Search This Blog

Visiting Ayutthaya Historical Park with a Big Family
Visiting Thailand's Ayutthaya Historical Park with a Big Family
Wat Ratchaburana

So, you're planning a visit to Thailand with the family and are thinking of visiting one of the great historical and cultural destinations close to Bangkok. Ayutthaya is a great choice! It's easily accessible from Bangkok and serves as a great introduction to Thailand for a big family. In fact, for a family with children, it's a much better introduction to Thailand than Bangkok itself. Here are our tips for making a great family visit to Ayutthaya, Thailand...

#1  How Long Should You Stay in Ayutthaya?
That's the main question, really. It all depends on why you're going to Thailand - what you want to see, do, and experience.

For us, we wanted to get away from the hordes of tourists in Bangkok, and see the historical sites. With my fascination with archaeological sites, as soon as I found out there were 700-year-old ruins not far from Bangkok, I put Ayutthaya at the top of my list. It's actually the first place we went in Southeast Asia, other than a one-night layover and a one-night stopover on the way there (in South Korea and Bangkok).

By far, most visitors to Ayutthaya stay for less than a full day, spending the night in Bangkok both before and after their trip to Ayutthaya. That was one of the reasons we chose to stay in this town. We wanted to see what a Thai town would be like once most of the tourists were gone.

We had an entire month to spend in Southeast Asia - mostly in Thailand, since it was among the cheapest and appealed the most to us (it was a place I had fantasized about visiting since I was about 9 years old) - so we could afford to spend 3 nights in Ayutthaya, even though it's a place where many people stay for a much shorter visit. Upon arrival in Southeast Asia, we made straight for Ayutthaya, which was our first major, slow-paced, destination stop.

#2  Should You See Ayutthaya or Angkor Wat?
I knew I wanted to get us over to Cambodia's Angkor Wat, as well - the most ancient of the seven wonders of the world - and I had read that some people advise that if you see either Ayutthaya or Angkor Wat, there's no reason to see them both. Having seen them both, I heartily disagree. These two historical places - Ayutthaya and Angkor Wat - which actually battled one another, in the past - are quite distinct in many ways. It's definitely worthwhile to see them both. We loved our 3 days in Ayutthaya, and we are also very glad we didn't skip seeing Angkor Wat during our 3 nights in Siem Reap (you can find our tips for visiting Angkor Wat with your family in this prior post).

Traveling to Ayutthaya near Bangkok with small children
Temple of the Royal Family
Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Ayutthaya Historical Park, Thailand

#3  Spending the Night in Ayutthaya with a Big Family
We rented a beautiful home in a modern neighborhood development near a temple. Most visitors try to see Ayutthaya in less than a full day (round-trip from Bangkok, on a day-trip bus tour jam-packed with tourists) so there were some very good deals available on Ayutthaya lodging, particularly in the off-season. For less than the cost of hotel accommodations for six people, we snagged a gorgeous, 2-story, air-conditioned, 3-bedroom, 2-bath home with full kitchen. In the photo below, we're having a meal at the host's place.

Visiting Ayutthaya with a Big Family
Our Big Family Having Our First Meal in Ayutthaya
In Ayutthaya, our host was simply the best. This older gentleman was very kind to us, spoke excellent English, had a fantastic sense of humor, and did everything in his power to ensure we always had transportation and plenty of activities to fill our days. He took it upon himself to make sure that we had places to go, and things to see, and he really bent over backwards to ensure that our slightest wants were immediately addressed.

He was always inquiring about our breakfast plans (full, free breakfast was included), offerings us rides, having our laundry picked up, and offering dinner suggestions. He basically treated our family the way he would have treated his own grandchildren. Whenever we said "We don't know" when asked what we were about to do next, he immediately had 2 or 3 suggestions, and let us choose. He could also sense when we just needed to rest for a couple of hours, and he'd suggest picking us up after a short break at our house.

