Ayutthaya – Temples and Elephants

Riding an elephant was at the top of Lisa’s must-do-list. Since busy downtown Bangkok was not particularly suited for playing mahout and we needed a break from the big city, an elephant-friendly location in a quieter setting had to be found. Quickly, we decided on a 2-day trip to Ayutthaya, the former royal capital ninety minutes north of Bangkok.

Although Ayutthaya was sacked by the Burmese in the 18th century and many of the large monasteries and prangs were destroyed, there are still plenty of buildings and artifacts left to make it a worthwhile trip for temple lovers. Clearly, UNESCO thought so too, declaring Ayutthaya a World Heritage Site in 1991.

I have to admit that I’m not the architecture buff Tony is, but walking through this historical town, I could clearly see influences from both Bagan in Myanmar and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Angkor-like shapes blend with Bagan-like building materials to create the hybrid architecture Ayutthaya is so famous for.

Interestingly, one of the most photographed pieces of art is not anything architectural but a lone Buddha head embedded in a tangle of tree roots. Why is this particular head at the Wat Phra Mahathat one of the most photographed objects in Thailand? Because Buddha heads are few and far between in Ayutthaya, many having been cut off and stolen by collectors. In a sea of headless Buddhas, this serene-looking face locked in the arms of an ancient tree seems especially meaningful.

After exploring the ancient temples for a full day, Lisa and Garrett finally decided to head for the elephant stables to sign up for their very first elephant ride. Sitting comfortably high up on a cushioned howdah, the two swayed side to side as their elephant navigated its way through motorbike traffic past a series of red-brick temples. All the while, we were trying to keep up with them snapping photos and taking video from different angles. Every now and then, the elephant paused strategically which gave us just enough time to catch our breath AND take more photos. We probably looked like paparazzi harassing a famous couple. But it was just Lisa and Garrett smiling from underneath their parasol and scratching off the top item from their must-do-list. 🙂

Travel Information

Since Ayutthaya is so close to Bangkok, many visitors only go there for a day trip. If you are a serious photographer or a hopeless romantic, you may want to stay at least a night to see many of the temples beautifully lit up in the evening hours.

Getting from Bangkok to Ayutthaya is straightforward. Buses operate every 20-30 minutes from Bangkok’s Northern and Northeastern bus terminal (Mo Chit) and take you directly to Ayutthaya. The ride in the air-con bus takes 90 minutes and costs 50 baht.

Train travel from Bangkok’s Hualamphong Train Station is also possible, but trains don’t go as frequently and can be FAR more expensive than the bus (with the exception of a 3rd class ticket which does not guarantee a seat).

Calculate about 1,000 baht for a 30-minute elephant ride (per couple) in Ayutthaya. If you are traveling through Southeast Asia for an extended period of time, there are better and cheaper options for an elephant adventure in Thailand, Laos and especially in Cambodia. But for short-term visitors to Bangkok, Ayutthaya is probably the most convenient location. And you can’t beat the backdrop.

7 responses to “Ayutthaya – Temples and Elephants”

  1. avatar Jezz says:

    That sure is a lovely trip. We’ve been in Bangkok but never had the chance to take one of these lovely trips. Although there were elephant rides after we watched elephant shows, i’ve never tried it. I feel scared 😀

  2. Ayutthaya was a great day trip and the Baan Lotus guesthouse was well worth the cost. The elephant ride wasn’t scary at all and riding with Lisa, it turned into a giggle-fest.

  3. avatar lisanunn says:

    Riding that elephant felt completely glamorous. I can see why royalty would travel by elephant.

    I also especially liked when she (he?) refused to follow the mahout’s instructions and walked over to a tree to eat its leaves for few minutes. When she was good and ready we made our way back to the path. It made me feel a little less conflicted about the elephant’s domestication. She was more in control of her comings and goings that it seemed at first.

  4. avatar Tony says:

    You both look like royalty up there – the parasol helps. I’m glad to hear that the mahout had difficulty keeping the elephant under control. If you remember our Mahout for a Day video, our elephant spent 50% of the time snacking 🙂

    Don’t worry too much about the elephant’s domestication. With rain forest vanishing in Southeast Asia and work elephants becoming less and less cost effective, tourism may be the Asian elephant’s best hope for survival. It’s a sad fact, but it’s true.

  5. avatar rdsean says:

    amazing place.. so rich and royalty..

  6. avatar kimmy says:

    What a lovely trip. Will be going to bangkok also and would like to know the name of the elephant camp you went to for your elephant rides. Thanks!

    • avatar Tony says:

      The picture in that particular post is from Ayutthaya, which is just north of Bangkok. The elephant rides are offered through an office in the central temple ruins area. They are quite easy to locate once you are in Ayutthaya. There are opportunities to ride elephants in many parts of central and northern Thailand as well as in Cambodia.

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