Best Historical Sites in Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya was the second capital of Thailand, founded in 1350 and coming to dominate the region as a centre of local and international trade until being burned to the ground by the Burmese in 1767. It is a Unesco World Heritage listed site and one of the best historical destinations in Thailand. Read on for my picks of the best historical sites to visit here as well as some interesting facts and other info to help you enjoy your trip.

Be sure to check out our companion guide on the best ice cream shops in Ayutthaya in case you need a break from the sun and an injection of sugar to power you back up!

1) Wat Ratchaburana

Wat Ratchaburana was founded in 1424 by King Borommarachathirat II of the Ayutthaya Kingdom and built on the cremation site of his two elder brothers. The two brothers had fought to their deaths in a duel for the royal succession to their father Intha Racha.

The temple’s central prang has undergone restoration and you can climb up the steps to get a great view of the surrounds as well as look around inside. You can even make your way down the incredibly steep staircase (be careful!) to the crypts below.

In 1957 a number of valuable Buddha statues and golden artefacts were stolen from this temple and few were ever recovered.

Visual 3/5

Facts 3/5

Explorable 4/5

2) Wat Phra Mahathat & Ayutthaya Park

Wat Phra Mahathat, or ‘The Monastery of the Great Relic,’ was constructed in 1374 and probably expanded around 1388-1395. It was a great temple and one of the most important in the kingdom due to its location in the centre and it proximity to the Grand Palace.

When King Borommaracha II attacked Angkor in 1431, many sacred relics were captured and brought back to Ayutthaya where they were installed in Wat Phra Mahathat as offerings.

One of the most popular parts of this temple ruin is the ‘Buddha head in the tree’ you can see in the picture below.

Image attribution

Many of the other ruins in the Ayutthaya Historical Park are similar to this one from a tourism perspective which is why I’ve included them together under one item here. I definitely recommend looking around at the other ruins though as each have their own visual appeal. The experience of exploration is also a highlight as you can cycle or drive between and amongst the ruins for half a day to a day.

Visual 4/5

Facts 3/5

Explorable 4/5

Further reading.

3) Phet Fortress

Phet Fortress was the most important of 16 fortresses in Ayutthaya’s defences. It stands at a strategic point at the intersection of the Pa Sak River and the Chao Phraya River and protected the harbour where foreign ships anchored for inspection and unloading.

You can visit the fortress from land but I also recommend checking it out via a river tour so you can see it as it would have been seen by foreign traders and invading armies.

Visual 2/5

Military 3/5

More reading here.

4) Elephant Kraal & War Elephant Monument

War elephants were a major part of battles throughout Thai and Southeast Asian history and its interesting to learn how they were used in combat and the role of the Elephant Kraal for capturing and sorting the animals.

There’s also a series of war elephant monuments showing how the animals and soldiers worked together as a military unit in battle.

This site is a bit controversial because elephants are still exploited all over Thailand, including at the Elephant Kraal, for rides and other activities which are said to be quite bad for the animals.

Military: 3/5

More info here.


  • Ayutthaya Tourist Centre – free to visit and they have a great exhibition giving you an overview of local history
  • Japanese Village Museum – great museum to get information about all the foreign settlements that were located south of the old city (Dutch, Portuguese, French, British, Makassar and Japanese). The focus is on information which is well presented visually as well as some artefacts but there are no historical ruins here.

Note: there are several museums to mark the foreign settlements to the south of the old city. The Japanese Village Museum is just the one I happened to visit, partially due to its proximity to a local ice cream spot I was trying out.

Interesting Historical Facts

  • The site of the city at the intersection of three rivers was strategically chosen as it was above the ‘tidal bore’ of the gulf of Siam which meant that warships of foreign powers couldn’t sail up the river to attack the city
  • Ayutthaya was estimated to have been the largest city in the world in 1700 with a population of around 1 million
  • In 1767, after nearly 400 years of power, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya was brought down by invading Burmese armies
  • At first Ayutthaya was only a small city on the northwestern outskirts of the Khmer Empire. However, as the power of the Khmer fell, the Ayutthaya Kingdom rose and ended up invading and sacking the great capital of Angkor in 1431
  • Bangkok’s original defensive walls were built with bricks from Ayutthaya
  • A large number of Buddha statues and golden artefacts were found at Wat Ratchaburana in 1957, however, they were subsequently stolen and although the thieves were caught, only around 20% of the artefacts were recovered
  • The original design of Phet Fortress was circular and probably built with Portuguese guidance. However, the circular shape created dead zones and it was later rebuilt with help from French experts to have a diamond or star shape

Other Facts

  • Ayutthaya experienced an explosion in local tourism in early 2018 as it was brought back to life in the hit period comedy series “Buppesannivas” (“Love Destiny”). Visitors enjoy dressing in period costumes and posing for photos amongst the ruins

Sweet Treats

Temple hopping can be hard work, especially in the Thai heat. Not to worry, we’ve got you covered with our guide of the best ice cream shops in Ayutthaya.