I can't expect that form of hosting to be sustainable in the long-run, especially as his business grows in popularity. And we may have had quite a different experience if we had visited in peak season, and found that several of his homes were rented out, rather than just ours. But for the moment in time that we visited, it was just a wonderful experience staying there in Ayutthaya - more than we could have ever asked for. Picking the right place to stay (more on that in this post) was one of the key factors that made Ayutthaya the best possible introduction to Thailand for our big family.

#4  Getting There
It's about a 2-hour train ride from Bangkok. Buying tickets and getting a seat is a straightforward, easy process. There is absolutely no benefit to purchasing tickets in advance - unless you know for certain that your train will be full, in peak season. There are a dozen middleman websites that will gladly sell you overpriced, upcharged tickets for far more than what they really cost. There are multiple classes of service, but for a short ride like this, the cheapest train will get you there just as efficiently as the most expensive one. However, be prepared for the heat: pack plenty of liquids (preferably chilled ones) for you and the kiddos.

Visiting Ayutthaya Historical Park with a Big Family
Taking the train from Bangkok to Ayutthaya

It's also accessible by car, with the drive taking perhaps 1 and a half to 2 hours. Several Thai locals that I met warned me against taking a car. Anytime the subject came up, Thais were sure to warn us against getting on the road between Ayutthaya and Bangkok. They said they themselves wouldn't think of riding in a minivan or small bus for that trip - they only take the train. Our host in Bangkok told us the same thing. The big buses are safer, they feel, but the small minibuses and vans are driven far too fast and recklessly, and it's a common site to see them twisted up on the side of the road. So, on advice, we took the train and it was no more difficult than taking a one-train subway ride across a major city.

#5  Seeing Ayutthaya Historical Park with a Big Family
The main draw to this town is its fascinating, spread-out historical park. The park itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ayutthaya was founded as a city in 1351, and was named the capital city of Ayutthaya Kingdom, also known as Siam. By about the year 1700, its population had grown to a million people, making it one of the biggest cities in the world at that time.

The park is spread out all over the city island, and there are additional sites off the island. We stayed for 3 nights, so we didn't try to see every single site, but we tried to see some of the most famous ones, along with a few of the much smaller, lesser known ones.

Visitors should be sure their clothing is appropriate - nothing too revealing, or showing too much skin. While these are historical sites, they are also still used daily by Buddhist monks. Visitors' shoulders, midriffs, and upper legs should always be covered.

Visiting Ayutthaya Historical Park with a Big Family
Wat Mahathat

Visiting Ayutthaya Historical Park with a Big Family
Budda Head in Bodhi Tree Rots in Wat Mahathat
One of the most photographed images in all of Thailand

On our first morning in town we got up early and headed for the historical park by vehicle. We got dropped off at Wat Mahathat a few minutes before opening. There was no one else in line except for a couple of sleepy dogs, who yawned and wagged their tails in greeting, before flopping back down on the path.

A "wat" is a temple or temple grounds. The word means the same thing in both Thai and Khmer; it is derived from a similar-sounding word in Sanskrit. The influence from India is visible all over Southeast Asia. Even the name of this town, Ayutthaya, is believed to be a reference to the Thai version of an ancient Indian epic.

As you see the architecture and temples and practices of Thailand, the lines between Hindu influence and Buddhist influence blur. However, the wats in Ayutthaya Historical Park are Buddhist.

Wat Mahathat is the one known by tourists as "the one with the face in the tree roots." It is probably the single most visited spot in the entire town, and one of the most photographed images in Thailand. We were fortunate to arrive there early in the day, meaning we could walk through the grounds at a leisurely pace, and see everything. Including our party of six, there were less than a dozen people there - but of course, this was in the off-season, and it was too early for Bangkok tours to be there yet.  We saw the first several buses from Bangkok arriving simultaneously, screeching to a stop and disgorging their contents all over the grounds, just as we headed out to our next stop.  "All we've got to do is stay ahead of those buses," I told the kids.

