Bangkok may be the capital of Thailand now, but such was not always the case for the Kingdom of Siam. Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn, was built in the present-day Thonburi area where King Taksin made his palace near the Chao Phraya River after leaving the former capital to the invading Burmese.
That former capital, sacked and plundered, was Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, the seat of the Kingdom for 417 years. Founded in 1350 by King U-Thong its impressive ruins now draw tourists from Bangkok and have gotten the nod from UNESCO as a world heritage site. Like Bangkok it sits along the Chao Phraya River – in this case on an island. The historical park is a full day worth of exploring with climbable brick temples, artwork and large Buddha statues. One can rent a bike or tuk tuk to get around to the sites for the day or even hire an elephant in some places.
Originally there were three palaces at Ayutthaya and of course many temples and monasteries. Several of the sites charge admissions of 30-50 baht but much is free. Stop at the Ayutthaya Tourism Center (daily 8:30-4:30, 03-532-2730) on the ground floor of the old city hall on Sisanphet Road for maps and information.
Consider four ways to get to Ayutthaya. First of course is by car and takes a bit more than an hour depending on traffic and the weight of your foot. Buses also make a direct run leaving from Bangkok Northern Bus Terminal. The train has its charm and is decidedly local with open windows and a few ceiling fans. One more option is a Sunday boat tour for tourists. Be warned: roundtrip, this method will take you all day, but the sights of life along the river are a real plus.
To celebrate the world heritage status, a sound and light show is put on around the anniversary of UNESCO’s decision every December.
More to see: Fifty minutes from Ayutthaya is Bang Pa-in Summer Palace