Ayuthaya, located on the plains of central Thailand, approximately 80 kilometres north of the present day capital Bangkok is a charming town with a fascinating history and wonderful ancient sites to explore. From 1350 until it was sacked by invading Burmese in 1767, it was the capital and cultural centre of the Ayuthaya Kingdom, which covered a large proportion of modern-day Thailand.
Surrounded by waterways and elevated above the tidal reach, the ancient town had a particularly strategic position for trade and defence from foreign invaders. Laid out in grid-form, it was crisscrossed by roads and canals, and for water management had a revolutionary and technologically advanced hydraulic system. Merchants from Europe, a great many of them from the Dutch East Indies Company, China and Japan frequently visited to trade with the Siamese, often settling in enclaves, which would have created a particularly cosmopolitan atmosphere for a city at that time.
When Ayuthaya was sacked by the Burmese, the Royal Family were forced to flee down the Lopburi and Chao Praya rivers to present-day Thonburi, which today is part of the capital Bangkok, and the city fell into decline. The old city has not been inhabited since, and the ruins are well-preserved.
Today, the ancient ruins at Ayuthaya are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are truly magnificent; the collection of Thai style temples (wats) and chedis, remains of what were large Buddhist monasteries lie along the three rivers that surround the island. Viewing the ruins by boat is recommended as well as exploring by bicycle or on foot.
Just south of Ayuthaya at Bang Pa-In on the banks of the Chao Praya river is the magnificent Royal Summer Palace, which is today open to visitors. Gaining an insight into the grandeur of Thai Royal life, makes a wonderful addition to visiting the ancient ruins at Ayuthaya.
Although Ayuthaya can be reached by road from Bangkok, it is so much fun to travel there along the Chao Praya river from Bangkok, watching the urban cityscape slowly be replaced by lush tropical vegetation as your boat meanders up-river. For the more adventurous, the town can be reached by railway from Bangkok, a scenic and exciting way to travel – wooden seats and open windows for the relatively short journey.
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