The vast Ayutthaya Historical Park is certainly sprawling enough to keep visitors occupied for a full day, if not more, but there are many other spots of interest outside of the main island.
To the southeast lies Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, or the Great Monastery of Auspicious Victory. The name refers to the battle of 1592 in which King Naresuan defeated the Burmese Army at Nong Sarai by killing the Burmese Crown Prince in single-handed combat on elephant back. However, parts of this historic structure, which is still an active temple, are said to date back to the 14th century.
The main bell-shaped chedi is one of the primary landmarks of Ayutthaya, standing 60-metres-high and often draped in bright orange silk (although not always). Stairs on the east side lead up to the first terrace, and continue inwards to the domed chamber where the relics were contained (part of the original structure). In the outside gallery, around the base of the main chedi, rows of identical Buddha statues—newly sculpted in order to replace those which collapsed over time—sit solemnly along the walls of the square enclosure (sometimes draped in saffron robes and sometimes not). Another item of interest is the reclining Buddha image in the northeast corner of the grounds.
Another active temple worth seeking out is Wat Phanan Choeng, located south of the main island close to where the Chao Phraya and Pa Sak rivers merge. The main attraction here is the 19-metre-high gilded Buddha, which dates back to 1324 and sits inside a high-ceilinged wiharn surrounded by 84,000 small Buddha images lining the walls. People come here daily for a ceremony in which they cover their heads with the end of the big Buddha’s saffron robe—a ceremony that other temples normally only do on major holidays.
Immediately to the west of the main island lie the charred remains of Wat Chaiwatthanaram, a temple originally constructed in 1630 by King Prasat Thong (the first temple of his reign). The structure’s name literally means the Temple of Long Reign and Glorious Era, and it was designed in Khom style, which was popular at that time. There is a central 35-metre-high prang dominating the site, and along the wall the deteriorating blackened remains of 120 sitting Buddha statues sit ominously. The whole place has an eerie, spooky vibe, and one chedi in particular has a very ominous story behind it, as it holds the remains of Prince Thammathibet who was whipped to death and cremated after he was discovered to be having an affair with one of the King’s concubines. The now lopsided chedi—constructed between 1733 and 1758—holds his mortal remains.
However, not all historic attractions in Ayutthaya are of Thai heritage. There are still remnants of the Dutch, Portuguese, and Japanese settlements in the region, and a strong Muslim community still exists to this day. But one of the prettiest European-influenced landmarks still standing is St. Joseph’s Church, located to the southwest of the main island, right on the banks of the river. It was first built during the reign of King Narai, in 1666, as requested by the missionaries headed by Bishop Lambert de la Motte (whose remains lie interred within). It was destroyed during the 1767 Burmese invasion and lay in ruins for nearly a century. Restoration began in 1831 and was completed in 1847, adding more Romanesque details, including a series of attractive stained glass windows.
A Different Kind of History
Located in a blue and white house near Wat Banomyong, the Million Toy Museum—which opened in 2008—is the creation of Krirk Yoonpun, an award-winning children’s book illustrator and professor of children’s literature at Silakarinviroj University. The idea was inspired by a visit to the Kitahara Tin Toy Museum in Japan, in 1982, after which the professor spent the next few decades collecting toys for his own museum. The ground floor showcases Thai toys dating back to the Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, and Rattanakosin periods, and the oldest toy can be traced back to 1880. On the floor above are vintage toys from all over the globe, as well as plenty of modern superhero action figures. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, and on public holidays, from 9am to 4pm. Admission is B50 for adults, and B20 for children.