Visiting Ayutthaya Historical Park with a Big Family
Wat Ratchaburana
Right next door to Wat Mahathat is Wat Ratchaburana, one of the best-preserved temples in the park. It looks a lot closer on the map than it really is; the entrances are not all that close to one another. We got a good taste of walking in Ayutthaya's heat in between these sites in Ayutthaya Historical Park. We really should have rented a tuk-tuk for the day, prior to heading out to the park. By the time I realized we needed one, it was too late. The tuk-tuks we saw inside the park or near the entrances - even the stationary ones, which is a type of tuk-tuk you don't usually want - were already engaged by other travelers who had booked them by the hour (you can find our tips for hiring a tuk-tuk in this post).

Visiting Ayutthaya Historical Park with a Big Family
One of the Ayutthaya temples is not like the others: Wat Thammikarat 

The next place on our list was the one that seemed the least like all the other temples: Wat Thammikarat. This place had multiple appeals: This temple is the oldest temple in the park complex, and it is even older than the city itself, by at least 100 years. The architecture and design of Wat Thammikarat are very different from the rest of the park. We were surprised by the numerous rooster statues and the incorporation of the many lion forms in the architecture - the only place we saw in Thailand that had that feature.

It also has a massive Reclining Buddha, located in a separate building over on the left side after the entrance. We almost missed it, because it is off by itself, just beyond what appears to be a market area for people selling Buddhist items. If you want to cross off something from your "must see" list, I'd seriously consider skipping the larger Reclining Buddha in Bangkok (swarmed by a few thousand people every day), if you go instead to the quiet, easy-to-see Wat Thammikarat.

Wat Thammikarat is also one of the least-visited temples in Ayutthaya Historical Park. Some of the other temples are ruins of former temples, whereas this one is an active temple populated by quiet monks who you may see sweeping, walking from place to place, or meditating. We had a brief conversation in English with a smiling, shaved-head monk in eyeglasses, who was holding a broom, who said he just wanted to practice his English. He inquired where we were going next and how we were enjoying our visit to Ayutthaya, with a huge beaming grin on his face.

We next went to Wat Phra Si Sanphet (see picture near the top of this page), which was the royal temple (used not by monks, but by royalty) and was completely destroyed by the Burmese in the 1700's. The three main structures were restored, and the site itself is still impressive and very popular with tourists. It was also one of the only sites in the historical park where we saw hawkers pushing their postcards and t-shirts at tourists.
From there we made our way to a local restaurant for some Thai food, and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and cooling off by swimming.  If you're traveling with small children, I wouldn't try to see more than 3 or 4 temples per day. We wanted it to remain fresh and interesting - not a grueling grind, just trying to check off all the "been there" boxes. The next day we saw some temples off the main city island, getting there by tuk-tuk.

Visiting Ayutthaya Historical Park with a Big Family
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon
On a different day in Ayutthaya, one of our stops was at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon (alternative spellings: Chai Mongkhol, Chaimongkhol, and Chaimongkhon), one of the ones with a long row of nearly identical Buddha statues along the walls of the interior courtyard.

Steps up the biggest building are steep, so if you're traveling with a baby or stroller, or if it's already the hottest part of the day - I'd say climbing up to the top is something you might want to skip. You can see the place from outside better than from the inside anyway.

This place is best accessible via tuk-tuk since it's off the city island, about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) away from Wat Mahathat. It's a large temple complex with several paths around the place; you'll want to budget at least one to two hours to see this one temple.

Visiting Ayutthaya Historical Park with a Big Family
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon aka Wat Yai Chaimongkhol

This wat visit was the most "touristy" in several senses. There is an ATM and there are pay toilets. The ticket window is bigger and more formalized than in the other temples we visited in Ayutthaya. In this temple there were several posted warnings about pickpockets, with instructions to wear your backpacks on your chest, not your back. 

And if you're interested in protecting the contents of your pockets, you'd do well to entirely avoid the gift shops. This was one of our first few mornings in Thailand, and we didn't know any better. We found drinks there that were double the price of everywhere else in Thailand. We also picked up a few keychains and pocket-sized souvenirs, only to find out much later that these were selling at a 500% markup compared to the exact same (literally, identical!) items sold everywhere in Bangkok. Pro tip: ceramic keychains in Thailand don't cost five dollars, ha ha.

