Just 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Bangkok is the old capitol of Ayutthaya (or Ayuthaya, or even Ayodhaya. No matter how you spell it, its pronounced ah-you-tah-ya.) The city became Thailand's capitol in the mid-14th century and remained the capitol until the late 18th century. About the time that Americans were tossing tea into Boston harbor, the Burmese attacked and sacked Ayutthaya.

The Ayutthaya period is looked on by many as the time when much of what is now thought of as "Thai style" was developed. In temples, this is when you see a marked transition from the Khmer style "prangs" to the bell shaped "chedi." While Sukothai further north is seen as the birth of the Thai kingdom, Ayutthaya is seen today as its high point. Around Ayutthaya are signs of the Japanese, French, Dutch and Portuguese traders that came to the Thai court.

Ayutthaya is a relatively low-key site. You can spend a leisurely day here, or a quick stop, all with relatively low pressure compared to many other tourist sites. From Ayutthaya you can quickly get on an expressway and be back in Bangkok in about an hour.

History & Orientation

The old city itself was founded in 1351 on an island about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) wide, formed by the confluence of the Chaophraya, Lopburi and Pasak Rivers. A wall once encircled the entire island, though only a few bits of it can be seen today. U Thong, who later became King Ramathibodi I, is credited with the city's founding.

The city grew rich on the produce of the land, as well as by exploiting expanding trade routes between India and China. The empire grew to control most of what is now Thailand, and by the time the first Europeans arrived in the mid-17th century, Ayutthaya was a city of more than a million people -- double the population of London at the time. The city sat at the center of a network of nearly 140 kilometers of canals. This "Golden Age" of Siam came to a close after little more than 400 years when the Burmese sacked the city, setting fire to the temples, carting off the gold and leveling important buildings such as the kings palace.

What remains today are a few ruins scattered among grassy fields. The main sights are concentrated in the northwest corner of the island, while the modern town hugs the east coast. There are also numerous other attractions spread around the opposite side of the rivers.