Thailand offers one of the most remarkable cultural heritages in the world, remains of a grand history and a powerful civilization that shaped Southeast Asia. Two of the places where you can dive into this glorious past are Ayutthaya and Chiang Mai.
Both are highly popular places, and it is at times challenging to escape large crowds of organized tours. It is nonetheless possible to partly do so and have a pleasant experience at both places.
Ayutthaya – Siam’s Second Capital City
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ayutthaya displays many ruins of what was Siam’s second capital city from the 14th to the 18th Century, the heart of Thailand’s empire.
Depending on the time you have at hand, and considering that the masses come on daytrip from Bangkok, I strongly advise to stay at least one night there, to enjoy the major temples & ruins without large crowds. Nonetheless, to visit them all you will need several days!
Moving around in Ayutthaya can be done by bike (for the most courageous – but beware of the heat) or on a scooter, that you can rent for 250 Baht / 7 € per day (I chose this easier option). Reaching Ayutthaya is easy: either by train, on the way to or from Chiang Mai, by minibus to or from Bangkok (2.5 hours, 130 Baht / 3,5 €), or by cab to or from Bangkok if you feel like being comfortable (1.400 Baht / 39 € one way).
Our highlights in Ayutthaya were:
- Wat Mahat That – One of the most important monasteries of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, now famous for the stone Buddha head entwined in tree roots
- Wat Chai Wattanaram – Beautiful temple with an 35 meter high “Prang” in a Khmer style
- Wat Phra Si Sanphet – Famous for its distinctive „chedis“ and their bell shaped design
- Wat Ratchaburana – The temple’s main “Prang” is one of the finest in Ayutthaya
- Wat Phanan Choeng – With the Giant Sitting Buddha
Chiang Mai – Culture, Food & Chilling Out
There is a lot to do in Chiang Mai, both if you only wish to visit the northern capital of Thailand or if you plan to use it as a base, discover the area more in depth and venture further afield. Do not be mistaken, Chiang Mai is a highly popular place, and you find throngs of tourists and travelers of all ages, coming from all over the world, with all possible budgets and expectations here!
We stayed 4 days in Chiang Mai and loved every minute we spent there. And we had almost no time to venture further afield and discover the surroundings. What makes Chiang Mai so special?
- Sample Food at Markets & Night Markets – There are many markets where you can sample some local food, both day & night. We actually haven’t been to any “regular” restaurant in the 4 days we spent in Chiang Mai.
- Go for a Thai Massage – You have literally hundreds of possibilities to enjoy a traditional Thai Massage (that’s the ones we preferred), from small local massage parlors that almost only cater for locals to fancy Spa experiences. You can also choose places where the masseurs are blind (Thai Massage Conservation Club), inmates (book ahead, we couldn’t get a slot) or former inmates (Lila Thai Massage, where we went twice).
- Chat with monks – Several monasteries, like the Wat Chedi Luang (there are many other places) offer the possibility to chat with monks, enabling visitors to better understand the Buddhist culture and monks to practice their English.
- Hot spring of San Kamphaeng – No, this should not be on your bucket list, but this was a relaxed half-day, a very local experience, with very few foreign tourists. It’s an easy and nice ride on a scooter.
- Monastery Hopping – Of course you cannot leave Chiang Mai without visiting the most important temples of the city. Our favorites were:
- Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – Be there very, very early, because later than 08:30 this beautiful Wat is engulfed in a whirlwind of tour groups.
- Wat Chedi Luang, with its towering, ruined Lanna-style “chedi” – The famous Phra Kaew (Emerald Buddha), now in Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew, resided there until 1475.
- Wat Phan Tao – This teak Wat is probably the most atmospheric of Chiang Mai.
- Wat Phra Sing – Chiang Mai’s most revered temple
- Wat Suan Dok – With its numerous white “Chedis” and a towering Golden “Chedi”, this much-overlooked temple offers a different, more quiet experience than many other temples in Chiang Mai.
For more information on Chiang Mai and the area, check the great article by my friends Alesha & Jarryd on 10 Things To Do In Chiang Mai.