#6  Getting Around Ayutthaya Historical Park
Our family of 6 - with 4 young children - was easily able to fit into a single tuk-tuk. We cannot recommend tuk-tuks highly enough for seeing Ayutthaya. Walking around the park is the best possible way to find yourselves dehydrated, exhausted, and ready to give up after the first one or two sites. Having a tuk-tuk in Ayutthaya makes all the difference between a great day and a challenging day. One of our favorite activities was our night-time tour. We saw several temples (closed for the day, but beautifully illuminated in colorful lights) from the road, by taking a tuk-tuk tour with a driver who we hired at a reasonable hourly rate. For our tips on hiring a tuk-tuk for your family, see our full post on that.

Visiting Ayutthaya Historical Park with a Big Family
Wat Phra Ram by Night

#7  Thinking of Riding the Elephants?
At some point when planning your trip to Thailand, you're going notice that elephant rides are available. If you're planning on doing that, please reconsider. Every dollar contributed to the elephant riding industry is another dollar contributed to brutality. For more on why our big family decided against riding the elephants, see our full post.

#8  What Else is There to Do?
If it's a rainy day, or if you just need a break from temples, why not try the Million Toy Museum? It's on Uthong Road in the Northwest side of the city island. The place gets mixed reviews, but we actually really enjoyed it, and we recommend it. It's not just toys, which seems to bother some visitors - but as long as you're fine with seeing a mix of Thai artifacts, unusual and cheerful artwork, religious statues, plus lots and lots of toys, give it a go. You can find our full post on toy museums in this post.

Going to the toy museum in Ayutthaya with a big family
Two-story collection at Million Toy Museum
Ayutthaya, Thailand

#9  Should you Visit the Water Park?
You may be surprised to learn there is a water park not too far from Ayutthaya. It is expensively priced by local standards, so we found it to be empty in the off-season. We saw a Thai family here and there off in the distance once or twice, but for the most part we felt like we had the place entirely to ourselves.

We also found it was lacking several basic things you might expect to find at a water park, namely:  there is no typical place to change clothes. No food or drink was available. There wasn't any running water on one of the two slides, and slide mats were unavailable (meaning, it was skin-on-slide, with a gap between every section of the slide creating a painful bump, bump, bump experience, all the way down the slide).

Also there's a fun-looking elevated platform water area where kids can play, but, we had to get ours off of there right away once I went up and discovered that when viewed from the top, you can see that the entire platform has completely rusted over the years, and there are a few places where there are jagged metal edges. Water, rust, and sharp metal: not a great combination for tiny, bare feet! For those reasons, we can't exactly recommend this place. On the other hand, we went twice in four days! So, make of that what you will. Even without mats, the kids enjoyed the single working three-story tube slide and pools. With some renovations and repairs, this place could be quite a successful tourist attraction.

#10  Getting Away
Although Bangkok is 2 hours away by train, there is also a train station next to Don Mueang International Airport, which is just 1 hour from Ayutthaya by train. Note, this is not the main airport in Bangkok, but is the one used for regional flights for some carriers, such as Air Asia. So if you happen to be arriving or leaving by a regional flight (perhaps headed to Phuket, or Chiang Mai, etc.), you can hop off the train and get to the airport on foot via an elevated platform within minutes. This would save you a ton of time and money, as compared to taking a train all the way to Bangkok, then having to immediately backtrack to Don Mueang Airport in a car.

Overall, Ayutthaya was one of our favorite destinations in all of Thailand, even in all of Southeast Asia. It's a a great introduction to Thailand and a fantastic spot for a family trip.

More Soon!
We hope this blog helps make your family's next trip a great success! Could you help us?
1. Please share a link to our blog.
2. Stay tuned! Please sign up for free email updates so you'll be notified of future posts.
Thank you for reading!

If you're new here, you may want to start with our first post.

Or, check out our List of All Posts.