The name ‘Ayutthaya’ is of course familiar to Indian ears, as it is derived from the Indian city Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama in the Ramayana. Just like the Ayodhya of the epic, Ayutthaya too shone with a bright lustre. Today, this UNESCO World Heritage site stands testament to a time when this city was the centre of commerce and culture. A calm haven, it offers a chance to slow down and glimpse the past. Cycling and walking tours operate throughout the ancient temple complexes, royal residences, and the old artisanal French, Portuguese, Dutch, British, and Japanese quarters.

Top things you should not miss when in Ayutthaya

  1. Ayutthaya Historical Park: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this park is the most visited place in Ayutthaya, with 67 spectacular temples and ruins amid verdant forest. Wat Phra Si Sanphet is the largest temple, with three enormous chedis lining up to form the symbol of Ayutthaya. WatMahathat is perhaps best known for the iconic image of the large Buddha head trapped in the roots of a bodhi tree in its compound. Opposite this temple stands WatRatchaburana, with a large prang with a well-preserved stucco, and interesting wall paintings in the two lower crypts . Also don’t miss WatChaiwattanaram, with Hindu and Buddhist architectural influences with detailed edifices, towers, and carvings. WatYaiChaimongkol was a magnificent temple and monastery, with an enormous chedi.
  2. River Cruise: The Chao Phraya river winds around the temple and palace complexes and presents a unique view of the ancient city. Gentle riverboats and charming rice barges run cruises along the river daily, offering a tour of the highlights that Ayutthaya offers. Having a relaxing lunch cruise while gliding past the temples and palace are a popular option, as is the sunset/dinner cruise. Some cruises stop by the main points of interest, allowing tourists to explore the site before continuing on the journey.
  3. Bang Pa-In Palace: A royal resort since the Ayutthaya period, this building complex once served as the Summer Palace with lavish banquets and royal celebrations. With a touch of European architectural influence, the complex houses some notable truly Thai structures and beautiful gardens. Little canals run through the beautifully landscaped palace grounds and join the river.
  4. Ayutthaya Floating Market: Situated on the vast pond beside the city complex, the floating market operates much like the one from earlier eras. From 10 am to 9 pm, vendors in traditional Thai ensembles sell handicrafts, souvenirs, and delicious food from over 200 wooden shops on stilts and aboard boats. Thrice on weekdays and four times on weekends, classical Thai dance and boat parades are showcased, serving the purpose of entertaining tourists as well as preserving the ancient arts.
  5. Elephant Camps: Elephant camps like the Royal Elephant Kraal offer tourists the unique experience of booking a stay and caring for an elephant under the watchful eyes of their experienced caretakers. This non-profit organization is dedicated to the conservation and protection of elephants, which are revered creatures in Thailand. The experience takes you through the daily routine of caring for an elephant. For those on a day trip, activities like playing with and feeding the elephants are a quick option.
  6. Chao Sam Phraya National Museum: Chao Sam Phraya National Museum is the home to several Thai treasures unearthed during the excavation of the ruins. Antique bronze images of the Buddha with impressively carved panels, local artefacts, solid gold swords, and several other religious objects are displayed in the museum’s three large exhibition areas. A complete traditional Thai teakwood house is accompanied by an exhibit on how daily life was lived by common people in ancient Ayutthaya.

Top 5 Thai dishes to savour when in Ayutthaya

  1. Giant River Prawns: A resounding recommendation from locals and tourists alike, giant river prawns are a must-try delicacy in Ayutthaya. The locally-farmed, fresh seafood is dished up in various styles, as goongpao (roasted prawns) orkamgoong pad cha(freshwater prawn claws, stir fried up with green peppercorns, garlic, chillies, and fingerroot). The dishes are often served with a spicy seafood sauce, which is considered to be the secret ingredient and incorporates a salty and creamy prawn’s head broth. The melt-in-the-mouth quality keeps the crowd going at the street food stalls as well as restaurants.
  2. Roti Sai Mai: Influenced by the local Muslim community, this dessert/snack comprises fine silky threads of palm sugar, like cotton candy, wrapped in thin white or green rotis. The threads are of varied pastel colours and flavours, from banana to strawberry to coconut and pandan. Occasionally topped with sesame, this delectable treat can be found day and night at countless street food stalls and shops.
  3. Kuaytiaoruea: Derived from Chinese cuisine, boat noodles were a snack sold by vendors in long narrow rowboats. The rowboats can still be seen leaning by the stalls in the market, while people flock to buy steaming bowls of this popular dish. A bowl of rice noodles can be complemented with meat cooked in a variety of ways and vegetables served in a dark-brown broth.
  4. Pad saibuanam man hoy: Often ordered as a side, this dish serves lotus flower stems stir fried with garlic and oyster sauce. Eaten with rice, it is a hearty accompaniment to any meal.
  5. Miangplapao: Freshwater fish is roasted or grilled and served with leafy herbs and vegetables, rice vermicelli noodles, and sauce. While it can be eaten with rice, the local way of enjoying this dish is to add some fish, herbs and noodles to a cabbage or lettuce leaf, dip it in sauce, and savour the explosion of flavours.

