Ayutthaya Temples- The Second Capital of Thailand

Ayutthaya, Thailand rests just north of Bangkok along the Chao Phraya River.  Founded around 1350, the city eventually became the second capital of Siam after Sukhothai.  Because of it’s central location with easy access to the rest of Asia, Ayutthaya became one of the must important trading centers in the world.  By 1700 the Siamese capital was the world’s largest city with over 1 million inhabitants. Today the Ayutthaya temples and temple ruins are some of the most impressive in all of Asia, drawing huge crowds to the small city.

Ayutthaya successfully held off many western invaders and Thailand was never colonized.  However, the Burmese successfully sacked the city in 1767, riding on elephants and knocking the heads off of every Buddha statue they could find.  The occupation was short lived, as the Chinese had seized the opportunity to move their armies into Burma.  The Burmese forces retreated to their homeland with a majority of the Thai gold, burning the Ayutthaya temples in their retreat.  The following years were plagued by civil war in Siam until control was taken by King Rama I.  The founding member of the Chakri dynasty, which still reigns in Thailand to this day, Rama I relocated the Thai capital from the ruins of Ayutthaya to present day Bangkok.

Today Ayuthhaya is home to some of Asia’s greatest temples, and the history of the place is intruiguing.  The Ayutthaya tempes are an easy day trip from Bangkok by bus or train, taking less than two hours to travel by either.

Renovations at our first temple stop
An ornamental bull

We booked a room at Yimwhan Hostel & Cafe just outside the old city.  They had bikes for rent which we took advantage of and soon found ourselves among the temples.  I purchased a large rainbow bag of corn puffs which I though would be funny to cruise around with in my bike basket.  They tasted terrible and I was a bit disappointed until I was told that the puffs were actually fish food for children to throw into the river.  We went to the river and threw some in as giant catfish swarmed all around.  We laughed about this for a little while, then biked across the river to the more famous Ayutthaya temples.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

There are temples all over the city, but the best area for biking is inside the old city’s moat where the temples are more numerous.

Wat’s Up?

One of the most popular temples for tourists is Wat Mahathat which contains the famous Buddha Head in a Bodhi tree, where one of the knocked-down Buddha heads became entangled in the roots of a giant old fig tree.

Another of our favorites was Wat Ratchaburana which you could climb inside of.  After heading down a very steep set of stairs you reach the crypt which has some ancient paintings on the walls and bats in the ceiling.

Wat Ratchaburana
Wat Ratchaburana
Wat Ratchaburana
The view from Wat Ratchaburana.
It’s always yoga time for this aspiring yoga teacher
Headstands anyone?

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Here is a good website to book your transportation from Bangkok to Ayutthaya.


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Ruta de las Cascadas: Biking To The Banos Waterfalls

Banos is full of amazing outdoor activities and biking to the Banos waterfalls should not be missed!.  From the town of Banos the bike down the main road east towards Puyo, which is considered to be the edge of the jungle.  While Puyo is 60km away from Baños, it is almost entirely downhill, making it a realistic day’s bike ride to the waterfalls.  We do not bike often, at least since leaving Arizona, so we didn’t make it all the way to the jungle.

biking Banos waterfalls
On the road!

We got our bikes in town and cruised down the hill.  The river flowed at our side carving a canyon that weaved down through the mountains.  Most of the way you are riding on the road with the cars, but sometimes you ride on the scenic road around the tunnels.  On these roads we were usually all alone, so we took fun pictures with the green hills in the background. Along the way you bike through a tunnel, past a dam, and then come to the first waterfall.  The first falls you can see fine from the road and there is a cable car and a slow-seeming zipline to the other side, if you’re so inclined.

biking Banos waterfalls
You can cable car or zipline to the other side.

The air became sticky as we rolled farther and farther down the hill.  We started dripping sweat and feeling that light-headedness you get from sitting in the sun too long.  I saw a shiny bright blue butterfly, and the largest wasp I have ever seen.  People sat around under trees and if they moved, moved sluggishly.  This journey to the edge made us very excited for later excursions deeper into the Amazon.

Nearing the end of our ride we came to the biggest of the Banos waterfalls, the Cascada Pailón del Diablo, which was at the end of a short trail.

biking Banos waterfalls
Cascada Pailón del Diablo.

It was $1.50 each to enter and the trail was pretty rough after biking for a few hours.  Many Ecuadorian women came wearing high heels and other great hiking footwear; most foreigners wore the standard safari gear.  We like to laugh at other people’s attire, since we always look like bums.  Once at the bottom the falls were hidden in a little cove.  The mist rose from the pool and the sun made multiple rainbows around us.  We climbed up a trail that had a one meter (under 4 feet) high ceiling, slippery from the mist.  After crawling through this up about 30 more meters (100ft) you emerge behind the falls, and you get soaking wet.  It was just what we needed after a long day in the equatorial sun.  Lucky we had our waterproof camera (Thanks Mom and Dad) and the rest of our gear was in ziplock bags.

biking Banos waterfalls
Behind the falls!

After we made the exhausting hike back up to our bikes, we rode a little father down and accidentally passed the last falls.  We missed the turn and went for the best downhill ride yet.  The problem was that we didn’t have it in us to go all the way to Puyo-the next spot with busses after the one we had passed.  So we turned around and walked our bikes back about a mile to the final waterfall we missed.  We decided we didn’t need to spend another $2 to hike down to this waterfall so instead we drank a beer at the bar at the start of the waterfall trail.  After about 15 minutes a tour van pulled up, half full of people that were too lazy to do the trip on bikes.  For $1.50 each they gave us a ride back to Baños, bikes on top, blasting salsa music from the sound system.  We were tired and sunburnt and didn’t even make it all the way to Puyo, but we still felt accomplished.

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