Historic City of Ayutthaya

Wat Chaiwattanaram - AyutthayaLocation: Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, Thailand (north of Bangkok)

Visited: July 20, 2014

Site Type: Cultural

Inscribed: 1991

Opinion and Background:

The Historic City of Ayutthaya has to be one of the most impressive in the world. First built in 1350, it served as the capital of the Siamese Kingdom in modern day Thailand. After the fall of the equally impressive Angkor Empire, Ayutthaya was well positioned to fill in the power vacuum. Over the next four hundred years, it flourished as possibly THE most important economic capital of the world as it was strategically positioned between India and China.

Wat Chaiwattanaram - Ayutthaya 2
Wat Chaiwattanaram – Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya was the envy and example of many kingdoms near and far. The Japanese, Dutch, and many others describe the capital in awe and set up settlements for trade outside of the city limits. Siam at the time, was very strict about not letting outsiders inside the main city.

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This statue of the Buddha in Wat Mahathat was completely engulfed by a tree. Only the head remains.

The geography of the ancient capital is also very interesting. It is technically an island, formed by three rivers that converge in the area, providing a nice, natural defense against invaders. The rivers were also wisely used within the city with a management system far more advanced than anything else in the world at the time. Because of it, Ayutthaya is said to have supported over 1 million inhabitants, making it the largest in the world (in 1700).

Wat Phu Khao Thong - Ayutthaya
Wat Phu Khao Thong is on the outside of the main city so doesn’t get many tourists. Definitely worth the effort.

As the centuries passed, other nearby empires strengthened and Ayutthaya’s influence diminished. It’s final demise came when the Burmese invaded and sacked the city, burning it to the ground in 1767. The wooden buildings were never rebuilt. Today, what remains are mostly temples and parts of the palace, which were built in stone. While one can only imagine how this massive, pre-industrial city might have looked like, what remains gives us a small glimpse and is still incredibly impressive.

Wat Mahathat - Ayutthaya
Wat Mahathat – Ayutthaya

EVALUATION:

1) Completeness and Originality (11 out of 15): Unfortunately, nothing remains of the city’s everyday buildings. However, most of the main temples are very well preserved. The main temple of Wat Phra Si Sanphet’s three stupas are incredible.

Wat Mahathat - Ayutthaya
This monk was on his way out when he spotted a Buddha inside of a pagoda next to him. He immediately took of his shoes and gave a quick prayer. He later rejoined his group.

2) Extensiveness of the Site (13 out of 15): The city is much larger than I expected. If you are not on a time crunch, take time and stay at least one night. Seeing the temples in the morning beats the huge day-trip crowds from nearby Bangkok and it is totally worth it.

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3) Cultural Significance (25 out of 25): It was the capital of the world for 4 centuries. If this doesn’t deserve a perfect score, I don’t know what does.

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Wat Chaiwatthanaram is stunning at every turn. This temple is worth visiting either very early (before the day trippers from Bangkok arrive) or very late for the wonderful sunset.

4) Personal Impact (13 out of 15): I didn’t really have huge expectations until the days right before visiting when I was reading up in the history. My mind was pre-blown and the city lived up to all expectations. While the setting is not as amazing as the jungles that surround Angkor, it is still quite beautiful.

Wat Chaiwatthanaram - Ayutthaya

5) Logistics (9 out of 10): A train from Bangkok takes 2-2.5 hours and costs 15 baht (50 cents). Hard to beat that. Most temples charge foreigners 50 baht (1.25 USD) and are free for locals. I can live with that.

Wat Chaiwatthanaram - Ayutthaya

6) Uniqueness (15 out of 20): Temples, especially in this area, are nothing new. However, the ruins of this magnitude are only really challenged by those of Bagan in Myanmar and Angkor in Cambodia.

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Combined Score: 86/100

Is this a good score? Find out how it compares with other UNESCO World Heritage Sites in our rankings.

Curious how the scores are derived? Check out the scoring criteria.

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Julio Moreno

Julio is a California native who has lived abroad since 2009 as an expat in South Korea and New Zealand. He is especially passionate about experiencing other cultures and visiting as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible.
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