Top 5 Photos to Take in Ayutthaya:

  1. WatMahathat: Many tourists come to Ayutthaya with one aim, to get a photo of what has become the city’s most famous Buddha image. The elegantly carved Buddha head nestled in the roots of the Bodhi tree that grows around it has become a living part of the landscape. The 400-year-old WatMahathatalso has centuries-old murals lining the walls of the inner chambers and galleries with countless images of the Buddha.
  2. WatYaiChai Mongkhon: WatYaiChai Mongkhon is an active temple, with the hall still used by monks and devotees to offer prayers. The northeast corner of the temple ground houses a large reclining Buddha draped in a gleaming yellow cloth. The image’s feet are covered with gold leaf applied by devotees. The face of the Buddha image seen through the window of the viharn makes for a stunning image to memorialize the visit.
  3. Bang Pa-In Palace: While the palace grounds and structures are stunning and grand, the river façadeof the palace is also beautiful. The grand entryway was built to welcome the royal family as they travelled by the royal barge to visit this Summer Palace. Today, tourists passing by on the river cruise are treated to the same welcoming view.
  4. Wat Chai Watthanaram: A stunning Buddhist temple, WatChaiwatthanaram is wonderfully designed temple bearing architectural influences from both Hinduism and Buddhism, featuring detailed edifices, towers and extensive carvings. A boat trip around the historical island provides for very nice views of this large, well-preserved temple.
  5. Wat Phra Si Sanphet: Almost in the center of the main area of the old capital stands Wat Phra Si Sanphet, with the palace grounds to its south. Three bell-shaped chedis distinguish this ancient temple, which was once the grandest temple in Ayutthaya. The three stupas are surrounded with lines of smaller chedis placed near the outer wall. At one end of the line formed by the three chedisis the remains of a smaller chapel with a now headless Buddha image.

Go Local in Thailand: (Community based Tourism)

  1. Bang Sai Royal Folk Arts & Crafts Centre: This centre is dedicated to the preservation ofancient Thai arts and crafts such as carving, basketry, pottery, weaving, dyeing, artificial flower making and making Royal Court dolls. Assorted handicrafts are on offer, made by locals and agriculturalists trained by artisans. Set on the banks of the Chao Phraya river, the centre holds daily demonstrations on the processes involved in the handicrafts and puts on cultural performances and local games of the 4 regions of Thailand on weekends and public holidays.
  2. SACICT – SUPPORT Arts and Crafts International Center of Thailand: Established in honour of the Queen’s birthday, this center endeavours toward the production, management, and marketing of Thai handicrafts. One building houses revolving exhibits of prime craft products selected from 76 provinces all over the country. The exhibit changes every three months to display varied crafts. Craft products of the Bang Sai Folk Arts and Crafts Center which won prizes at an international level are also on display.
  3. KohKerd Community: KohKerd, a tiny island formed by the tributaries of Ayutthaya’s rivers, offers visitors the chance to see how life was like in ancient Thailand. A 20-kilometre boat ride from the city centre, KohKerd is comprised of a few small communities who have sustained a simple life living by the water. The locals welcome tourists with activities designed to show you the true local identity of Ayutthaya. Try making some traditional Thai desserts like sweetened rice milk with coconut milk (Kanom Nam Nom Kao Ya Koo) or charcoaled Thai custard (Kanom Mo Kang Tao Tan). You can also attempt to catch a river shrimp with a local expert, learn how herbs are processed into other organic products and experience the life of a farmer at one of KohKerd’s small rice paddies.

Open to the New Shades –Ayutthaya

  1. Million Toy Museum: Thousands of toys from across lands and decades are collected and showcased in this unique museum opened by a children’s book illustrator Mr.KrirkYoonpun. The attractive blue-and-white structure houses an intriguing set of porcelain figurines, Japanese celluloid dolls, superhero action figures, tin and wooden toys and many more interesting items. The collection ranges between 30- to 100-year old artifacts, andthe oldest toy can be traced to 1880.
  2. Baan KhaoNhom: Located near the National Art Museum, this tiny, picturesque café offers delectable desserts and beverages. A wide range if traditional Thai desserts are served in impeccable style. The mouthwatering menu draws in a healthy crowd of both locals and tourists.
  3. Hua RorMarket: A sprawling local market, it is divided into two parts – an open and a covered one. The open market operates in the evening, while the covered market is open during the day. The market offers fresh fish, meat, fruits and vegetables as well as tasty snack options. Souvenirs or clothing are also available at fair prices.

Celebrate in Thailand

  1. Ayutthaya Light and Sound Show: A festival is held annually in December to celebrate Ayutthaya’s UNESCO World Heritage honour. Held in the Ayutthaya Historical Park compound, it is a combination of the famous local noodle and prawn dishes, fun local shopping using Ayutthaya’s ancient bullet coins at the retro market fair, vibrant folk song contests, and a beauty pageant. Most temples showcase stunning illuminations, and a spectacular light and sound show is held at one of the ancient temples.

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