Confused on where we are? I’m taking this moment while my travels are grounded to care for my mom to catch up on my black hole of un-blogged content. Here, I’m covering my time in Thailand in May of 2017. My apologies for any confusion with the timeline, and thanks for sticking with me.
Sweet, historic little Ayutthaya is one of those towns that I pretty much recommend to every single friend, relative, or reader who I’ve ever advised on a trip to Thailand. With its incredible sights, slice of small town Thai life, easy accessibility, and manageable size, it’s hard to imagine anyone who would be immune to its charms.
Plus, you can truly do it on any budget; and no matter where you end up on that spectrum, the bang for your baht it incredible. I’ve now experienced both — my first trip in 2012 was on a mega budget (and with a major heartache.) Still, I’d loved the town. This time, I was returning all loved up and ready to splash out.
Many travelers to Thailand treat Ayutthaya as a day trip from Bangkok, which is understandable given the short distance between them. But those with a few days to spare will find a peaceful slice of Thai history and culture to explore — and get to experience a much richer side of the destination. Both my trips were two nights and two days, which I found to be the perfect length of time. If you’re wondering how best to plan an Ayutthaya itinerary for two days, this guide should help.
What To See and Do in Ayutthaya
Visiting Bang Pa-In Royal Palace
On this trip, Ian and I had arrived by boat, off a lush overnight river cruise from Bangkok down the Chao Phraya. Conveniently, the cruise docked directly in front of Bang Pa-In Royal Palace, once the beloved summer palace of Siamese royalty. Originally built in 1632 and revived in the late 1880s, the palace shows a fascinating mix of Asian and European influences.
Bang-Pa In Royal Palace is about a twenty minute drive straight south of Ayutthaya, which means if you’re coming from Bangkok, it makes sense to stop here en route. Bang Pa-In even has its own train station! There may be a left luggage room at the station, but if not, simply leave your bags at the ticket counter of the palace — that’s what we did and they were more than happy to hold them for us. When you’re done exploring, simply hop back on the train for one more stop, or take a taxi the rest of the way.
Ian, while always very happy to humor my whims, is definitely of the more “chill and eat as much food as possible” variety of tourist than an “obsessively chronicle local sightseeing opportunities in the stifling heat” type. The day we arrived at Bang Pa-In was approximately ten billion degrees, and as we paid admission, opened the map of the massive palace gardens and started walking in, Ian turned to me in a panicked voice and said, “we’re just going to do a lap, right?!”
To this day, it’s one of our favorite catchphrases. We did a tad more than just a lap, though we kept it pretty snappy — I found the European style in the interiors of the palaces to be fascinating for a country so staunchly proud to never have been colonized, and was absolutely smitten with the endless colorful gardens outside.
We explored on foot, however I later learned you can rent golf carts to cover the extensive grounds, which would have been pretty entertaining. That will set you back 400B for the first hour and 100B for every subsequent hour, while admission to the palace is 100B each (about $3USD).
Take note that women must have shoulders and legs covered. I thought I was in the clear wearing a cap-sleeved dress and wrapping a sarong around my waist before we entered, but there was a bit of back and forth among the guards about my sleeves before they allowed me in. I wai-ed (pressed my hands together and bowed my head) with respect in hopes to convey my intentions had been pure, and they nodded me through.
Leaving the palace, we paid 300B for a tuk tuk to bring us to Ayutthaya, stopping at a cute restaurant en route (more on that in a bit) and waiting for us while we had lunch. Had we been on a budget and not wanted to stop, we could have paid 30B for a tuk tuk to the train station and then 3B each (yup, you read that right — 3B, or about one cent) for the train to Ayutthaya.
Bang Pa-In is the exception — the beauty of Ayutthaya is that most of its attractions are on the compact little island that makes up the Old City, or on the banks of the surrounding moat.
Exploring Ayutthaya’s Temples
Having been to Ayutthaya before and extensively visited nearly every temple on the island, I was happy to simply cruise the highlights by bike this time. This was Ian’s first trip to Ayutthaya, however it’s probably needless to say that Mr. “Let’s Just Do A Lap” was also onboard with this plan.
Don’t miss the detailed guide to all the area temples from my previous solo trip.
It was fascinating to see how Ayutthaya had changed in the five years since my first visit. The main difference? Tourism has boomed. Though they were at similar times of the year, my first trip I remember feeling like I had the ruins to myself — I got creative propping my camera up on things and using the self timer, since there was no one around to ask to take a photo with me in it. This time, we essentially had to wait in line to snap photos at some of the more popular spots.
Still, Ayutthaya is largely visited by tour buses there for a few peak hours — by getting up super early or going late, or simply getting slightly off the beaten track, you still do get the place largely to yourself.
Enjoy an Evening Boat Cruise
If you can’t get enough temples, or you’re simply looking for another perspective, don’t miss the ubiquitous evening boat cruise that takes in the temples ringing the island from the other side of the moat. It was one of the highlights of my trip five years ago, even if Ian and I skipped it this time in favor of eating pizza and binge-watching Netflix in our hotel room (travel is so romantic.)
