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Bangkok is a very busy city with so much to do and see within the city limits. However, for our first day in Thailand, we decided to get outside of the city and explore the temples (wats) of Ayutthaya. Without any knowledge of the local area, the 50-mile trek to Ayutthaya seemed daunting on our own. Thankfully, we discovered WithLocals and booked a local tour guide to drive us and narrate the area’s history. Come along for our day tour of Ayutthaya, Thailand.
Our WithLocals guide, Chatchai, met us early in the morning at our hotel. Before meeting Chatchai, we were able to get a feel for his tour style and personality through the personal videos that each tour guide posts on the website. As soon as he introduced himself, we knew we were in for a great day. Chatchai speaks excellent English and has an incredible amount of knowledge of his country! After introductions and a brief chat about the day’s activities, we loaded into our private car. He even had a driver, so he could talk with us and add commentary as we left Bangkok.
Stop #1 – Bang Pa-In Royal Palace
En route to Ayutthaya, we first stopped at the picturesque Bang Pa-In Royal Palace. This palace is also known as the “Summer Palace,” and it was actively used as a palace in the early days of the Thai kingdom. The complex was originally built in the 1600s, but it fell into ruin after Ayutthaya fell to Burma in 1767. King Rama IV partially restored the complex, before his son, Rama V, completed the restoration.
The grounds are maintained in immaculate condition. Wandering among the buildings, you will see structural influences from China and Europe. We fed turtles while marveling at the Thai-style pavilion in the central pond. Then, we visited the red and gold Chinese-style palace, filled with ornate wood carvings. Next, we climbed the lookout tower to get a bird’s eye view of the whole complex. Finally, we grabbed some delicious black bean ice cream bars while Chatchai shared the tragic tale of Queen Sunanda Kumariratana.
Stop #2 – Wat Maha That
The next stop on our itinerary was Wat Maha That (The Monastery of the Great Relic). You have likely seen pictures of this wat, because it is the home of the famous “Buddha in a tree.” Chatchai walked with us through the massive complex, explaining the importance of the layout, and describing what it looked like in its early days. He also explained what the various poses mean for the Buddha statues.
Wat Maha That looks exactly as I had pictured ancient Thai temples in my head. Red brick monoliths that lean at odd angles, crumbling Buddha statues, and a central monument. We strolled among the ruins and even flew the drone overhead to get a shot of the whole complex.
Stop #3 – Wat Phra Sri Sanphet
Leaving Wat Maha That, we headed to Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, a UNESCO World Heritage site. On the way, we passed elephants walking along the streets!
Wat Phra Sri Sanphet was part of the Royal Palace of Ayutthaya and used exclusively by the kings. Its origins date back to the year 1350, but it was burned when Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese in 1767. Three “chedi” structures stand in the center of the area, creating a beautiful scene. We climbed up the steps to the center chedi for some great pictures.
After exploring the grounds of Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, we observed a Buddhist ritual where people prayed, lit candles, and placed gold leaf paper on a Buddha statue.
Stop #4 – Lunch on the River
By this time, we were pretty hungry. Chatchai took us to an excellent restaurant along the Chao Phraya River. Here, we sampled some delicious, authentic Thai cuisine… no Pad Thai here! Chatchai recommended the spicy beef and rice, which I ordered. She went with a sweet chicken dish, served with pineapple and veggies. Everything was SO GOOD! We ate and watched the boats float by on the river.
After lunch, we boarded one of the longboats for a ride down the river to the next wat. We watched families gather near the water’s edge to feed the fish with bags of colorful nuggets. This boat trip gave us a unique look at the houses built along the river.
Stop #5 –Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Our last stop on the tour brought us to the beautiful Wat Chaiwatthanaram. This symmetrical temple was originally constructed in the early 1600’s, but it, like most of Ayutthaya’s wats, was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767. The Thai Fine Arts Department restored the temple during the late 1980’s. I’m really glad they did, because this was a great place to conclude our visit to the ancient city of Ayutthaya!
When we got back into the car for the hour-long ride back to the city, our driver surprised us with some traditional Thai snacks called roti sai mai. “Sai mai” means “silk rope,” and this tasty treat is like the cotton candy of Thailand. We ate it by wrapping flaky sugar ropes in sweet roti (like tortillas) and chowing down!
Hot Pot Dinner in Bangkok
Chatchai is a restauranteur by trade. He owns a “hot pot” restaurant in the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok. Fortunately, we learned that his restaurant was within walking distance from our hotel, so we had to stop in for dinner! This was absolutely one of my favorite experiences during our entire round-the-world trip.
When we arrived at the restaurant Chatchai was so happy to see us. He took us to our table and explained how the hot pot restaurant works. Then he proceeded to bring out all sorts of meat, seafood, vegetables, and sauces. He lit a burner under a pot of broth and told us to toss in the veggies we like. After the broth heated up, he showed us how to cook each item in the hot pot. Everything was so fresh and delicious! We had a blast cooking our own dinner and talking with Chatchai.
If you’d like to visit his restaurant, send us a message through the site, and we will help you find it. This is definitely not a place that many tourists will find on their own.
We had an absolutely wonderful day hanging out with Chatchai and learning all about Ayutthaya and the history of the area. He is a fantastic tour guide, and I 100% recommend booking a tour with him through WithLocals. We had never heard of this company before our last-minute tour booking, but we were happy to find various experiences and tours in cities all over the world. If you sign up through our link, you can save 30 Euros on your first WithLocals tour!! Cheers!
This post is part of our Around-the-World Series.