Travel to The Ancient Cities of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, Thailand
Bangkok and Chiang Mai are two of the most popular places to visit in Thailand. They both offer all of the modern conveniences of city life, paired with amazing sightseeing, great food and warm weather. The most popular ways of getting between the two cities are to fly or to take an overnight sleeper train, both of which skip over two rather interesting old capitals of Thailand, Ayutthaya and Sukhothai. Instead of doing what most tourists do,your friends at lostinbeautifulplaces.com highly recommend taking the slower route if time allows, and exploring Thailand’s most awe inspiring ancient ruins.
During our six month trip through Asia in 2019, the authors of lostinbeautifulplaces.com spent three months in Thailand. Since we had so much time, we were able to slow travel and spend some time in some of the smaller towns outside of Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Our days spent in the ancient capitals of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai were some of the most interesting and we wanted to share it with everyone who is interested in visiting these unique places.
Getting to Ayutthaya from Bangkok
There are 3 primary ways of getting to Ayutthaya from Bangkok, minivan/minibus, taxi/Grab/Uber or train. Ayutthaya is about 80km north of Bangkok and each method of travel will take around 2 hours of travel time.
Minivans to Ayutthaya leave from 2 locations in Bangkok. One option is to leave from the Mo Chit bus station. Vans leave every half hour during the day and cost 60 baht per ticket. Tickets can be purchased on the day of travel at the bus station. Another option is to catch the bus at Khao San road. This trip costs 200 baht per ticket and includes drop off at your guest house or hotel in Ayutthaya. Tickets can be purchased at various tour agencies such as Tara Travel. Most services drop off passengers near the ruins on the “island” of Ayutthaya.
Another option to get to Ayutthaya is a taxi or ride share service such as Grab or Uber from Bangkok. A taxi or Grab/Uber will cost around 1500 baht. This is by far the most expensive way to travel, but is also the most comfortable and flexible. “Door to door” service is especially convenient and if split 4 ways, can be a viable option. If using this option, be sure to use a credit card with no International fees like Chase Sapphire Preferred. We have saved thousands of dollars over the years by avoiding International fees.
The least expensive, yet most interesting and, in our opinion, most authentic option is to take the train between Bangkok and Ayutthaya. Tickets can be purchased the day of travel at the Hua Lamphong Railway Station in Bangkok for 15 baht each. The station can be accessed from any of the other metro lines in Bangkok. The train leaves 32 times per day, so the wait should not be excessive. Grab a few snacks from the local venders before finding a seat and enjoy a very unvarnished experience.
After a two hour ride, the ancient capital of Siam comes into view and arrives at the Ayutthaya train station. The town is separated by the Chao Phraya River into “Old Ayutthaya” and “Ayutthaya”. We prefer to stay in Old Ayutthaya, since the ruins are located there. Once the train arrives at the station, cross the street and look for signs to the “ferry”. After buying tickets at the corner market/tour operator office, a small long tail boat offers transport across the river to the old section of town. Tickets cost 5 baht each person. From there, walking or finding a tuk-tuk to get to your accommodations is easy. If walking, Google Maps works surprisingly well all over Thailand. Our favorite place to stay in Ayutthaya is Baan Tebpitak, which is an easy walk from the ferry, even in the sweltering heat with backpacks on.
Ayutthaya was the capital of the Kingdom of Siam from 1350 until its defeat in 1767 by the Burmese, and archeologists believe it had a population of over a million people at its height of prosperity. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the old town is covered with a spectacular display of ruins from that period. The ruins are divided into separate parks and each requires a small fee to enter (50 baht per person).
Despite its dubious history, Ayutthaya is frequently over looked as a tourist destination, so crowds were not overwhelming. Since the majority of tourists in Ayutthaya are day trippers from Bangkok, tourist amenities are somewhat limited. That being said, there are plenty of small lodging establishments and enough eateries to fill a few days.
Our favorite place to stay in Ayutthaya was Baan Tebpitak, which is a small guest house that has been in the owner’s family for generations. She is a wealth of information and can arrange day trips, as well as transportation to your next destination. A tasty breakfast is provided in the morning that includes really good coffee to get you ready for a day of exploring. The lush landscaping, refreshing pool and communal spaces are a perfect retreat to refresh after a fantastic day of sightseeing.