Further Reading

Best Historical Sites in Lopburi

Lopburi is less popular as a historical tourism destination, probably because there’s not as many ruins to see as in Ayutthaya and Sukhothai. However, this city has a fascinating history as an outpost of the Khmer Empire in the 10th century and seat of power under King Narai the Great (of Ayutthaya) in the 17th century before declining and then being rediscovered and restored by King Mongkut in the 19th century.

If you need a break from the heat whilst visiting these top sites, consider stopping by at our top ice cream pick for the city.

1) Somdet Phra Narai National Museum

This is both a museum and a historical site and is my top pick for historical sites to visit in Lopburi. The palace was built in 1666 by King Narai the Great. It’s surrounded by high walls and has nice grounds inside where you can walk around and look at the ruins including the elephant stables and the water tank with pipes which were probably some of the earliest uses of plumbing in Thailand.

The museum is housed roughly in the centre in a large building across three levels. It mostly consists of written information and artefacts and covers the whole history of the area.

2) Prang Sam Yod

This three pronged temple is the best known monument in the city, not only for its historical significance but because of the hundreds of crab eating macaques that inhabit it. It was likely built in the 12th-13th centuries when Lopburi was still under Khmer influence. It was originally a Hindu shrine and has three prangs that represent Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva (the Hindu trinity) but was later converted into a Buddhist shrine during the reign of King Narai the Great in the 17th century.

Beware as you approach as the macaques are incredibly mischievous and if they suspect you to be carrying food, they won’t hesitate to try and steal it from you. The same goes for sunglasses, eyeglasses and bags. However, if you can find a good vantage point, watching their antics is an interesting way to pass the time. Inside the temple grounds there are some staff that can look after you and you can buy food to feed the monkeys. If you pay the small entrance fee you can go inside the temple, which is sealed off from the monkeys, and have the bizarre experience of feeling like you’re in a zoo while the animals look in on you.

3) Ban Chao Wichayen

These ruins are most interesting because they represent the large western influence present in Lopburi and the Ayutthaya Kingdom during the reign of King Narai the Great. Ban Chao Wichayen was built as the house of the Greek merchant, Constantine Phaulkon who had become King Narai’s closest councillor. It also had houses for other visiting foreigners and a Christian Church.

4) Pratu Chai

Take a break from the temples to check out this old wall and gate. Not much more to it but good to spark some further study into the ancient walls of this city (I found this map, from here). Good to visit on the way to the Yotse ice cream shop – our top pick for this city.

5) King Narai the Great Monument

King Narai the Great reigned over the Ayutthaya Kingdom from 1656 to 1688 but spent 8-9 months of the year in Lopburi which he designated the second capital of the kingdom.

This monument is worth visiting to spark and cement your research into this monarch who had such a big influence on the history of Loburi. It’s located on a large traffic island to the East of the main historical sites. However, it’s not too far from our top ice cream pick for the city, so consider visiting both together.

Interesting Historical Facts

  • Lopburi was previously known as ‘Lavo’ and was the capital of the Lavo Kingdom between the 7th and 11th centuries. After that time, the capital shifted south to Ayutthaya and the kingdom eventually became the Ayutthaya Kingdom.
  • During most of the existence of the ‘Lavo Kingdom’ it was under the influence of the Khmer Empire and was known as ‘Lavodayapura’ in the Khmer language. However, Lavo became detached from the Khmer Empire at the end of the thirteenth century, sending embassies to China from 1289 to 1299 to announce that fact.
  • King Narai reigned in Ayutthaya from 1656 to 1688 but spent 8-9 months of the year in Lopburi which he designated the second capital of the kingdom
  • Sensing a weakening of Burmese power in northern Siam, Narai launched the Burmese–Siamese War of 1662–64 to bring Chiang Mai under the direct control of Ayutthaya
  • Most controversially, King Narai allowed the rise of Constantine Phaulkon, a Greek adventurer who arrived in Ayutthaya in 1675. Within a few years, Phaulkon had managed to ingratiate himself with the king and became Narai’s closest counselor. Under Phaulkon’s guidance, King Narai balanced the influence of the Dutch by favouring the French. Phaulkon also encouraged French interest by initially leading them to believe that the king was about to convert to Catholicism. Although King Narai did display a degree of interest in Catholicism, he also displayed an equal interest in Islam and there is no concrete evidence that he wished to convert to either.
  • Among the gifts that were exchanged between the Siamese and the French courts, two items from Siam were to have an unexpected impact on French history. The items were a pair of silver cannons that were eventually stored in the Royal Furniture Repository in Paris since they were classed as gifts rather than weapons. After failing to find usable weapons at the Arsenal, rioting Parisians broke into the Repository and discovered some 20 cannons. However, the Siamese cannons were the only ones that still functioned, and so they were hauled to the Bastille. The date was 14 July 1789.

