Once one of the world's wealthiest and most cosmopolitan cities, Ayuthaya's gilded temples and treasure-laden palaces glittered from kilometres away. Today the dozens of ruins offer a tantalising glimpse into its glorious past. Many sites have been partially restored, so it's easy to imagine how they must have looked in their prime. Between 1350 and 1767 Ayuthaya was the capital of Siam, which at its peak ruled over an area larger than England and France combined. Home to over a million people, the island city was one of Asia's major trading ports and international merchants visiting from around the globe were left in awe.
The empire fell in 1767 when an invading Burmese army thoroughly sacked the city, looting most of its treasures and enslaving thousands of its citizens. Independence was restored within a year, but the capital was moved to what is now Bangkok and Ayuthaya was left largely abandoned for decades. Major restoration work began in 1969 and it's now a Unesco World Heritage site. Most people visit as a day trip, hitting just the major attractions, but this requires leaving a lot off your plate. Two days offers a far more rewarding visit, and lets you admire the ruins lit up at night.
WAT PHRA MONGKOL BOPHIT - Wat Phra Mongkol Bophit is famous for its housing of the 15th century Plhra Mongkol Bophit, the "Buddha of the Holy and Supremely Auspicious Reverence", Thailand's largest seated bronze Buddha with its 12.5 meters height (excluding the pedestal).
It is interesting to know that after the collapse of Wat Phra Mongkol Bophit made by invasive Panamanians in 1767, the Buddha, actually, had been sitting under the open sky for 200 years. In the mid 1950s, the Prime Minister of Myanmar gave a donation for the renovation of the temple. The restoration was completed in 1957 in the same style of the former one and is large enough to house the giant Buddha. In celebration of the 60th birthday of H.M. Queen Sirikit in 1922, the statue was entirely covered with gold leaf, which gave its current splendid look. Right in the front of the sanctuary there are elephant rides available for those who fancy a try. Along the way you'll also find yummy local snack booths.
WAT CHAIWATTHANARAM - When picking up a postcard in Ayutthaya, you are very likely to see Wat Chaiwatthanaram, the most impressive temple in the city. It is a giant temple complex built in Khmer style that lies on the west bank of Chao Phraya River and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.
Behind the translated name "the Temple of Long Reign and Glorious Era", Wat Chaiwatthanaram bears a touching story. In 1630, the temple was constructed by the king Prasat Thong in memory of his mother's residence in that area and as the first temple of his reign. When walking close to the temple, you will be amazed by its 35-meter-high tower-like spire, which is surrounded by a group of small same kind and chapels. The interior walls are decorated with paintings vividly depicting the life of the Buddha that covers the exteriors. Serving as a royal temple, Wat Chaiwatthanaram also used to be the holy place for princes and princesses' cremation.
WAT PHRA MAHATHAT - Wat Phra Mahathat, literally meaning "Monastery of the Great Relic", was established in around 14 century and had been serving for royal use. Following the Khmer concept of temple construction, it's a vast complex of temple platforms which houses 77 delicate stupas and a stunning 77-meter-high chedi. Amongst these great works the biggest drive for visitors is a Buddha head overgrown by bodhi tree roots all round it, peering peacefully forward, which invokes a somewhat enigmatic atmosphere.
During the long stretch of history, Wat Phra Mahathat was certainly not exempted from severe looting and damage made by foreign invaders - that's why you can see very few Buddha statues still have their heads intact. Today the temple has become a rambling site that visitors swam in for a glimpse of nostalgia and the popular Jatukhan amulets sold there.
WAT PHRA SRI SANPHET - Wat Phra Sri Sanphet was built by King Boromatrailokanat in 1448 and reported as one of the best-preserved in Ayutthaya. A large standing Buddha image, Phra Sri Sanphet, appears when you enter the gate, which was named after the temple. The image, with a height of 16 meters and covered more than 300 pounds of golden, was destroyed when the Burmese sacked the city and burned the temple to the ground. King Rama I installed the core pieces of the image in a chedi that was known later as Wat Po. Today you can see three large chedis used to contain the ashes of its builder and his two sons. They are considered the models for the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok.