A UNESCO World Heritage Site, carefully preserved Ayutthaya provides a fascinating snapshot of ancient Siam. Scattered ruins testify to the kingdom's brutal demise at the hands of the Burmese in 1767, while broad thoroughfares preserve a sense of its former greatness. Although the modern town is on the eastern bank of the Pa Sak, most of the temples are on an island. An exception is Wat Yai Chai Mongkol, a short tuk-tuk ride away. Ayutthaya is best appreciated in a historical context, and a visit to the Historical Study Center is a must for first-time visitors.
Certain sites are guaranteed to take your breath away—Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Wat Yai Chai Mongkol, Wat Phra Mahathat, and Wat Ratchaburana, to name a few. Aside from the temples, Ayutthaya's friendly guesthouses, welcoming people, and floating restaurants make for a refreshing change from Bangkok.
Ayutthaya was named by King Ramatibodi after a mythical kingdom of the gods portrayed in the pages of the Ramayana legend. The city was completed in 1350 and became both a powerhouse of Southeast Asia and reputedly one of the region's most beautiful royal capitals. It was originally chosen as a capital for its eminently defendable position, lying on an island formed by a bend of the Chao Phraya River, where it meets the Pa Sak and Lopburi rivers. Early residents created the island by digging a curving canal along the northern perimeter, linking the Chao Phraya to the Lopburi River.
However, Ayutthaya quickly changed from being essentially a military base to an important center for the arts, medicine, and technology. Trade routes opened up Siam's first treaty with a Western nation (Portugal, in 1516), and soon afterward the Dutch, English, Japanese and, most influentially, the French, accelerated Ayutthaya's rise to importance in international relations under King Narai the Great. After Narai's death in 1688 the kingdom plunged into internal conflict, and was laid waste by Burmese invading forces in 1767.