Sweet Treats

As you explore the numerous historical ruins in the Thai heat and humidity you might feel the need to relax with an ice cream. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with our guide to the best ice cream in Lopburi.

Further reading;

Best Historical Sites in Sukhothai

The main reason to visit Sukhothai is to check out the historical sites of what is considered the first kingdom and capital of the area now known as Thailand and is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site. On this page you’ll find the best historical sites, some interesting facts and information to make your visit more productive and enjoyable. Also be sure to check out our companion guide to the best ice cream shops in Sukhothai.

1) Wat Mahathat & Central Zone

The heritage listed area is known as ‘Sukhothai Historical Park’ and it’s broken up into three different zones which require three different tickets. The first zone is in the centre of the old city and contains several important buildings from the period including the Mahathat Temple which is the most important temple in the historical park.

These buildings are mostly religious and the information focuses on the design of the buildings and their use. There are signs dotted around next to many of the ruins which illustrate roughly what the buildings would have looked like. This makes it easier to imagine what the city would have been like it its prime (13th & 14th centuries).

You’ll need to buy a ticket to get into the zone and it will be checked at the gate. There’s no cars allowed inside but you can take your bicycle in which is my recommended way to get around or there’s also some small carts taking people from site to site. Walking around the ruins (you can’t take your bike inside the immediate temple limits) is a nice experience and there are some great photo opportunities with the greenery, trees and lake in the background.

For me, the highlights were general exploring and photo opportunities. The uses of each building weren’t that interesting for me but might appeal to someone more interested in religious history or architecture.

2) City Walls and Gates

There’s not much to them but if you’re interested in military history and fortifications then I think it’s worth it to take some time to look at the wall and gate system that the ancient city of Sukhothai had.

There’s three earthen walls all the way around the old city with moats in between. The gaps in each wall are offset at the gates and there are signs to let us know that there were watch towers and gate houses to oversee and protect them.

3) King Ramkhamhaeng Monument & Bell

The statue of King Ramkhamhaeng (the founder and most influential King of Sukhothai and creator of the Thai alphabet) is located within the central zone, mentioned above. There’s also a bell and together they’re worth a visit because they highlight some interesting historical facts.

The bell is a representation of a bell that the King apparently had hung outside one of the gates to Sukhothai. If anyone had a grievance they were told they could ring the bell and the King himself would come to hear them out and give a balanced judgement. This is significant as it illustrates that Ramkhamhaeng ran his kingdom as more of a man of the people whereas the later kings of Ayutthaya were set up more as Gods who regular people weren’t allowed to see and interact with.

4) Wat Saphan Hin

This temple is my favourite in the West zone. You’ll find it on top of a hill with nice views looking back over the Sukhothai old city. The temple contains a 12 metre high Buddha statue as well as a smaller Buddha. It is believed that King Ramkhamhaeng rode his white elephant, named Ruchakhiri, here to worship every Buddhist sabbath day. There’s also an interesting crewd stone staircase leading up the hill.


The Ramkhamhaeng National Museum – definitely worth a look to get some history on the area and conveniently located within the old city walls and right next to the historical park gates.  The outside area also has some things to look at so don’t skip that. Unfortunately only the first gallery is air conditioned.

How to See the Historical Sites

The best way to explore the main historical sites is by bicycle, either on your own or with a group tour. I decided to go on my own which meant I kept the costs down and could go at my own pace. The downside is I may have missed some interesting things along the way and I didn’t have anyone to explain the history to me as I went, even though I’d done plenty of research before (and now after).

I found the experience of cycling around equally as enjoyable as the historical ruins themselves and thoroughly recommend it. Some of the sites, such as Wat Saphan Hin, are a bit far away to cycle to though and involve riding along a major road (the route I took anyway), so keep that in mind.

Where to Stay

There are a few accommodation options concentrated around the east gate of the old city including inside the old city walls. This means you’re as close as possible to the action and can get an early start to beat the crowds. However, restaurant options are limited so you might consider staying in Sukhothai Thani (aka New Sukhothai) which is 12km East of the old city.

Sweet Treats

Take a break from sightseeing and get an ice cream from the best ice cream shop in Sukhothai.