We enjoyed a day-long Ayutthaya tour and river cruise while visiting Bangkok, Thailand. Ayutthaya was the capital of Siam Kingdom back in the 14th-18th centuries, and the impressive ruins hint at the grandeur this once was! The city is located 80 km north of Thailand – about a 90-minute drive, which made for an easy day trip.
We booked a pre-paid tour via Viator – there was one main option with nearly 1000 positive reviews. The tour included pickup and return from our Bangkok hotel to the departure point in the city. Park fees and a buffet lunch on the river cruise back were also included.
The van that picked us up was probably the nicest van I’ve been in. It was randomly pimped out with a bottle of sparkling. We also had a few other groups at our hotel in the same van.
Bang Pa-in Royal Palace
After our 6:30AM pickup, we got to the departure point 30 minutes later. The tour bus left at 7:30AM for our first stop – Bang Pa-in Royal Palace. This used the be the summer palace for Thai royalty, and unlike the Ayutthaya ruins, the palace grounds were reconstructed in the 1800s and are maintained today for tourism.
You are required to cover up here, as well as at most other Buddhist sites on the tour. I bought a tie skirt at the entrance to cover my shorts.
It was apparently the first day they offered golf-cart rentals at the Palace, so we got one to maximize our 1-hour window. This was a great decision as the grounds were huge, and it was even hotter here than in Bangkok.
The second stop was at War Mahathat (Temple of the Great Relics) in the Historical Park of Ayutthaya. This was a former monastery that was mostly destroyed by the Burmese invasion in 1767. The buddha head carved in bodhi tree roots is a popular photo op. This outdoor site was pretty large, and the heat really got to me so I headed back to the bus early.
Wat Na Phra Men
Stop 3 was the oldest Buddhist temple, Wat Na Phra Men (Monastery in Front of the Funeral Pyre). The monastery is still active today, and you can be blessed by a monk.
Our last stop for the Ayutthaya tour was the temple with the gigantic Reclining Buddha. At 37m long, this was a sight to see (see the people in lower right for comparison). There wasn’t much else here other than some small vendor shops, but the buddha statue was worth the stop!
River Cruise and Lunch Buffet
After four hours touring and the extreme heat, we were relieved that we had no more stops. We drove an hour south to where the cruise departed. The boat was labeled White Orchid River Cruise. By the time we got on, it was 1:30PM! I was surprisingly not dying of hunger considering we left at 6:30AM without breakfast, but it was definitely weird that lunch was so late.
Lunch on the cruise was a buffet with plenty of options. I was hoping for more Thai cuisine for the main entrees; instead they had Italian/American style pasta, steak, chicken. At least they had Pad Thai and Tom Yum soup. I also enjoyed the Banana Leaf and Spicy Green Papaya salad!
The river cruise lasted about two hours down the Chao Phraya River to our original morning departure point. I thought it was a little too long, but we did see some good sights along the river including the Grand Palace. The river water itself was pretty gross looking though.
It was just after 4PM by the time we got back to the hotel. Plenty of time to relax before our dinner at Gaggan(!). Blog post pending.
I would recommend the Ayutthaya tour if you are staying in Bangkok. The tour was organized, and our guide Pon was funny and had lots of good knowledge. The included lunch was also pretty good, though very late in the day. I would recommend eating a full breakfast and bringing some snacks. They do provide water bottles on the bus. Be prepared for the extreme heat as well – wear sunscreen and bring a hat.