a bite to eat, while Basic Space Coffee just a couple of streets away definitely has that minimalist vibe down to a T. So, whichever you choose, get some caffeine and get refreshed for whatever the day has to throw at you!
Take in the floating market
We fully planned on taking in the floating market quickly before we left, but read on the train up that they had started charging an entry fee to foreigners so, having seen the floating market in Taling Chan the day before, decided to give it a miss. But if it is your thing and you have the time, the Ayutthaya floating market is fairly easy to get to and would be a good way to close out the day trip before heading back to Bangkok.
Want to know more? Check out our general guide to making the most of any Thai adventure!