We suggest spending one to three nights in Ayutthaya. The first night, be sure to venture out to the night market to sample some of the local foods available. The second evening, a sunset river tour on the Chao Praya River, which circles around the “island” of Ayutthaya is a perfect way to see the ancient canals. The small group tour stops at some amazing temples along the way around the town. This is a great opportunity to see many of the ruins and temples not able to be explored by foot. The tour lasts two and a half hours hours and makes three stops at ancient temples. The tour costs 200 baht per person. Admission at two of the temples are not included and cost 20 baht per person.
By the way, when getting cash for the temples in Ayutthaya, be sure to use a debit card with no ATM fees. We use the Charles Schwab debit card since it charges no ATM fees, at home or abroad. In combination with the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, we have saved thousands of dollars over the years. Having no ATM fees gives the freedom to take small increments out more frequently and not have to carry so much cash around.
Ayutthaya can be extremely hot during the day. Even hotter than Bangkok. Be sure to bring plenty of water and wear comfortable, breathable clothing. Many vendors sell cold drinks and ice cream at the entrance to the ruins. Convenient stores such as 7/11 are common throughout town, selling many items designed to cool humans down. We always make sure to wake up early and get our sightseeing done by mid-afternoon in order to escape the heat at the swimming pool at the guesthouse.
Getting From Ayutthaya To Sukhothai
There are two ways to get to get to Sukhothai from Ayutthaya. The most preferred route is by direct bus. The second option, which involves taking a train and a bus, is not direct and takes longer. It is a good idea to purchase tickets for the bus in advanced, either online or in person. Tickets cost 310 baht and the ride is about six hours. A ticket includes a snack at the start of the ride and a lunch stop with a buffet style meal. The buses are air-conditioned and have a bathroom on board.
The bus ride from Sukhothai to Chiang Mai passes through the Doi Khun Tan National Park and is truly spectacular at times. Signs warning of elephants crossing the line along the highway. Lush jungles and rushing rivers pass by as the bus makes it way north to Sukhothai. The bus stop is located in the newer section of Sukhothai. It is a 15 minute taxi ride to Old Sukhothai, which contains the ruins.
Tip: Pickup truck taxis will be waiting in Sukhothai. Meet some of your fellow bus riders before arriving and team up to bargain for the lowest possible price. The more people, the lower you should be able to bargain. Especially if all of the riders are heading to similar locations.
Old Sukhothai was the first capital of Siam, preceding Ayutthaya by 150 years. The old town is preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the historical ruins that date back to the thirteenth century. The Sukhothai Historical Park contains the ruins of royal palaces, Buddhist temples, city gates, walls, moats and the water control system of the ancient city. The ruins cover an area of 27,000 acres (7,000 ha) and are divided into five zones, each of which charge a small admission. Despite its large size, the entire historical park can be seen in one day. Tuk tuk drivers parked at the entrance offer low cost tours and bicycles are available for rent.
We at lostinbeautifulplaces.com highly
A must-visit attraction in Old Sukhothai is Wat Traphang Thong (Temple of the Golden Pond), which is located in the center of town, across an absolutely stunning body of water. This is the only temple within the old city that is still in active use today and it is open to the public. The bridges to the temple are lit by colorful lanterns each evening and monks can be seen releasing floating candles into the water. Each morning at 6am, monks leave the temple and collect alms offerings from the local citizens. A Buddha footprint that dates from 1359 is housed there.
The Scent Of Sukhothai was our favorite hotel in the old city. It’s clean, modern rooms, refreshing swimming pool, delicious free breakfast and the walk-ability to restaurants and the main ruins of Sukhothai make it a great value. A handful of small guesthouses are available along the main street in the center of the old town that are very popular with backpackers. Many lodging options are also available in the new town of Sukhothai.
When we are in Asia, Agoda.com is our “go to” booking site for hotels and flights. Be sure to check their prices if you are considering a trip anywhere in Asia.
Getting From Sukhothai To Chang Mai
The most common way to get from Sukhothai to Chiang Mai is by direct bus. The bus has two pick up spots, one in new Sukhothai and one in old Sukhothai. The old Sukhothai bus station is across from the 7/11 at the Wintour office. Tickets can be purchased in advance here for 200 baht per person. We bought ours the day before we were departing. The ride lasts about 5 hours and stops along the way for bathroom and snacks. The drop off spot in Chiang Mai is at the Arcade Bus Terminal.
That concludes our tour between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. If Bangkok and Chiang Mai are on your travel itinerary, be sure to consider stopping in Ayutthaya and/or Sukhothai! They are both towns with unique local character, great food and spectacular historical sites.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below….
Don’t forget to like our FACEBOOK page!