Would you rather tour by car, travel with a private guide, or join a tour? Find several recommended options here.
Where To Eat in Ayutthaya
The Summer House
Another big change in Ayutthaya? A couple of very cute, Instagrammable eateries opening. The Summer House looked like it could have been straight out of a hip Bangkok soi, but plopped on the lush riverbanks of Ayutthaya’s Chao Phraya instead. Bursting with young trendy Thais, the restaurant has live music and a picnic-like setting out back on weekend afternoons.
The Summer House is ten or fifteen minutes south of Ayutthaya, directly en route to Bang Pa-In Palace — making it the perfect place to stop, cool off and grab a bite before or after some sightseeing.
It was a weekday just as the doors opened when we stopped in, so pretty relaxed, but I’d love to return here when they have live music and see the place in full swing.
Back in central Ayutthaya, we sought out out the adorable charms of Busaba Cafe. Part handcrafted souvenir shop, part painfully cute coffee shop, it was the perfect place to soak up some AC and sugar in the midst of a sweaty temple touring day.
For dinner our last night in Ayutthaya, we braved the strenuous distance of walking next door to our neighboring hotel, Sala Ayutthaya. We’d actually briefly considered staying here, and while it was incredibly impressive, I think we made the right choice to stay where we did and simply enjoy the restaurant.
But seriously, how could we not plan a meal here? Sala Ayutthaya Eatery And Bar boasted essentially the same view we had from our pool next door, but we loved eating dinner staring at it. For once in our lives we’d actually made dinner reservations (normally they give me commitment anxiety — I’m not even kidding) and were high-fiving each other for it when we scored a riverfront table.
I’m struggling to think of a more scenic meal I’ve enjoyed in Thailand — and I’ve dined in some pretty gorgeous places. The bill for food and cocktails for both of us was around 2,000B or $60USD — very expensive for Thailand, but reasonable considering it included alcohol. (And did I mention the view? Whatever, it’s still less than you’d pay at a TGI Fridays in the American suburbs.)
Where To Stay in Ayutthaya
Frankly, I should have started here, since we basically planned this trip around checking off my goal, set five years ago, of someday staying at the incredible iuDia Hotel (by the way, I book all my hotels in Asia through Agoda — more on that here.) I’d sent friends here yet had never actually been myself! But seriously, look at that pool. It was a must.
We booked a poolside double but it’s a small hotel of thirteen rooms, so upon arrival we asked to be shown what was available. Once we saw this one there was no turning back, and so we upgraded to a river view.
We ended up paying $130USD a night for this palatial suite, including breakfast — one of our bigger Thailand accommodation splurges, but also one of the greatest values, I think.
I mean, did you see the bathtub?
We just adored how every single room was so unique and how many details there were to discover — this is a true boutique hotel! While I still love my mega budget travels, especially when traveling solo, it is really fun to splurge sometimes, especially in a place like Thailand, which I always say truly has the best value luxuries in the world.
We loved relaxing by this pool, which we always seemed to have to ourselves, and just marveling at the magic of this view. It was a dream come true, literally.
Looking for something more budget friendly?
We looked at both Stockholme Hostel and Sleepaholic Hostel, both of which looked very swank and were located in the backpacker central zone Naresuan Soi 1, also known as Soi Farang — Ayutthaya’s chilled out answer to Khao San Road. If you’re looking for a more classic Thai guesthouse, on my first trip, I stayed at the classic favorite Tony’s House for 500B a night, and can also highly recommend it.
What to Wear in Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya is fairly conservative — this generally isn’t the place for cutoff short shorts or tube tops. I apparently only like to visit this sweaty city at the most hot and humid time of the year, so I this trip I opted to wear a cotton romper for biking around, and then use one sarong around my hips whenever I was going inside, and yet another sarong around my shoulders when I was touring a temple.
Aside from Bang Pa-In, no one will be policing your wardrobe, but locals will appreciate your efforts.
Nightlife in Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya is not where you’re heading for nightlife in Thailand. That said, there’s plenty to do in the evenings — watching the sunset over the ruins, taking a boat cruise, seeing the temples lit up at night, having a nice meal, maybe lucking out and stumbling on a local market or carnival.
Don’t miss my review of the evening temple boat tours from my previous solo trip.
If you are looking for a few drinks, head to Naresuan Soi 1. One bar that we peeked into during the day and definitely would recommend checking out in the evening is Junk House Bar — we were told the local live music there is great.
Getting Around Ayutthaya
Our hotel offered free bicycle rentals, like many other in the area do. However, if you’re staying in a budget hotel that doesn’t include one, it will only set you back about 50B to rent one for the day. Normally we always rent motorbikes when traveling around Thailand, but Ayutthaya is perfect for pedaling around the old fashioned way.
Needless to say, I love Ayutthaya! Anyone making the journey between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, or simply looking for a quick getaway from Bangkok would be nuts not to consider this beautiful historic city turned quiet little town. Five years later, it still captivated me — and reminded me how long and rich my love affair with this incredible country has been.
Is Ayutthaya on your Thailand bucket list?